With the goal of researching and educating about the European utilization of bicycles we will be reading, writing and reviewing as many “Dutch style” bikes as possible. As a reader please comment, pass on links and any other information you think will be helpful.
In the next week you’ll see an introduction article of the Batavus BUB, a new style Dutch bike. During my review period the US distributor, Fourth Floor, has been kind enough to email extensively about not only their new model but why it was needed.
Eric is going to talk mainly about the brand he distributes but please read through what he talks about. As Americans we often think about Europe as the sanctuary of cycling. Most people ride their bikes instead of driving a car and we all dream of bike lanes all over the cities we live and ride in. What is different is how Europe looks at cycling compared to the US. Everything we do is for an image or picture we have in our head and because of that many manufactures are selling the lifestyle of biking. At the root of it all, where in Europe they live on their bikes year round, there is no lifestyle. All they are doing is using their bike daily instead of their car.
The Dutch hardly romanticize their bikes like we do. They are born
onto bikes and treat them like tools. They regard their bikes the same
way they regard their washing machines. The urban demographic may
be tough to reach because of their preference for used bikes, but an
even tougher demographic to reach is the 18-35 age group. After
riding in the rain from the age of four, many youngsters want nothing
more than a car. Perhaps it’s strange, but as Americans fall in love
with bikes again, the Dutch are falling in love with cars. To lure
urbanites, and especially young urbanites back onto bikes, a new
approach was needed.
The typical classic Dutch bike, affectionately called the omafiets (grandma bike) is one of the most memorable icons of Holland. Every bicycle manufacturer in Holland still makes an omafiets, and while the Dutch bike has certainly evolved far beyond the omafiets the omafiets has still been the enduring answer for urban markets. But, it has problems. When Batavus first released the Personal Bike they had an instant hit in urban markets. It had a different seating position than the omafiets, it could stabilize weight better (like children and groceries) – and it was versatile. The seating position of an omafiets is almost excessively upright. The Personal Bike relaxed the position without stretching the rider into a sportive position (which every North American bike company still insists on doing). It also introduced the concept of high pressure 26″ tires to the market, allowing the bike to roll exceptionally well despite potholes and bumps. However, like the omafiets, the Personal Bike was a little on the heavy side. While neither bike rides heavy, anyone who wanted to bring their bike inside their apartment (a reality as Amsterdam builds higher) didn’t enjoy lifting it. The Personal Bike was a bold invention, but it missed the mark in terms of reaching the widest possible demographic. What was needed was a lighter, more ergonomic bike with the same broad appeal as the classic omafiets.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to creating an evolved omafiets was the
iconic nature of the omafiets. Like wooden shoes or windmills, the
classic omafiets is one of the most visible icons of Holland. To create a
lighter version with a better seating position may have been
necessary, but the real challenge was creating something as
memorable. Like the Velib, Batavus needed to create an instant icon
that would romance the Dutch (and others!) back to cycling. As one of
the oldest companies in Holland Batavus certainly played a role in the
development of the omafiets as we know it today. And Batavus also
designed and implemented the entire Paris Velib system. They were
also the first develop the Personal Bike design, which has been copied
by numerous competitors. In Holland – which typically has a very
conservative and insular bike industry – Batavus is that one company
that thinks outside the dijk, so to speak.