A friend who learned her cycling in China came to visit us in Amsterdam. Naturally we took her for a bike ride, lending her our guest Gazelle with ‘sit-up-and-beg’ handlebars. She liked it.
Back in Sydney she went straight down to Paul van Bellen’s Gazelle bike store in Matraville and bought herself one.
There’s a burgeoning market for sturdy city bikes in Australia, and the Dutch can fairly claim to make the best ones going.
Dutch city bikes have a well deserved reputation for being indestructible. In Holland they have to clatter over the cobblestones and the icy sludge, and be unattractive to bike thieves. The ideal city bike will rattle incessantly but keep on going, enjoys being left out in the snow and looks as if it is worth less than the security chain locking it to a large public building.
In Australia, most of us who ride regularly have steeds built for speed. Inspired by Cadel, we dress up in lycra, strap on the helmet and bend over the drop bars. We ride early on Sunday mornings with our clubs or BUGs, push for good distances and improving times, pack as much exercise as we can into a few hours, and ingest lattes and banana bread to make sure we don’t lose any vital kilos.
In Holland, people ride to get to work, drop the kids off at school and do the shopping.
Anyone with lycra, a helmet, carbon-fibre or drop bars is a show-off, and the Dutch hate tall tulips as much as we Australians hate tall poppies.
At weekends, Dutch cycle paths are crowded with groups of cyclists, a few in serious pelotons, but mostly friends or families of all ages, riding at leisurely speeds, chatting and enjoying the scenery.
So Dutch bikes are different. Most have upright handlebars, limited gears and soft padded saddles. Electric models are becoming increasingly popular.
Many blokes, self included, prefer a ladies’ bike for getting around town. It’s easier to step through than to throw your leg over the back, especially when you have shopping in the panniers and a crate of beer, a golden retriever or your partner sitting on the luggage rack. Some Dutch riders manage to carry all three at once.
The upright sitting position makes for better manoeuvrability around tight corners and it’s easier to watch the traffic and the sights. Reducing wind resistance to increase speed is seldom a priority when distances are short.
Could Dutch-style cycling and Dutch-style bikes ever become the norm in Australia?
In Marrickville a new business, Omafiets (that’s Dutch for ‘Granny Bike’) opened a few months ago, so I went in to have a chat to Oliver, who runs it with his partners Maurice and Chris.
Omafiets imports secondhand bikes from Holland, mostly upright city and touring models made by Dutch manufacturers Gazelle, Batavus and Koga Miyata.
They have an agent in the Netherlands who sources used bikes and they ship them out here. Mevrouw T and I found their prices very reasonable, certainly comparable to what we would expect to pay for a bike in Holland. $600-1100 buys a good city or touring bike. It won’t look like Cadel’s bike and it may be some years old, but it will get you around town and will probably last longer than your knees will.
We love the look of the classic old Gazelles, but as Oliver admitted, if you have to ride more than a km or two on a heavy upright bike, you probably want more gears than the basic Gazelle offers. Mevrouw T uses a Gazelle Medeo as a touring bike in Holland, with 24 gears, and she’s very happy with it. She rides the Amsterdam cobbles on a Gazelle Orange. Omafiets sells both these models, while Gazelle Bicycles has new Medeos and electric Orange Innergy bikes.
I’m extremely impressed by the commitment of both Paul at Gazelle Bikes and the people at Omafiets to helping to make cycling in Australia an everyday activity, not just a sport or a serious recreation. I wish them well.
If you haven’t tried a Dutch bike, you should. And if you have, tell us what you liked or didn’t like about it. Could they catch on DownUnder?
Those contacts again:
Gazelle Bikes Australia: http://www.gazellebicycles.com.au/
Omafiets, Marrickville, Sydney: http://omafiets.com.au/