My wife and I have been looking to stay active in our retirement and decided to try bicycling again. Hips, vision, and arthritis had kept us from using the bicycles we already owned. Now, after hip replacement, cataract surgery, and ibuprofen, we’re ready—but not on the bikes we owned.
Researching bicycles, I regretted that biking in America couldn’t be more like Dutch biking. Walk into most USA bike shops, excluding department stores or children’s bike sections, and you will be confronted with a selection of bikes intended for fitness, competition, and wilderness. There’s nothing wrong with mountain bikes, road bikes, dirt bikes, gravel bikes, off-road bikes, or touring bikes. But the market for practical, casual bikes intended as an alternative to a car and which can be ridden in street clothes for errands such as shopping is only recently begun to grow.
Biking has been a part of life in the Netherlands for over a century, and almost everyone owns and uses a bike to get from point A to point B. Those who wish to ride one of the bikes I mentioned above will own more than one bike, but the specialized bicycles are not everyday vehicles.
How are Dutch bikes different from most (but not all) bicycles sold in America?
The first and most important difference is that they are designed for upright riding. The rider is positioned leaning forward on most bikes. The ergonomics of bike riding show that you can produce the most pedal power in this position. But you are resting upper body weight on the handlebars, and your back is bent, leaning forward. This is all good if you are young, healthy, and expect to challenge yourself on a bike ride. If you are older, have lost some of the flexibility you once had, and are not as strong as you were twenty years ago, then the bent-over position can be a problem. But even if you are in great physical shape, sometime, you might want to go on a casual bike ride and not expend any great effort. The Dutch are known for this.
Another difference between a Dutch bike and most bikes sold in the States is the bicycles made in the Netherlands are tough—strong and designed to last a lifetime. They are rarely in flashy designer colors. The bicycles weigh more than many lightweight models, but you don’t need to be gentle with them.
The gears on a Dutch bike can range from one speed to 11 or more. Some may have a derailleur as we are used to in the states. But most have internal gearing. Internal gears require less maintenance than external gears. They don’t get muddy or wet, and if your bike falls over, internal gears don’t get bent out of shape.
The brakes on Dutch bikes are also often internal drum brakes, which give them the same advantage in wet weather as internal gears do.
There are options in the US for upright bikes, and one of them is to purchase bicycles made somewhere else. Gazelle Bikes are made in the Netherlands but sold here. Not all of Gazelle’s models are for upright riding, but some are.
Another option is to purchase from a company that imports Dutch bikes into the US (e.g. The Amsterdam Bicycle Company, The Brooklyn Bicycle Co, and the JC Lind Bike Co). A search on Google will find bike stores/companies that specialize in customizing a Dutch bike for you.
Beach cruisers or comfort bikes are a category of Bikes made in the US. Electra, owned by Trek, created a design where the pedals are forward from where the seat post joins the frame. This results in a sitting position where your feet can touch the ground while sitting on the saddle of the bike. Upright riding is given.
Another category imported from overseas but gaining popularity in the US is cargo bikes. Some of these bikes are designed to carry up to two children and still have room for groceries. Most are intended to be modular and shared among family members so you can drop off your kids at school in the morning and your spouse can reconfigure the same bike to stop for groceries in the evening.
However, the category of bike that my wife and I are discussing now is electric-bikes. E-Bikes come in most of the same styles as normal bicycles. Not only are there mountain e-bikes, but there are cargo and comfort e-bikes. I’ll have to review e-bike options in another post, but for seniors who have trouble getting uphills on a non-electric bike, pedal-assist from a motor seems like a great idea.