When you talk comfort and bike, people automatically think about a Dutch bike. What is a Dutch bike? There are some certain design elements, some accesories associated with them. Obviously, “Dutch bikes” are made in almost every countries. The design itself is very polarising: some find it silly, some call it dad bike, some say they’re extremely comfortable and versatile.
The Netherlands is known as a bikers’ paradise, everybody rides bikes, all the time (which is wrong!). Netherlands is a small and relatively flat company with high GDP: that means, traffic congestion is no surprise. And also, bikes are worthwhile: in a very flat land with relatively short distances, why not?
Dutch bikes, a specific bike for a specific need
So, what’s distinctive about Dutch bikes?
Almost all Dutch bikes have thick, steel frames, and majority of them are step-thru frames. This make sense for not just ladies, but men, too: you wouldn’t want to tear your trousers trying to step on the bike. Since they are primarily designed for in-city use, and most people use them to go to work or school, wearing bibs is not an option.
Frames are designed with comfort and durability in mind, but also they are workhorses. People carry their children, and grocery items with them.
Mudguards and chainguards, lots of them
It rains a lot in the Netherlands, so it’s no surprise these bikes have large mudguards and chainrings – as I said, it’s a mean of transport, not a sport item. In some bikes, you can see huge mudguards at rear wheels covering top the wheel, for added protection against splash. You’d like your bottom dry at work, or at school. You also want clean shoes, so chainguards are equally common.
Upright sitting position
These are city bikes. You don’t need to output huge amount of power of a long time. Average bike ride in the Netherlands is like 1.5km a day. You go slow, but need to have good visibility, because of cars. For short distances without going crazy about performance, upright riding position is ideal for comfort, and also cause less problems, like numb hands, or sore bum. Most of them have leather saddles.
Almost all Dutch bikes have lights rear and front, as these bikes are used like cars. Also, most of them either have bottle or hub dynamos as well. Legally, your bike should have lights, reflector sidewall tires and a rear reflector.
Never seen a Dutch bike without a rack – some of them have front racks as well, as you have to carry your items, if you’ re not using a bike for sports.
Good quality Dutch bikes have hefty, integrated locks which is hard(er) to break – since weight is no issue on these bikes, they can use heavier gauge steel.
Otherwise, there are lots of bike locks available, most of them being more complex and advanced then the bike itself.
As streets are jammed with bikes in especially rush hours, this is not just a simple accessory…
Swept back handlebars
They allow for a more upright position, prevent numb hands. These handlebars are twitchy, but who cares…You’ re not in a downhill race, or sprinting among other racers to the finish line.
Dutch bikes have minimalistic drivetrain
Almost all Dutch bikes have coaster brakes only, single speed is also very common. Front shifting is very rare – I’ve seen a Gazelle with a front derailleur few years ago. It was looking “too sporty” for a Dutch bike, though. Some have simplistic rear gears, like 3 speed hubs. Cheaper versions have 7 speed, cheap Shimano freewheels, mostly.
Almost all of them have 28 wheels with city tires, generally 1.5 or 1.75 inch wide. Rims are heavy with full 36 spokes, generally with thicker than usual, stainless steel spokes, as they have to carry a lot of weight.
Why Dutch bikes are expensive ?
Most people automatically think Dutch bikes are quite expensive, because it’s made with ultra rare elements.
Bikes are not cheap, they never were, but were not crazy expensive as today. Real Dutch bikes, I mean the ones made in the Netherlands are somewhat expensive – we are used to have bikes manufactured in China, but production in mainland Europe is really expensive. Still, you can find a “real Dutch bike” ~250€.
They also have lots of extra equipment, like leather saddles, lights, and lots of guards. Mudguards, fenders, chainguards…
Is a Dutch bike for you ?
I think a Dutch bike is more worthwhile than a folding bike, but I’d never buy one. Not because they’ re terrible, which I think they are useful in some cases.
Everywhere I live is quite hilly. It doesn’ t make sense to ride a bike with almost no gear options, no proper brakes and rather abnormal weight.
These bikes are comfortable for short distances – I don’t ride short, like 1-2 km’s – I find more versatile to walk in shorter distances instead. Also note that the Netherlands is a very bike-friendly country, and most countries are not. If you live in a big city, riding the bike is a problem in itself, and finding a place to lock it is a bigger one. If you ride a 1500€ bike in any city, I can guarantee it will be stolen in a few months tops, unless it’s guarded by armed professionals.
You know where bikes are not stolen? In places where bikes are used as means of transport: people there don’t ride 15.000$ Trek’s to work, everybody have their own beater bike, so there is no viable market for stolen bikes.
Why not buy a hybrid bike ?
If you want a comfortable, relaxed bike with upright riding position, hybrid bikes are abundant, cheap and have some advantages over Dutch bikes.
Hybrid bikes have more gearing options, a more “less radical” geometry, and much lighter, as almost all of them are aluminium, even carbon fiber.