23 May 2008

Cycle Chic Guide - The Bikes of Copenhagen #03 - Dutch Treat

Let's get one thing straight. This strange North American tendency to call the kind of bikes featured on this blog "Dutch bikes" is odd, to say the least.
Waiting *
A Made-in-Netherlands bike is a Dutch bike, silly.
It's like calling cars "American vehicles". Our fine friends, the Dutch, must be giggling at this branding of classic European bikes as "dutch bikes", just because some tourist at some point went to Amsterdam and went home to coin the phrase. Yes, we're bitter. :-)
Red and Yellow Encore un fois
This is a Dutch bike. Only because it's made in the Netherlands. The Old Dutch.
And it's happening again, this time in a more modern, marketing orientated way, with the advent of the Bakfiets cargo bike import wave to America. All of a sudden a normal "ladcykel" or cargo bike, of which there are hundreds of makes all over Europe, are called Bakfiets, just because they are the first kind people have seen.

It's kind of like the first white man to visit a remote tribe in the jungle somewhere tells the locals his name is Bob and then all white people are called Bobs from then on. :-)

The Dutch don't even call them Dutch bikes, for heavens sake. In the Netherlands and Denmark we just call them bikes. In Denmark these bikes are sometimes called "bedstemor cykler" or grandma bikes, just as in the Netherlands they're called 'Oma' and 'Opa' bikes. On many bike brand websites they are often called Classic or Retro. But by and large they are referred to as "damecykler" and "herrecykler" - lady and gentleman.
Blue and White *
Another Old Dutch Dutch bike from the Netherlands.
I like the British term "sit up and beg bike", which is lovely and descriptive, as I'd rather sit up and beg than hunch forward in some strange, unnatural position. If I'm racing in a time trial on Day 15 of the Tour de France, I'll want some hunched over aerodynamic goodness, but the rest of the year, I prefer a humane, ergonomically correct position. My mother taught me to sit up straight.
14:10 - 19 Copenhagen Minutes
But I digress. Bikes from Dutch bikemakers are often seen in Copenhagen. They don't dominate by any means, but they are aesthetically pleasing additions to our bike culture.

The Old Dutch bikes above, as well as the DIVA at the top are all from Batavus. If you fancy going Dutch, Batavus is a great place to start. They have an amazing catalogue.

A propos brands that are only avaible in certain countries in Europe, Batavus have several models unique to Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. They even have a Danish Collection - "Batavus has developed certain models especially for the Danish market. The Danish bikes are carefully aimed at the demands and specifications regarding design and quality that many Danish cyclists have."

Visit Batavus' international website and click on the different flags to see the difference in products from country to country.


Unknown said...

First of all your stories are really nice and I love to read about cycling in Copenhagen.

For this story I like to add a little bit because you already mentioned that the Dutch rever to opa and oma in case of this bike, in fact it is called Opoefiets, meaning grandma bike.

Strangely I seldom see someone of that age cycling a bike like this since it takes much more effort! These bikes are very popular among teenagers, I guess for the image because for cycling long distances I would prefer another bike.

Amsterdamize said...

finally we have an exitingly different export/promotional product besides tulips, windmills, coffee shops, euthanasia, gay marriage...and then you come along and try to spoil that!!


Anonymous said...

They're called Dutch bikes in Germany as well, Hollandrad is a very common nomenclature for bikes with a certain geometry, a closed Chainguard and a skirt-protector.

Just fyi :-)

Colville-Andersen said...

myana: the elderly citizens of Denmark all ride the same bikes as everyone else without any problem. I have a number of photos on my flickr photostream of elderly cyclists.

they're easy to ride, that's why most of the population ride them.

mindcaster: we just want a piece of the action... :-)

anon: you just spoiled my day... :-)

Janet Karam said...

Really love the first photo, Mikael...poka dot tights...yes!

2whls3spds said...

I am guilty of using the "Dutch Bike" moniker on occasion. I promise I will try to do better ;-) It is a convenient term...and people do know what you mean. In America it would be considered a "comfort bike" but even that is a misnomer when you factor in what is sold in that range. The true Danish or Dutch branded bikes are of much better quality than the bulk of what is sold over here in that category. Pricier too, but you get what you pay for!


Anonymous said...

I rode an older British 3-speed exclusively until fairly recently. I live in Portland (ha!) and started riding a ten-speed with drop-arm handlebars a few months ago. I put the handlebars higher, so I'm not totally hunched over.

I just got tired of being passed by other cyclists everywhere I went. Plus, the hills here? Can be murder. Even on my ten-speed in the lowest gear, I'm huffing and puffing up some of those hills.

I still ride the three-speed bike on occasion though. It's great when I want to take in the scenery and I'm not in a hurry!

joeyTWOwheels said...

Man, I really want a Dutch bike like the ones in this blog. I shall ride it in head-to-toe Lycra.

Somebody slap me...

Anonymous said...

Wow, what attitude! Makes me want to stop reading the blog. Huge generalizations made about the rest of the world that don't seem to be grounded in fact.
In Canada I've never heard the term "Dutch bike."
Cruiser, comfort or town bike maybe...

Somanìa said...

here in Argentina we call them english bikes (bicicleta inglesa) or trail bikes (bicicleta de paseo)maybe the right name would it be retro bike? they are all made here. The first ones came whith the inmigrants mostly from italy and spain.

David said...

Thanks, Z, for giving us some additional vocabulary for these bikes.

I used to call them "wicked-witch-of-the-west bikes," after the nasty neighbor in The Wizard of Oz who turns into the Wicked Witch of the West while riding her bicycle.

I think the simplest descriptive name, and perhaps one I will adopt, is "very upright" bikes. "Upright" seem to be already in use by the comfort bike crew in the US, and those bikes are generally more hybrid-like, and require a 25 degree lean to reach the bars.

Anonymous said...

I've never really heard the term "Dutch bike" either, but if I did, I think it would be easy for most people to understand that it was referring to the sitting upright position that is not popular in the U.S., but popular in Amsterdam and other cycling capitals.

Actually, I have often gotten yelled at by numbskull kids calling me "Mary Poppins" while on my bike. So maybe that's another nickname for sitting-up-straight bikes. :/

Would LOVE to have a bike called DIVA! Hee! <3 Love that girl's polka dot tights too! The bike's chain guard and fenders are so wonderfully glossy!

Also dig the girl's white boots in the last photo. Ace.

Colville-Andersen said...

as always, great comments!

aprilstarchild: hills are no problem on "Dutch bikes". Many cities with high bike usage have hills, like Berne [25%], and the bikes are the same as here.

joey: 'SLAP!' :-)

anon: what are you talking about... generalisations? They are commonly referred to as Dutch bikes in Canada:
- "Jorg & Olif Dutch Bicycles - Modern stylish urban commuting" - Canadian company.
- "Rain City Bikes: Vancouver's Dutch Bike, Work Cycle, and Box Bike Specialist" - Vancouver bike shop.

interesting to hear the terms 'comfort bike' or 'english bike' or 'very upright bikes'. :-)

Colville-Andersen said...

mary poppins... wicked witch of the east... all amusing! :-)

Stéphane Brault said...

In montreal we call them, retrobikes or european bikes and nobody knows about new bikes made in denmark. But if i ask to my friends if they know a european bike brand, the response is: Marinoni, Peugeot, Raleigh... And if i ask them about the best bicycle city in Europe, the number one is Amsterdam.

Anonymous said...

Zak: As an american, I say sure, why not call cars "American Vehicles" - we've certainly bought into the whole concept lock stock and barrel, and have done more to oversell them to the rest of the world than any other country. I'm hoping that that can change, but it takes time. I must say, I try only to use the term "Dutch Bike" for bikes made in the Netherlands. I have used the terms "omafiets" and "opafiets" a bit more indiscriminately, even giong so far as to refer to a few recent bikes as "american opafietsen" ( http://www.rideyourbike.com/images/leapfrog/frostyleapfrog.jpg ). As for cargo bikes, I do try to explain to folks that a "bakfiets" would be any human powered vehicle with a large cargo box ("bak"), usually in front. We (my mates and I)love all cargo bikes, from cycle trucks and longjohns to longtails and touring bikes, and we try to educate people about the various styles and their relative advantages. It's fun ( http://rideyourbike.com/images/btwd2008/1.jpg ). Val

Anonymous said...

Here's that first link again, in a more palatable form: http://tinyurl.com/3qfguu
Sorry about that. Val

WestfieldWanderer said...

I can vouch for the ability of bikes with hub gears in hilly areas. I've hauled a 3-speed Brompton up and down the hills of Bath and the Mendip Hills in Somerset, UK. It can be done. And when it all get too much there's no shame in getting off and walking. Still good exercise. And you're working different muscle groups so it makes for better all round fitness.

At least, that's what I tell myself, anyway... ;)

Tartan Socks(long) said...

Here in the UK "Sit up and beg" is rarely used and nowadays most refer as dutch bike.
I have a healthy collection of such machines including Batavus,Gazelle and Sparta.
Great blog and today received Copenhagen Cycle Chic stickers,T-shirt & mousemat.

todd said...

Maybe it's my fault for writing "Dutchness": http://clevercycles.com/?p=193 . Anyway, I wrote there that Dutch wasn't exclusively Dutch. As for Bakfiets meaning the popular Dutch 2-wheel sort, that confusion appears to be deliberate on the part of the foremost manufacturer, http://bakfiets.nl . Xerox : copy :: Bakfiets : box bike. Bakfiets.nl calls their flagship bike the "Cargobike," which is unfortunately far too generic to work in America, so we've pushed the equally generic but appropriately foreign-sounding "bakfiets".

"Sit up and beg" describes for me the undignified posture supported by a so-called "comfort bike," far removed from the serenity of a classic Euro city bike. It's all about a relaxed seat tube angle and a short cockpit.

melanie said...

I generally refer to my "Old Dutch" a "Dutch bike" because most people-- even those on mountain bikes, fixed gears etc, in Salt Lake City, UT haven't seen anything like it before. I love it when you post pictures of the red ones, makes me so happy.

They can be ordered in the United States through Seattle Bike Supply and shipped to your local bike shop. Shipping didn't cost me anything extra.

dianasfaria.com said...

I would love to have any one of the bikes pictured in this post. Though I still tremendously enjoy my beloved bike. I'm sorry-they are just beautiful pictures of bikes. & all the people riding them seem beautiful as well.

Anonymous said...

I like the term "Dutch bikes". We (Americans) have to call them something. We can't call them normal bikes because that brings to mind mountain bikes, or beach cruisers.

Tawni @ Moonshine Beauty said...


Love your website, I'm an American of Danish heritage! Just thought I'd comment on this blog. When you say bike around my parts people think of a mountain bike. I didn't know what to call my "retro" bike, so I call it a beach cruiser, most people have seen my kind of bike around the beach areas of Cali, and know what I am talking about.

Anonymous said...

Look at an old (1950s or so) catalogue from a Dutch bike manufacturer and you'll find that they describe their bikes as "English style".

The old catalogues make a big deal of their use of English parts, such as Sturmey Archer gears and brakes and Brooks saddles. It would seem that the reason why the last few cm of the rear mudguard of "Dutch bikes" is painted white is that this was a legal requirement before in England in the 1930s.

Pashley is the only English maker of these bikes left, but there are lots of manufacturers in the Netherlands. These modern "Dutch bikes" have evolved beyond the old "English bikes".

My town bike here in the Netherlands is an old English 3 speed. It's not the fastest bike I own, but it's comfortable and gets used for most journeys.

Anonymous said...

The white part on the back fender was also a legal requirement in the Netherlands, since the early fifties I think.
I know in the eighties in primary school I learned it was a requirement during traffic ed.. It had to be 30cm.
It isn't required anymore. Don't know when it exactly was changed. I think late 80's early 90's when reflectors became mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Yet another US Citizen weighing in... We stand corrected but don't expect things to change.... We call fried potatos "French Fries". The Danish need and advertisement campaign in the US to carve their own niche.

I for one could not care less what people call fully functional utility oriented bikes in the US provided they start riding them.

love the blog, Copenhagen, and the beautiful women whom grace your pages... that my friend is a better complement than us changing "Dutch Bike" to "Danish Bike".


Old Nevermore said...

"Bedpan" bikes. As in "Carrying the bedpan."

Colville-Andersen said...

"French Fries" orginated in Belgium... another dismal 'lost in translation' example... :-)

As long as they don't get called "fully functional utility oriented bikes", I can live with Dutch Bikes.

thanks for that historial input, David.

Anonymous said...

Can you add the "THE BIKES OF COPENHAGEN SERIES" tag to this post? Thanks.

Colville-Andersen said...


aLex said...

no mention of henry's bicycles? just batavus? so sad for hank and me.

i use the phrase dutch because: a) my bicycle is a dutch bike (i.e., made in the netherlands), and b) the geometry is completely different from current american bicycle terminology (e.g., road, urban, mountain, comfort, hybrid, cruiser, etc.).

finally, i find all the use of country-specific adjectives with regard to bicycles humorous. "american" bicycles are made in china. people refer to their (actually) german bicycles as "danish" because they were designed in denmark. in a global economy, it's near impossible to get these adjectives correct. does one refer to the design, manufacturing, or place of assembly? it's the same with cars ...

Colville-Andersen said...

alex: No mention of it because i'm just trying to cover what bikes we see on the streets in copenhagen and you don't see any here.

i agree about the strange nomenclature of the global economy. although I see 'Dutch-style bikes' quite often. which at least is closer to the truth.

Anonymous said...

Here in belgium we also speak about 'Holland bikes', for the specific type. There's that little difference with the bikes made here (ludo/granville, oxford, l'avenir, minerva,...) And 'bakfiets' is indeed just the dutch word for a bike with a big box in front.

Anonymous said...

See? The Internet is always right! The (very narrow and biased sample of the) public has spoken and the Danish will just have to live with the terms "Dutch Bike" and "Bakfiets" to describe utility bikes and load carrying bicycles respectively. I vote to just leave it so and not mess with the status quo any further. ;-)

Colville-Andersen said...

Of course you're pleased, Henry... .-)

I choose, however to associate the phrase "Dutch bike" with the other usages of 'dutch' that have, with good reason, filtered into the English language.

Like 'going dutch' - meaning you're cheap, basically.
Or 'dutch courage' - meaning you need to be drunk to have courage.
Or 'dutch uncle' - meaning a person who issues frank, harsh, and severe comments and criticism.
Or 'dutch wife' - meaning a prostitute or a sex doll.
Or 'double dutch' - slang for gibberish.


Anonymous said...

You should also mention the Dutch manufacturer Gazelle. They currently offer their classic oma bike in gorgeous pink, olive and light blue color - search for the bike model "Basic" on their website gazelle.nl!


Colville-Andersen said...

I'd like to mention Gazelle, but this post is about the bikes we see on the bike lanes in copenhagen and gazelle isn't a brand you see.

Anonymous said...

Hej there,

I got really adicted to your site since politiken disclosed it in their article. The Copenhagen style I miss here in the Netherlands just bursts off your pictures, it's my every-morning piece of Copenhagen :)

I hope your cry to stop discriminating danish bikes as dutchies will work out, even though it still seems like a fine way to me to differentiate from the race bikes so many copenhageners cruise.

Anyways, I'm just left with one question: what's with dubbing the 'sack on a wet sadle' thing as 'very copenhagen'? Equally, it doesn't seem correct to claim it as a nation or even a city!

Keep up the good work :)

Colville-Andersen said...

Thanks Emmy! We'll claim anything we can as our own! :-)

Tad Salyards said...

Point taken. However, I'd like to point out that the Germans make the same mistake. In Oldenburg (an extremely bike friendly city in the Northwest) they refer to the bike style as a "Hollandrad." Oh well, at least it's not purely an American bias ;)

Dave Feucht said...

I've often heard bikes of the Oma/Opa fiets style called Utility bikes in the US, though Dutch bikes is a common term as well.

I guess Denmark just needs more international advertising, eh? :)

Anonymous said...

Geez , I've lived here in the US more then 50 years cycled all over the country and never ever heard them called a dutch bike . Go ,figure ? When I was a kid we called them english bikes or english racers because of the narrow tires and most were Ralieghs . Of course now I have a Italian bicycle made with American tubeing and French , English and Japanese parts that's assembled in Taiwain .Note that one country has nothing to do with the bike except maybe design , yes it's Italy . Sigh ....


Anonymous said...

Next you're going to tell me I can't get a Danish is Denmark......haha! Don't hate we amuricans for being simple. We have more pressing problems to worry about.....like people with guns shooting at us all the time.

Phoenix Foodies said...

There is an American bicycle company making affordable ($600) high quality hand made "Dutch Style" bikes. They're called Bowery Lane Bicycles - www.bowerylanebicycles.com

They're hand made out of American steel in a factory using solar energy in NYC and have been receiving a lot of press.

Lawrence said...

Actually, the Dutch do refer to a specific type of bike as a 'Dutch bike' (Hollandse fiets) or 'old-fashioned Dutch bike' (ouderwetse Hollandse fiets). It's generally the kind that has a coat protector on the rear wheel, built-in rear-wheel lock, dynamo headlight, enclosed chain, rubber straps on the rack, etc. That's enough to distinguish it from racers, mtn bikes, etc., that were originally popular elsewhere.