Most of London’s cyclists ride road bikes, hybrids and single speeds. If these styles give budding cyclists what they’re after, fantastic. If however you’re looking for excellent load carrying, all-weather performance, a more relaxed riding style and don’t mind pushing a bit more weight, you might be interested in Dutch bikes. I ride a WorkCycles Transport Double Tube around London, a classic, retro-styled, sit-up-and-beg Dutch bike. As a relatively rare sight on London’s streets, I thought I’d set out 10 reasons why Dutch bikes are worth considering in London.
1. Low maintenance: This is the main reason I got mine as it usually has to live outdoors. I was considering a Brompton until I discovered to my chagrin that my height made the riding position too forward for me. So I went to the other end of the scale – a tank-like bike that with its chain case, hub gears, roller brakes, hub dynamo and hard-wearing tyres would be ready to ride however long it had been sitting in London’s wet weather or pedalled across London. Less maintenance means more time on the bike, right?
2. Hugely practical: My other bike’s a 1999 HP Velotechnik StreetMachine GT recumbent. It’s a fantastic bike (now superseded by the immeasurably better StreetMachine GTe), but like most bikes it’s sold in its most basic form: no mudguards or pannier rack, let alone lights. That means quite a bit of extra thought and money needs to be invested into equipping it with the right accessories for touring or commuting. Dutch bikes come with everything you need for your safety and comfort and the bike’s: lights typically powered by super-reliable and low-drag hub-dynamos; a sturdy steel carrier; a highly stable stand; a bell; a lock; mudguards. They’re also incredibly tough and well-built. It’s true that all these accessories mean a little extra weight. but the benefit is that whatever the situation – dashing into a shop, loading shopping, coping with heavy rain or riding safely in the dark – Dutch bikes are ready to go.
3. Excellent load carriers: Dutch bikes are equipped with sturdy, steel carriers which can take the weight of a person unperturbed. My WorkCycles Transport Double Tube also comes with a frame-mounted front carrier which takes yet more weight without affecting the steering. I used to take off the basket to save a few kilos. Now I tend to leave it on as the convenience of being able to load and go is too much to give up.
4. Unlikely to be stolen in London: Dutch bikes tend to be viewed in the UK as heavy plodders that are hard to work on (that second bit is true, but thankfully there are plenty of bike mechanics in London adept at working on Dutch bikes). As such, the market for them is smaller than that for hybrids and road bikes. In turns this means that generally speaking you can get rather less angsty about leaving your Dutch bike locked up in London than you might a carbon-framed road bike. Case in point: a few years back my WorkCycles was sitting unlocked next to the road bike and hybrid of my flatmates in our back garden. The next morning, the road bike and hybrid had vanished. My WorkCycles was untouched.
5. All-weather machines: London’s a great city. Unfortunately it’s also rather wet. The exposed gearing, brake cables and rim brakes of my StreetMachine meant its riding experience would change noticeably in the wet: brakes would rub on the wheel and braking performance would reduce. The chain would get dirtier. My Dutch bike on the other hand is unaffected by wet weather. Its heat-treated frame keeps off the rust, its internal gears and brakes maintain their performance in the wet and their mudguards keep grit off the bike. My bike spends its days ambling between immovable outside object to immovable outside object, oblivious to the weather. Heavier they may be, but Dutch bikes are practically submersible.
6. You burn twice as many calories than on other bikes: The truck-like aerodynamics and heft of a Dutch bike mean that even the most determined silly commuter racer on a Dutch bike is likely to find it difficult to keep up with a road bike when pelting down Bayswater. But the pay-off is you really feel the burn. According to www.kreuzotter.de I burn twice as many calories maintaining 24 km/h on my 25 kg Dutch bike than a 9 kg road bike in a hands-on-the-dropped-handlebars position.
7. It’s easier to cycle in your normal clothes: I loved blitzing around London on my StreetMachine. I didn’t love having to change into cycle-specific clothing everytime I wanted to use it, including a fair bit of lycra. That rather restricted its use to trips where I could access a changing room at the destination. Cycling in normal clothes on hybrids is obviously possible, as London’s Mayor demonstrates on a daily basis. However one needs trouser clips and/or some way of stopping the chain getting oil over your trousers. The full chain case of Dutch bikes solves this problem.
8. Incredibly comfortable: Okay, so comfort is a subjective thing. Nevertheless if people were given the choice of spending two hours in an upright position on an uber-comfy Brooks B33 with minimal weight on the handlebars, or having to spread one’s weight between a small hard saddle and a set of handlebars lower than the saddle, I’d be pretty confident that the majority would choose the Brooks B33 and upright position.
9. Very few hills in London: A common criticism of Dutch bikes is that they’re slow up hills. Thankfully there are very few real hills in London: a couple in the south (e.g. Crystal Palace) and one or two in the North, none of which have proved unassailable for my 25 kg WorkCycles. Most of London, including central London and zone 1 in its entirety is as flat as a pancake and as such, holds no fears for Dutch bike riders.
10. Stylish: Again, style is a subjective thing. And I’ll admit that road bikes have a certain timeless cachet thanks to the Tour de France. But who can deny the beauty of Dutch bikes and the elegance they encourage in their riders? Doubtless the reason why I regularly get admiring comments from the public about my bike, ranging from “cool”, “neat”, “proper” to “Yo man, dat bike is siiick!”
So there you have it. Ten reasons to consider a Dutch-style city bike as a means of getting around London.