DUTCH-STYLE BIKES – will they catch on in Australia?

Dutch grandmothers love their granny bikes, and so do many other people.

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.

Amsterdam: so many bikes, so little lycra!

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.

A Dutch classic - Gazelle Toer Populair, available from Gazelle Bikes Australia. We love the look!

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?

The Dutch-invented butterfly handlebars, built for comfort, not for speed.

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/


Filed under Cycling, Holland, Travel-Australia

17 responses to “DUTCH-STYLE BIKES – will they catch on in Australia?

  1. Paul Martin


    I am the proud owner of quite a few Dutch bikes now. They’re all different and I love them all. The bike that is used the least is my lightweight road bike – it spends most of its time indoors on rollers as it is a pain to clean with it’s exposed chain, etc. and really it is a piece of sporting equipment, not a sensible mode of transport (just like a Ferrari isn’t a sensible car to do the groceries).

    There is a lot to be said for a well designed, low maintenance bicycle. We need more of them here!

  2. Good on you, Paul!

    I couldn’t decide, so have a (Kona) hybrid as my one Australian bike. In Holland we have 5 bikes in the shed, each with a slightly different purpose.

    I think Mevrouw T’s next Australian bike will be Dutch, however, almost certainly sourced from one of the above-mentioned enterprises. They seem to be doing a great job!

  3. tara

    sweet post! thanks

  4. They are catching on everywhere, Richard. I have seen quite a few in New York, in Boulder CO and even one or two in LA. And then there is, of course, my son’s blue one here in Amsterdam, which is actually lighter and speedier than my own 5-speed one. Keep spreading the word, because biking is the best way to move around anywhere.

    • I’ll look out for them in NY, Mina. And a blue bike in Amsterdam? I thought I had the only one – a French Peugeot that looks cheaper than the chain that ties it to the bridge. And it was – EUR50 at a Dusseldorf market.

  5. Michelle

    Hi Richard et al. –

    After riding several borrowed bikes over a couple of years on getting back into cycling, I bought myself a ‘new’ bike from Omafiets about a month ago. I was inspired by riding several friends’ Gazelles (which I loved but couldn’t *quite* afford new), plus the facts that I feel *really* uncomfortable in the riding position offered by most bikes available in Australia and am most *definitely* not out for speed.

    I got a Batavus Crescendo (the name clinched the deal, as I’m also a musician) for $850. It’s however-many years old, but that’s hard to tell until you look fairly closely. My thoughts so far:
    – it’s a heavy bugger (20kgs-ish), but it’s not too bad on hills once you learn to anticipate and gear appropriately. Oh, and I am so much fitter now than only a month ago. 🙂
    – riding it is like using any well-designed piece of technology: you wish it had a wotsit right there – and it does – and it’s made to last, which I especially appreciate.
    – the cafe lock is brilliant – love not having to carry a D-lock around any more, and the fact that it locks to itself while you nip in somewhere for 30 seconds is ideal.
    – the riding position is glorious, the stop/start procedure is – as a fellow rider put it – ‘so graceful’ and the position for standing riding feels so much more comfortable.

    Oh, and I’m yet to see another Batavus around at all. While I like that novelty, I also like to think that that might make it less thievable (and frankly, anyone keen enough to steal it that they’d carry it away rolling on the front wheel only clearly wants it even more than me!).


    • Thanks Michelle,

      You sound like a satisfied customer. I should have mentioned those Axa locks too – they are really convenient and quick, though unfortunately not enough in Amsterdam. You need a front wheel chain and an anchorage at a fixed point too – really annoying that the bike thieves have become so active.

      Let’s hope it takes a while before Sydney bike theft reaches European standards!

  6. Michelle

    I do run a chain through the lock as well (when stored all day at work). However, even a thief who cuts the cable still has to treat a 20kg bike like a unicycle (which is going to look pretty stupid, IMHO), unless they can cut the Axa lock as well – in which case, good luck to ’em!!

    • In Amsterdam I once lost the key to my Axa lock. The guy from the local hardware store brought an angle grinder over and had it free in less than a minute.

      I think you’ll be fine in Sydney, though. Not so many unicyclists, perhaps.

  7. Rachel

    I’ve never been to Australia, but was impressed by Netherlands and its bike-riding population sitting erect on comfy wide seats, with child seats front & back and carriers for stuff front & back. Recall seeing a woman near the Princess [something] aqueduct hauling 3 kids and groceries on one bike (with the 3rd kid in a trailer behind). She went by too fast for my camera. I admired her strength and applauded Dutch ingenuity.

    • A pity you missed the photo, Rachel.

      It gives me the idea to try for a blog post of people carrying weird loads on their bikes. Tanzania would have the place for that, but I’ll try when I’m back in Amsterdam next month. Thanks for the idea!

  8. I bought a Gazelle Toer Populair a couple of weeks ago, I have to say I have been unable to switch back to any of my other bikes since. It may be a bit slower, it’s the cheapest, heaviest bike I own, but it’s sooooo comfy, smooth and stylish

    You can read my full first impressions review here…


  9. dinsdale27

    I use one in the UK. They are not so bad and they are almost indestructable. The only thing to remember, is when you get it the brakes will (usually) be the wrong way round, meaning the front brake is on the left lever, and the rear on the right. Making for interesting riding (or just do like I did and swap the cables over) also intend to remove the dynamo lights, makes pedling hard, and replace with usb rechargable ones. not a bad bike and its comfy too.

    • Thanks d27. Yes, I too prefer the battery lights to the dynamo ones, particularly since jamming the bike into crowded Amsterdam cycle racks regularly dislodges any cables. You have to remember to take the lights with you, though, or those Dutch equivalents of the Piranha brothers will nick em.

  10. Pingback: Halfwit Thieves Fail to Steal Bicycle from an American Expat in Germany | Oh God, My Wife Is German.

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