Bas of www.transportfiets.net, (that’s trans-port-feets-poont-net for english speakers) turned me onto this super little video. It’s genuine film footage from a 1933 race in Bussum (near Amsterdam) on baker’s and butcher’s bikes. Back in those days most transport bikes had fixed wheels (“fixies” you young folk) and like all those modern-day urban hipsters on track bikes, these bikes had no brakes either. There’s a difference though: A transportfiets weighs an easy 50kg, and that’s before it was loaded down with 50kg of meat. The wheels alone weigh a good 10kg each. Can you say mo-men-tum?
I have a handful of old “transportfietsen” in various states of disrepair and disassembly. They’re glorious machines; Very simple but so solidly made that they put all other bicycles to shame. Riding them is a great sensation. It takes a while to get up to speed but once all that mass is rolling there’s no stopping it.
These bikes were employed by practically every baker, butcher, milkman and other business in the Netherlands from perhaps the 1920’s until perhaps the 1960’s, when cars and delivery vans became affordable for small businesses. Keep in mind that the Netherlands was quite a poor country through modern history until the 1960’s. The bikes were ridden by delivery kids, much like pizzas are now delivered by annoying kids on mopeds with boxes on the back.
Note also that the Dutch Transportfiets predates the similar format but rather esoteric and much lighter duty French “porteur” or “veloporteur” by decades. Transportfietsen were also made in quite large quantities which partially accounts for the remarkably large number still on the streets, considering that the last of them went out of production in the 1970’s. Of course the fact that they were quality built like tanks also helps.
Transportfietsen were made by hundreds of firms, small and large and most of them look essentially the same: double top tube, huge front carrier fixed to the handlebar and (large) front axle, generally no rear carrier or parking stand. Pre-WW2 examples all had 28 x 1 3/4 wheels and usually fixed wheels. Later both 28″ and 26″ wheels were used and most were made with a single-speed Fichtel & Sachs Torpedo coaster brake hub. Parts such as chains and sprockets, forks handlebars, cranks, pedals etc were all bigger and stronger than on normal bicycles. I have never seen an old transportfiets originally equipped with gears or a front brake.
Have a look around transportfiets.net for tons of examples, including a number of bikes in restoration and also lots of old archive photos and catalogues. Bikes like this will never come back so it’s great that some enthusiasts are keeping them alive as examples of the values of another era.