Transportfiets race in Bussum, 1933

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?

Amstel, work cycle

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.

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7 Responses to “Transportfiets race in Bussum, 1933”

  1. davidhembrow Says:

    Fantastic video, thanks. I think this used to go on all over. Somewhere, a long time ago, I saw some photos of old British delivery bikes being raced around a velodrome in London. Unfortunately I don’t even know where to start looking to find them !

  2. henry Says:

    Hi David, I’m sure this was fairly common since men have the urge to race everything that moves and even some that don’t: tractors, belt sanders, chainsaws, bakfietsen, bathtubs, computers, tugboats, DAF’s backwards…

    I’ve also seen photos of French triporteur races and no doubt its been done in Scandinavia, Asia, South America and anywhere else more than two transport bikes have been simultaneously ridden by delivery boys.

  3. Anon of Florida Says:

    “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.”

    With the declining availability of petroleum, I very much doubt that, however by keeping these samples alive and well, framebuilders have templates from which to satisfy renewed demand.

  4. henry Says:

    Anon, I mean that even with these bikes waiting as templates, similar bikes will never be built again because our societal values and expectations have changed. The classic transportfiets hails from a time when normal people expected to pay quite large sums of money for tools that would last a lifetime.

    It would cost an absolute fortune to make such machines again but they could never compete in a market where people expect to pay nearly nothing for products designed, marketed and manufactured with cheap labor for a short lifespan. Small business owners will not pay several thousand euros for such a simple bicycle, but that is what they would have to cost. Being the founder of a company that develops and sells utility bikes I’m quite sure of this.

    Even just for the fun of it, making these bikes again would be beyond the capabilities of small-scale framebuilders. The only parts that are still available are the frames, spokes and tires. Only the frames and perhaps handlebars could be readily copied in a reasonably original form. This is why such a cult has formed around finding, restoring and maintaining old transportfietsen.

  5. amsterdamize Says:

    Man, I love that video! Thanks for posting this, true to form.

    “The classic transportfiets hails from a time when normal people expected to pay quite large sums of money for tools that would last a lifetime.”

    “…where people expect to pay nearly nothing for products designed, marketed and manufactured with cheap labor for a short lifespan.”

    I think you’re absolutely right. One of the reasons I ride a FR8, a bike that’s there for the long run. In 1930’s terms, a relatively long run ;).

  6. Anon of Florida Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly in your criticisms of the neophilia prevalent in the culture. However (pardon the Americentrism) as we become more materially poorer, there will be demands created from those who now realize that their tools need to last quite a bit longer than previous expectations would have demanded.

    If I’m not being clear enough, I am referring to the global recession and the likely Depression in the United States and possibly other countries. I look at the new street vendors at the intersections and I see the old transportfiets here and I cannot help but see that there is a demand building in that direction, and there is likely someone who is going to have to meet that demand with something.

    As far as barriers to the physical ability of builders to renew production of these bikes, I’m not referring to authentic restoration and continuation verbatim of the old forms, rather similar analogous forms, kludged together from equal parts from inspiration of the old transportfiets, newer hardware from “sporting cycling” such as BMX and Mountain bicycles which demand physical robustness, and local needs and wants.

  7. henry Says:

    Florida, Thanks for the more thorough explanation. Yes, I agree in principle that “the real thing”: simple, durable transporters without marketing or intellectual pretense will have to be made. In that sense were already doing it with the WorkCycles FR8. These bikes are modern, heavy-duty transport bikes, designed and built with the same ethic as the old ones but for the present day world.

    Your last paragraph sums it up nicely; Modern transport bikes will certainly be produced and some of them will be good, but they won’t be such lovely infinitely durable objects hand worked from 50kg of steel, rubber and leather. That’s just part of a lost era.

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