The fake Bakfiets Cargobikes keep on coming

Some stories have to be told, even when you know in advance you’re going to piss some people off. I’m writing this post much more out of sense of justice and to spare a few people some frustration than to further WorkCycles’ interests.

bakfietsweb steering system

The topic of the horrible, Chinese made family bakfiets copies has come up here intermittently but I’ve never written anything in depth about them. For those unfamiliar I’m talking about bakfietsen sold under various and constantly changing names, some of which are listed in this post on bakfiets.co.uk. Regular readers already know my conviction that these crude constructions of randomly “designed”, stamped and welded pot metal in the shapes of “bikes” and “trikes” are actually of negative value to their unfortunate purchasers and the world in general. The various fly-by-night firms selling them without warranty promote them as less expensive though somewhat simplified alternatives to similar looking, quality bicycles made by Bakfiets.nl, Christiania, Gazelle, Fietsfabriek and WorkCycles. If this were really the case I’d respect their activities, helpful or detrimental to those of my own.

However they’re just pandering to wishful thinking; Sure, it’d be great to have some inexpensive bakfiets options for families but the laws of physics and economics even apply to bicycles. The quality models simply cost what they have to, given the heavy duty demands, the need for safety and relatively small quantity production. Depending on the format and how deluxe it’s equipped they cost (in the Netherlands) between €1300 and about €2300. Anybody who can come up with a better price-quality-feature ratio will succeed in this competitive market.

The “bak-fakes”, on the other hand, are sold solely to earn a quick profit. They’re designed and made to such low standards that they’re really not useful machines. The customer is not getting a less pretty version of a €1500 bicycle for €600, she’s getting stuck with a flatpack full of ill-fitting, fast rusting steel pieces, paperboard panels and inappropriately chosen bicycle parts sourced from the very lowest level of department store bikes. Even if one pays a professional mechanic to do the assembly and replace the completely unusable pieces a decent riding, safe, semi-acceptably durable family transporter will never emerge. Even if no physical harm results from riding the thing, it’ll deteriorate with amazing rapidity. Oh, and there’s NO warranty. When your bike breaks in half (yes, they do that) you’re just outta luck.

The Dutch seem to have lost patience with the bak-fakes so we’re seeing fewer and fewer of them. Dutch people might be famous for loving a good deal but they do actually ride their bikes, so really crappy bikes tend not to stay on the market very long. Look how Kronan’s success here was so short lived. I guess that explains why the Chinese bak-fake manufacturers are seeking out new markets. Now they’ve just shown up on American shores through a firm called DoubleDutchBikes.

Ian at Bakfiets.co.uk has been following my discussion with Daniel Kok, who’s written a few comments on this blog about the bicycles he’s importing from China to the USA. Judging one’s character just by the comments they leave on blogs and by their website isn’t exactly a reliable science but the picture Ian’s post paints is indeed pretty sketchy looking. Blog comments pretending to be a customer of your own business and roundabout non-answers to questions aren’t good signs.

Daniel initially commented as “dkok” here in this post, though referred to Doubledutchbikes as “they”. Clicking the link he left behind I found on his site that the proprieter seemed to be a certain Daniel Kok. Given the Dutch name and similarity to “dkok” it didn’t seem too great a leap to guess that Daniel was our poster. Returning to the site today I cannot find his name there anymore. Whatever. I understand that the small business owner just needs to get the word out there and who expects the etiquette police to be following like hawks.

So anyhow Daniel and I discussed whether his bikes are or are not the cheapo bikes in question. Ian of bakfiets.co.uk picked up on our discussion and apparently did some further research. If such things concern you go ahead and read about more of Daniel’s blog commenting activities on Ian’s site.

On Bakfiets.co.uk Ian shows a bunch of pictures of these bikes with commentary about certain features. Some of the images actually originate from my own Flickr photo set you can see in the slideshow below.

Daniel claims to have made extensive changes to the bike so I suppose the crux of the matter is whether DoubleDutchBikes has really made so many improvements to justify:
A. Selling them at all.
B. A price increase from about $650 (€500 in NL) to $1900.

That would seem a tall order but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen more. Until then CAVEAT EMPTOR, folks… and happy cycling, whatever you choose to ride!

26 Responses to “The fake Bakfiets Cargobikes keep on coming”

  1. Ze Evil Kohl Says:

    Good thing i read this warning before i drove the way to take a look at their bikes.
    While i do admit that something seemed fishy regarding their prices i wouldn’t have guessed they’s just rust away like in the pictures.

    Thanks bakfiets-en-meer, back to saving for a christiania, unfortunately noone is selling their used cargobikes.

  2. Dave Says:

    It makes a lot of sense that in a bike which is specifically meant for carrying a lot of weight, the design and construction would make a big difference. Even in a regular bike, having gotten a cheap-ish one myself (not knowing any better at the time), I can see issues with some of the parts they used being temperamental or even unusable with regular use – and that’s with not nearly the stress on them that is put on a bakfiets carrying humans or furniture or appliances or other heavy loads.

    I think it’s a pretty good general rule that it’s worth spending a little bit more to get something that’s worth having, that will last. We (especially in America) treat almost everything as disposable, and it not only is extremely wasteful, but it cheapens our experience with things as well. There’s something very nice and satisfying about an object (any object) which is clearly well made.

  3. henry Says:

    Dave,

    “I think it’s a pretty good general rule that it’s worth spending a little bit more to get something that’s worth having, that will last….”

    Coincidentally I just put up a general WorkCycles FAQ where this comes up a couple times. Have a read:
    http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/faq-about-workcycles/

    This is the first in a series of such FAQ’s that will get links from the WorkCycles site.

  4. Dave Says:

    “Why are WorkCycles bikes so expensive?”

    This is a question that I know Clever Cycles here in Portland deals with a lot (specifically in relation to WorkCycles bikes, and others like Pashley and Retrovelo), and I think it largely has to do with cultural ideas about what a bike is used for. Here, though it is changing fairly quickly, bicycling is still viewed largely as a sport, or a recreation. People will spend several thousand dollars (up to $5,000-6,000) on a racing bike, but any bike that is non-sports oriented is seen as a recreational bike (something for toodling around the neighborhood). And of course, why would you spend $1,500 on a bike to toodle around the neighborhood? But as we know, that’s not what these bikes are intended for at all, they are more in the car-replacement vein, in which case, they are actually quite a cheap alternative. It just takes thinking about them that way to see it. I don’t think most people here have begun to consider that it might be feasible to replace a car with a bike yet.

  5. 2whls3spds Says:

    This a problem that will never go away as long as people shop price. We see it on a daily basis in the US on everything. Try and buy a quality built product and you will have a long search regardless of what you you are looking for!

    Aaron

    There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey._John Ruskin (1819-1900)

  6. red hippie Says:

    Here in portland, there is a local shop that imports the Chinese bikes. They supposedly re-manufacture the bikes to improve their reliability. Still about $1600, but much more affordable than the $3000 for the Dutch version. Here is the link to the website: http://www.joe-bike.com/ It should be interesting to see how they hold up over time.

    My family recently purchased a Larry vs Harry Bullitt. With our hills and longer distance commutes, this bike fits the demands of day to day riding. It is a fascinating time to live in the middle of a bicycling revolution.

    Cheers

  7. henry Says:

    Red Hippie,
    I’m familiar with Joe Bike. The Chinese Bakfiets.nl imitation he imports is a different bike than the one described in this post. It’s a much more literal copy and was the subject of litigation here in Europe. The bike Joe sells was declared illegal and cannot be sold in Europe. Though not in the same quality league as the original it’s also a much better frame than the amazingly terrible contraptions described above, that DoubleDutchBikes claims to have improved. That’s why we’re so skeptical; Turning this bike into a good bike would be like turning a velvet Elvis into the Mona Lisa.

  8. henry Says:

    Red Hippie,
    I recently came across one of these bikes that Joe Bike sells, rotting away in my neighborhood. I took a few pictures which can find in my Flickr set about imitation cargobikes.

  9. Daniel Says:

    Have you noticed that the pictures of the supposedly newly designed “Doubledutch” and the old “bakfietsweb.nl” models are the same? Even in the low resolution and small size you can easily see that they have used the same image, but just photoshopped a different logo onto the bikes. So much for “completly redesigned and improved”.

    By the way, I have to thank you for your blog. I was about to order a cheap flat packed trike. To use for grocery shopping, as both me and my spouse lack a driving license. But the little research I did really paid off and saved me from a terrible purchase.

  10. henry Says:

    Daniel,
    I did notice that the photos in the DoubleDutch site are identical to those on the Bakfietsweb site… and probably the sites of the other ten names they sell them under. It all seems rather sketchy.

    For somebody on a really tight budget I’d recommend a second hand bike. I occasionally see an old Christiania of Bakfiets.nl Cargobike short model for moderate prices. With some handiwork either will ride for a long time… certainly much longer than any of the flat-baks.

  11. Amoeba Says:

    Saw one of these yesterday (February 14th 2011) in Walton-on-Thames, UK.

    Specification: front vee brakes; Seat post tube welded to curved seat tube; Lever-clamped fold-joint, just behind steering column; colour black (no decals); wavy-top box.

    Unfortunately and unusually, I was driving rather than cycling and needing to be elsewhere, so I couldn’t chat with the lady wheeling it. It looked very clean and sparkling, so presumably it was new.
    Since it didn’t have a puncture, why wasn’t she riding it? It was on level ground. Aren’t bikes made to be ridden?
    Are these bak-fakes seriously over-geared?

  12. henry Says:

    Back when these bikes were still selling well in Amsterdam their owners would periodically bring them in incapacitated due to various evils within the chain case. Generally it would just appear that the chain had derailed but upon closer inspection the problems were generally more serious. That’s logical since a new chain running in a straight chainline between a single chainring and cog should have no reason to derail.

    Amongst the things we found:
    -chainring separated from crank
    -crank bearings so crude that enormous play had quickly developed wobbling chain off
    -frame and chainline alignment so bad that chain couldn’t run properly
    -chainrings and cogs so eccentric and wobbly that a chain could barely run on them anyway

    And the topper…
    – one piece steel chaincases with only a single, tiny access hole to “dribble” a chain into. In other words the “drivetrain” was pressed together at the factory and further unserviceable without cutting everything off and starting over with new parts.

    Those front Vee brakes, by the way: They’re frequently just one half of a Vee brake on each front wheel. Really. I don’t make this stuff up.

  13. Amoeba Says:

    Henry,
    Thanks for that. I had gathered these bak-fakes were the stuff of nightmares, but it seems that they’re considerably worse than I had gathered.

    If I see her, I’ll probably play dumb and ask her how she’s getting on with it. Then I’ll report back, largely as a warning to others.

  14. Amoeba Says:

    Henry, I’ve seen a couple of criticisms of http://www.wheelhousebikes.com/, who are listed as one of your dealers, I copy one below. Since both posts are anonymous, it’s impossible to contact the individual(s) concerned, or to be certain about motivations, but I thought you ought to know. Since I live in Europe, it doesn’t affect me, plus it isn’t any of my business, but I thought you should be aware, just in case. Because while I don’t own any of your products, I have ridden some and I liked what I saw.
    FWIW, I perceive you as a decent honest person who does something you love.

    [quote]
    angry customer Says:
    March 11th, 2011 at 5:39 pm
    I paid close to $2,000 for what I thought was a real dutch bakfiet bike from
    http://www.wheelhousebikes.com only to find out it is a $150 Chinese knockoff. Avoid wheelhouse bikes like the plague.

    What happened to integrity?

    wheelhousebikes is the biggest scam company in California!
    [end quote]
    http://cargocycling.org/2010/10/the-big-china-rip-off.html#comment-66588

  15. henry Says:

    Hi Amoeba,
    Thanks for the heads up. I just did a quick search and found exactly the same comment on at least four other blogs:
    http://www.cheaphack.net/2010/07/diy-bakfiets.html
    http://www.metaefficient.com/bicycles/longtail-bikes-a-review-and-buying-guide.html
    http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=1395
    http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/2010/03/bulk-groceries-on-a-bike/

    I’m fairly sure it’s just a smear campaign but I’ll investigate further and (assuming they’re false) ask to have the comments (and other comments from the same IP) removed.

  16. Amoeba Says:

    Henry,
    That’s worse than I thought. I have suggested at two of the sites that IP addresses are logged.

    I had assumed it was a smear campaign.

  17. Kim Says:

    I am fairly sure that “angry customer” is running a smear campaign which was why I gave wheelhousebikes the chance to reply. I can let you know the IP address if you are interested.

  18. henry Says:

    Hi Kim,
    Thanks for making contact and for reaching out to Wheelhouse – I was actually planning to mail you and the other bloggers he’s hit about exactly that. I’d very much appreciate getting the IP address of “angry customer”.

  19. Amoeba Says:

    Henry,
    Here’s another one:
    http://cargocycling.org/2010/10/the-big-china-rip-off.html

  20. Amoeba Says:

    Henry,
    Oops! That should be:
    http://cargocycling.org/2010/10/the-big-china-rip-off.html#comment-57062

    It’s ‘angry customer’ again.

  21. Amoeba Says:

    Henry,
    Yet another one:

    http://www.metaefficient.com/bicycles/longtail-bikes-a-review-and-buying-guide.html#comment-154939

  22. Amoeba Says:

    Oops! You’d already found that last one!

  23. henry Says:

    Thanks Amoeba & KIm,
    I’ve passed all the relevant info on to Erik at Wheelhouse.

    The IP address is apparently in Costa Mesa, CA. It could be somebody else in the bike biz, a pissed off customer or business relation, or just one more random, internet empowered freak? You never know.

    I’ve dealt with a few of these situations before. One was a Dutch company that sells a lot of poor quality but decent looking Chinese made bakfietsen. There was a small Danish bike company who was attacking both Workcycles and Pashley on many blogs. Another was a dealer for a short period who seems to have changed plans and began attacking Workcycles amongst other makes. In all three cases we were either 100% or 95% sure of the culprit, but we never got anybody to admit or apologize. Publicly turning the tables got them to at least direct their attacks elsewhere.

    It’s frustrating and a waste of time but seems to be the flip side of a connected world in which even a small firm can garner an international audience and customer base.

  24. Pat Says:

    Has anyone heard of Keiler – http://www.keilerfietsen.nl ?

    They seem to be new as only taking preorders. They claim to be dutch made but the prices seem too good to be true for electric cargo bikes, starting at €999 for the electric trike. Checked their facebook page and they have 16 likes with nothing but a logo as well as no other info online, so they are either just very new or a scam?

  25. henry Says:

    I hadn’t heard of these folks before but that’s no great surprise; it’s just the same generic, chinese made BSO’s* as sold under a dozen other, constantly changing names.

    *BSO = Bicycle Shaped Object

  26. Pat Says:

    I just wanted to let you know that thanks to your site we avoided being duped into buying a fake bakfiet and instead found a second hand Christiania in great condition for 850€. I can now commute across Berlin with 2 dogs and have had no problems at all with it. Can really see and feel the difference with a decent cargo bike. Thanks for all the advice on your blog.

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