I have to admit that I have a lot of bicycles, and I’m referring to bikes that are really just mine and not somehow part of the WorkCycles fleet or inventory. I periodically cull the flock but some have too much sentimental value to sell, even if I almost never ride them. There’s the Daedalus mountain bike from 1990, designed by me and built by Kent Ericksen of Moots in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There were six made of which I still know the whereabouts of four. I don’t think I could ever see my lovely De Rosa go. I bought it a year or two old from a friend in about 1982 and raced and trained on it for years until breaking one of the silly diamond shaped chainstays. My friend Brian Spitz (who built some of the world’s cleanest race frames for a while) repaired it but then I hung it up and forgot about it for 15 years. A couple years ago I decided I wanted to get back on a racing bike, found it still wrapped in paper and built it up again. Now it gets ridden regularly, much closer to it’s birthplace in Italy. There are many others, in order of how long I’ve owned them:
Those are all complete, rideable bikes. I also have a number of bikes in various states of incompleteness and a rather absurdly large collection of (mostly old enough to have no monetary value) parts. The semi-complete bikes include:
At least all of the old transport and city bikes are destined for the WorkCycles museum and a few are already on display. A few bikes including the city bike, Brompton, papa bike and racing bike are ridden regularly. Some of the others will return to service when the time is right. Amsterdam has, for example, a fantastic indoor velodrome and I’ve been itching to get back on the track, though that might have to wait until Pascal is old enough to ride too.
Anyhow this is a long intro to noting that I got another bike. This one is a transportfiets (Dutch delivery bike) from the firm “Yankee” in Hoogeveen (where Azor is now and Union once was). I’d never heard of Yankee but that doesn’t mean much; until the 1960’s there were hundreds of small firms building bikes in the Netherlands. Lugs, tubing and components were bought in from various suppliers and the bikes were built from scratch. The quality was typically excellent but the designs were very conservative. Only experts can tell many of the bikes apart and little changed from the 1920’s through the 1960’s or even 1970’s in some cases. A few of the manufacturers were known for particularly high quality (Empo, Fongers, Gazelle, Simplex) and/or unique design (Fongers, Locomotief, Maxwell, Simplex). Yankee though has somehow disappeared into the gorges of history.
Despite it’s near anonymity my Yankee is a beautiful bike, even after at least 50 years and perhaps even a decade or two more. I purchased it from a neighbor. When he brought it in it wasn’t pretty but it was clearly solid, complete and quite original. He’d originally bought the bike some 15-20 years ago for his catering business but no longer needed it. Since then we’ve mostly stripped it down, thoroughly cleaned and polished everything, straightened the front carrier and handlebars, replaced the tires (with better old ones) and assorted other improvements. Only the pedals, which weren’t original anyway, are “incorrect”.
You might not be familiar with the old Dutch transportfietsen and aside from the lovely brass head badge this one’s as typical as they get. Here’s a rundown of some of it’s features:
Perhaps the most obvious feature of a classic transportfiets is the front carrier, always fixed to the wide, 1″ diameter handlebar, very heavy fork crown and front axle. Thus this giant carrier swings with the wheel making it a handful to ride when loaded. Typically a huge basket or wooden crate was mounted on the carrier to carry bread, meat, milk or whatever else the tradesman (or his son) delivered. The load capacity was huge, both in volume and weight. This carrier was made by the firm “Roelewiel” who made the carriers for many brands of bikes.
The reason these bikes still exist despite their hard lives is the extraordinarily robust construction. This bike weighs almost 40kg. There’s not a single dent in the fenders or frame tubes and the frame was still perfectly straight. The drive chain, chainring and cog are 1/2″ x 3/16″, like on mopeds and small motorcycles. The crank bearings are larger diameter and wider. The cranks are massive chunks of steel.
Bonus for the hardcore nerds who spotted that the left crank is mounted backwards: Yes, I’m aware of it. It’s that way because the crank was apparently bent in an accident and after straightening it still has a little “S” bend so it now fits better backwards.
Before WWII all Dutch transportfietsen had 28″ wheels, generally 28 x 1.75″ like this bike. For those keeping up with current fads and trends that’s the same size known now as a “29’er”. After WWII they were built with either the 28″ wheels or fatter 26″ wheels (for even heavier duty applications). My Yankee has the classic Vredestein “Transport Extra Zwaar” tires. This translates to “transport extra heavy” and they weren’t kidding; these tires weigh some 1500g each and they’re supported by special steel rims that weigh a couple kilos each.
The early transportfietsen were mostly or all fixed gears, meaning they had no means of freewheeling nor did they have brakes. The rider slowed the bike by means of resisting the rotation of the pedals. This was no mean feat on a heavy and heavier loaded bike with the further momentum of such heavy wheels. Of course these bikes were only ridden by professionals, though even they indulged in competitions. During WWII the occupying Nazis banned fixed gear bicycles (really, I’m not making this up) perhaps for a couple reasons:
The Yankee has a coaster brake hub I’ve never seen though. It’s a Bendix like the American hubs I grew up with, except that this one is different. Inside and out it looks much like the German Torpedo but still different, most notably that it has a helical actuator instead of the roller clutch used in the Torpedo. In any case it’s definitely a special, heavy duty model with a 3/16″ cog threaded in place with a locknut.
Am I going to ride it? Nah, probably not for a while. I’m just going to hang it up in our Lijnbaansgracht shop as one more constant reminder of what “quality” means.