Dutch Bike Questions

Mark Stosberg in Richmond, Indiana, USA sent a kind note asking a couple relevant questions worth public answers. The photo below I blatantly stole from Mark’s blog. It seemed appropriate.

Mark Stosberg in Bakfiets Cargobike with passengerMark

Hello Henry,

Thank you for your blog which provides a unique glimpse into Dutch bike
culture for westerners like me who haven’t been able to visit yet.

As a new bakfiets owner in Richmond, Indiana, I have a couple things
I’ve curious about, which I think would make interesting topics for
future blog posts.

1. Accessories. In the photos I see of Dutch community bikes, there is a
noticeable absense of several accessories: Rear view mirrors, bike
computers, and water bottles.

If I had to guess, the answers might be:

– Rear view mirrors would be stolen (assuming they are detachable)
– For the bike computers and water bottles, perhaps they are less
important for shorter, urban trips, and also could either be stolen, or
would create another chore to carry the removable parts inside all the

2. “Key Management”. The AXA Defender lock seems like it is somewhat
common there. If I attach the key for it to my keychain, I have to
leave the whole keychain attached to the bike when it is unlocked, and
my foot hits the keys that way. Are there common ways people avoid
this, and still keep track of their AXA Defender keys?

Unrelated, you may be interested in the stories and photos I recently
created about my new bakfiets. You can access that content through my
homepage below.



As you suggest just a short time in a Dutch city would be enough to formulate your own answers. I visit to Amsterdam is thus highly recommended!

In the meantime…

People in the Netherlands install many types of accessories on their bikes, but no never rear-view mirrors, water bottles or cycle computers.

Rear view mirrors are important when fast moving, uncaring, dangerous traffic approaches from behind. That’s a rare situation in Holland since we almost always ride on special bicycle roads or at least well-protected bicycle paths. The infrastructure in the Netherlands is built for bicycling, and that includes many tactics to avoid, divert, slow and calm automobile traffic. Some inner cities are only barely accessible by auto, perhaps just at certain times of the day for shops to receive goods. Its just not dangerous or scary to ride a bicycle here.

Water bottles are found on racing bicycles. If you get thirsty in the city you just stop to get a drink at a grocery store or cafe. Or wait until you’re home or at the office, or school, or kindergarten. Why are Americans always drinking water, anyway? American tourists here often have water bottles hanging from their waists or on their backpacks, or even stranger: little backpacks with tubes leading to about mouth level like something out of a sci-fi movie. This isn’t Dune, its Amsterdam.

Cycle computers? What does one calculate on the way home from the bakery? Average time saved by runnning red lights? Maximum vibrational g-forces over the cobblestones? Every cathedral has a clocktower to know the time.

Cynical comments aside (sorry, had to do it!) a Dutch city is an extremely rough environment for a bicycle. For more about how the enormous numbers of bicycles in Amsterdam are parked and treated have a look at these two posts:

Bike Parking in Holland 1
Bike Parking in Holland 2

Bike parking in Holland: Installment 2

Almost all bicycles are parked outside and bike racks, impatient neighbors, vandals, construction crews, thieves and weather make life very difficult for a bicycle. Its difficult enough to keep the bicycle itself intact, never mind little, protruding objects such as a mirrors or computers.

Case in point: I woke up yesterday to find the (quite heavy-duty) front wheel of my own bike in a new potato-chip shape, and front fork likely bent too. A construction crew was working next to it with a giant crane that had been freshly installed on our tiny canal street the same morning. Coincidence? Doubtful, but they denied any knowledge of my trashed bike. For me its just an inconvenience, but for others it’d cost €100 to repair.

workcycles dutch bicycle with front wheel damage

workcycles dutch city bike with damaged wheel

Key Management
Almost every bicycle in the Netherlands has a rear wheel lock, the most popular of which are the Axa Defender and its predecessors the Axa SL7 and SL9.

There are two basic approaches to combining the keys:

Most Dutch mostly ride just one bike. City people basically ride that bike everywhere so they just put the keys for the wheel lock (and in the city the key for the separate huge chain lock) on the same ring as their other keys. Yes, the keys jingle around and hit your legs and feet while you ride, but most people don’t care. Its no more annoying than the loose left crank cotter and rear mudguard stay that drags against the wheel.

Some people ride more than one bike. Typical case is a family with a bakfiets cargobike: The bakfiets is basically mom’s daily ride but once a week dad takes the kids to school and on weekends he takes them to a park, beach, birthday party etc. That means that both mom and dad have alternate bikes. In this family the bike keys will probably be separate from other keys, each bike having its own hanger.

Regardless, one thing is constant: Th chain lock remains with a particular bicycle and the key for the wheel lock (also known as ring lock) remains on the same ring as the key for your chain lock. That avoids descending four flights of stairs to discover that you’ve got the wrong key.

17 Responses to “Dutch Bike Questions”

  1. Mark Stosberg Says:

    Thanks for the answers, Henry!

  2. Eddy Says:

    One efficient way that I use, consists of attaching the bike keys and the rest (home, office) with a detachable key chain, one that can easily be separated through a simple click-system, be it metal or plastic.


  3. Eddy Says:

    “[N]oticeable absense of several accessories: Rear view mirrors, bike
    computers, and water bottles”

    I assume we are both talking about elongated bicycles here, and not tanks?

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  5. Matt Says:

    Get a small karabiner clip on your keyring. That way, you can keep the main bundle of keys in your pocket or bag or whatever, and then when you park the bike you can clip that key on very fast.

  6. John Power,Dublin,Ireland Says:

    Re Bike Parking in Amsterdam. Wheels being Vandalised,we have the same problem in Dublin. It is best not to leave Bike in Centre of Town late at Night especially in Isolated Areas as your Bike can be Vandalised. There spciality is to Buckle the Wheel like yours just for Fun. Unlike Amsterdamers who leave their Bikes Chained up outside their Houses, in our case it is best to bring them indoors at Night. I have Bought one of Henrys Bicycles as I like them so much .It was delivered today and I brought it out for a half Hour Spin to see how it Handled. It was very Smooth and comfortable,It is a Brilliant Bike. I got the Kruisframe Pastoors Fiet,The Crossframe Preachers Bike with the 8 Gears.19/11/07

  7. John Power,Dublin,Ireland Says:

    In Dublin a few People can be seen with Rear view Mirrors, and some have an Orange Plastic Wand or Arm like those old Cars with the Arm Indicators for Instance Volkswagon Beetle,or Morris Minor,and sometimes these are Lollypop Shape.They are Attached to the Rear Frame just above the Axle,they are to tell Approaching Cars from behind to keep there Distance and not Encroach on Cyclist.But these are Rare as they are considered Stupid and not Cool ,what we refer to as a Muppet. A dopy Person Who goes around in big Coats on a warm Day.AS to the Key Question I got a snap on Key ring,and when I use the Rim Lock,I just snap this on to my Main Keys.People with Racing Bikes,and Touring Bikes have Cycle Computers so they can Calculate how fast and how long they have to go to the next Town or City, Otherwise nobody bothers with them as if you forget to take them off they can be robbed. This happened to me years ago and the Trip Meter was Robbed.

  8. John Power,Dublin,Ireland Says:

    In Dublin as regards Cycling In frastructure. For about 8 years now we have Cycling Lanes, but these are very Haphazard and have a habit of coming to an abrupt end. The best Cycle Lanes are on the Coast from Clontarf to Sutton as these are off the Road, and have a nice Sea View, and you do not have to contend with Traffic encroaching on to Cycle Lane. Elsewhere in City there is either no Cycle Lane or if there is Traffic Encroaches on it. Worse time is at Rush Hour in Morning and Evening and can be Dangerous. In Ireland we have some very good Roads now ,but they are not Consistent, and you can come across very rough surfaces and Potholes. The Manhole covers can be sunk 10 cm/4 inches below the Road because of bad Maintenance. This is why most People prefer Mountain Bikes because of Tough Tyres and so less Punctures.

  9. John Power,Dublin,Ireland Says:

    Hello to Mark Stosberg
    I enjoyed looking at your You Tube Videos about Bikes in your Blog very Interesting. Especially the House Moving by Bike one Person was carrying a Sofa by Bike another was trying to Haul a small Boat complete with Outboard Engine.
    It reminds me of the time I was fitting out my Garden with Plants . I carried Twelve Greselinia Hedging Plants together with A Silver Birch.I put six Plants in each Saddle Bag on the Rear Carrier and carried the Birch in a big Plastic Bag hanging from the Handlebars. I had to Travel 2 1/2 Miles 4 Kilometres from the Garden Centre to my House with the Tree Flopping from side to side every so often and I had to try and steady it every so often. I did this on different Days with more Plants especially another 12 Hedging Plants this time Golden Privet for front Garden. All the People were having a good Laugh at me Hauling the Tree along the Road, It was about Ft 10 high 3 metres and light not heavy.

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  11. Margie Says:

    So, I guess my question is… can you take the key out of the wheel lock when it’s unlocked? My husband just bought a bike previously owned by a guy in Denton, Texas. The keychain says “Herman’s Weilershop – Voorburg”. We want to leave the key out of the bike when it’s unlocked. But, it only comes out when the wheel is locked. Is there any remedy for that?

  12. henry Says:

    All Dutch wheel locks work this way and for good reason. You attach your other keys to the same ring so that it’s impossible to leave your bike unlocked. Also it’s impossible to lose your keys while cycling.

  13. cloudsofviolet Says:

    How do people deal with bicycle theft (aside from locks) if the bicycles are left outside overnight? Especially the more expensive or middle range ones? Or is there just not a very high chance yours would be the one stolen since there are so many?
    In SF, I would definently not leave my bicycle overnight if it cost more than a few hundred dollars. But I wouldn’t leave any bike out on a regular basis

  14. henry Says:

    Every bike in Amsterdam, crappy or nice, is locked with at least two strong longs. One is the ring lock on the rear wheel, but not the little, barely childproof ones of years ago – the modern wheel locks are quite secure. The second lock is typically a 10mm hardened steel chain with integrated lock. In other words if the bike is actually secured to a fixed object (not always possible in bike stuffed amsterdam) the only way to get it loose is with a rather noisy and obvious electric grinder/cutter.

    Then, as you suggest, there’s also the fact that there are bikes everywhere: in Amsterdam along there are approximately 1,500,000 bikes on the streets. Just lock yours a little better than one of your neighbors and you generally don’t have a problem.

  15. Branko Collin Says:

    Amsterdam is a four story city. The law says (IIRC) that any new building of three or more stories should be fitted with a lift, but most of the apartments in Amsterdam are in houses built 100 years ago. The result: bikes are left out on the street.

    The people I know that live on the ground floor or in a modern building will park their bicycles inside though (typically in the garden or garage). They also typically don’t ride beaters, but new bikes.

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