Archive for February, 2009

Tweelingfiets (twin bike)

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

tweelingfiets 1

tweelingfiets 2

This is called a “tweelingfiets”. It’s a special Dutch bike for carrying multiple kids and this example seems to date from the 1970’s. At first glance it looks like a modified tandem but it’s not. It’s a “longtail” city bike produced in series around when most of the designers of current longtails and xtracycles were just a glint in their dad’s eye. That doesn’t detract from the Xtracycle and the growing crop of modern longtails, but does show that many ideas come around a few times… especially when it comes to bikes.

I know of at least 4 firms that have produced a tweelingfiets but this type is the oldest. I’m actually not exactly sure who built these but I’m guessing Van Raam who builds or has built frames for a number of firms including: Gazelle, Grimminck, ‘t Mannetje and Utopia Velo.

This particular bike, parked around the corner from my house, has a particularly nice arrangement of child seats. It’s very social for the kids in back. Quite ironically I saw it later today, but with a child facing forward on the rear facing seat.

Another fine, home-brew child seat

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

home-brew-child-seat-amsterdam 1

home-brew-child-seat-amsterdam 2

Here’s another classic Amsterdam bicycle child seat, this time true to the Dutch minimalist spirit. Two chunks of wood and a small piece of an old backpacker’s sleeping pad… almost certainly all found in the trash.

The bike’s also worth a look: A well-worn "opafiets" (grandpa bike) at least 50 years old with the front carrier from a baker’s bike.

Note that the handlebar is long gone. In its place the owner has attached a piece of steel tubing to brackets bolted to the front rack. This was quite solidly, if not attractively, performed and judging from the patina it’s been this way for decades.

There are lots of other nice Amsterdam touches:

  • frame is slightly bent at the head tube
  • the seat tube of the frame has been repaired with a weld
  • there’s a ring lock but not fixed to the frame
  • antique “Koets” taillamp is hanging limply
  • the poster behind the bike
  • A few weeks ago I showed off another creative Amsterdam child seat.

    New Bakfiets parking area at Amsterdam Centraal

    Sunday, February 15th, 2009

    As part of the constant struggle to provide parking for the ever growing number of bicycles ridden to Amsterdam Centraal Station every day the city of Amsterdam is building a special parking area for bakfietsen. This will be directly across from the famous and much photographed fietsflat. There will only be 40 parking spaces but that’s better than the zero available now. Presently those who need to park a bakfiets at the station can either park it a couple blocks away or in the two indoor “fietsenstalling” run by MacBike.

    fietsflat amsterdam station bike parking facility bicycle parking garage in amsterdam Amsterdam bicycle parking garage
    Bicycle parking on ferry in amsterdam old ferry used as bike parking at amsterdam station fietspont, bicycle parking behind amsterdam centraal station

    Why ride a bakfiets to the station when it’s so much more difficult to park than a normal bike? Well, a parent might drop the kids off at school and continue on to the station during their morning commute. Or a family might go to the station with the kids in order to take the train to visit grandma, or for a weekend in Paris or…

    The problem is that providing parking for all the bicycles is a hopeless battle. Each day 250,000 travelers pass though Amsterdam Centraal, a considerable number of whom arrive by bicycle. This is not surprising considering that it’s the most practical and cheapest way to reach the station for most of Amsterdam’s residents. But Amsterdam Central stands on a small artificial island so space is very limited. Current bicycle parking includes:

  • Fietsflat: Designed for 2500 bikes but generally crammed with 4000.
  • Fietspont: a decommissioned ferry with a couple hundred parking spots
  • Indoor parking: Mac Bike operates two guarded bike parking garages, each with capacity of about 500 bikes.
  • Fietsbarges: There are a couple floating bike parking lots.
  • Random parking: Bike parking is tolerated in some locations around the island.
  • fietsen

    Photo by Flickr user Ron Layters

    In total I’d estimate there are about 6000 bike parking spots on the island. Locals know that it can be nearly impossible to find a place for your bike if you arrive at the station after rush hour so they take public transport instead. Cycling is also gaining in popularity in Amsterdam, recently accounting for more than 50% of trips made. Thus the need for bike storage always remains greater than the supply, despite constant additions. The city plans to reach 10,000 bike parking spots within a few years but it’s likely it will continue to remain at capacity.

    Nonetheless the city recognizes that cycling is still the most efficient and least resource intensive way to more people around the city. Passenger capacity of the trams, buses and metro are also being expanded but this is far more difficult and expensive. Getting to Amsterdam Centraal by car has already been rather hopeless for a long time.

    Dutch ride in rain. Germans are sugar.

    Thursday, February 5th, 2009


    Photo by “AmsterDame

    According to the Fietsersbond (Dutch cyclist’s union) only 18% of Dutch will be deterred from cycling by rain and that makes them real bad weather cyclists. “Surely in comparison with the Germans. They are of sugar since at least 40% leave their bike in the shed with the appearance of a rain cloud. The Danish are somewhat tougher, there 25% let the bike stand in bad weather.”

    Of the Dutch about 63% sit on a bicycle at least three times per week. Amongst the Germans and Danes that is 45%. A third of the Dutch cycle 10 to 20 kilometers per week. The Germans ride slightly less distance but more than the Danes.

    No sources are given for the study but I found it in print so it must be true.

    They just don’t make them like they used to.

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    There’s a common misperception that the millions of bikes around Amsterdam are cheap “junkers”. Sure, there are plenty of low-quality bikes around the city but they don’t last long. Their parts wear out and break, or they rust badly and then the bicycle quickly becomes unrepairable and gets thrown away… or more often left to rot until the city declares it a “wreck” (“fietswrak”) and carts it away. This actually doesn’t take long at all – usually just a couple months.

    Along with the unfortunate but unavoidable disposable, modern bikes are also an amazing number of remarkably old bikes. These bicycles, 30, 50 even 70 years old aren’t pampered and regarded as classics (though some could be considered so). No, they’re just somebody’s trusty transportation, often having been in continuous service for a couple generations.

    That’s amazing when you think about it: 20 or 30 kilos of steel, rubber, leather and maybe some plastic “overbuilt” to such a high quality standard that it can reliably carry several or many times its weight for a service life unthinkable for most products. It’s an incredible material efficiency and all the more fantastic considering that these bikes live outdoors in a cold, wet climate. All of the bikes in my photos have rust, but it’s mostly the dark brown (sometimes beautiful) patina of quality steel; It forms an oxide layer after the original paint or chrome has been worn off and then doesn’t corrode further. This is partially because the steel has few internal impurities so it doesn’t rust from within. That’s the nasty kind of orange rust that’s impossible to stop and will quickly kill your bike.

    This is also a lesson in the importance of simplicity. More complicated products simply have more things to go wrong, require more service and are more likely to someday be declared irreparable. Note in these photos how few of the bikes have gears or hand brakes. Vestigial frame mounts for rod brakes are common though I don’t see any in these photos. Nor is there much “design” to be found here. Many are lovely bikes but there’s no pretentiousness or design just for design’s sake. This also plays are role in durability: things that go out of fashion cease to be maintained.

    The accompanying photos are just of bikes I happened across over the last two weeks, mostly on Thursdays (that’s papa day) while walking around the city with my five month old son. The newest bikes in the photos were made in the 1960’s and the oldest probably date back to the 1930’s. Most Dutch bikes stayed approximately the same through this period and the differences are only of concern to the the enthusiast and mechanic. Unfortunately very few of the bikes made after this period and virtually none of the bikes from the 1980’s to the present will last nearly as long as these.

    It’s specifically this timelessness and durability that WorkCycles strives to achieve. It’s an uphill battle though, given the unavailability of certain parts (a good coaster brake hub…), customers expecting features such as multiple gears and hand brakes and a modern world economy of cheap products made with inexpensive materials and overseas labor. We’re working on it and continually making improvements.

    Bicyclemark’s new bike

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    Secret Service from Amsterdamize on Vimeo.

    Why bother advertising when your customers make sweet videos like this with testimonials about your bikes? Thanks very much Mark and Mark and I wish you many years of pleasure from your new WorkCycles Secret Service!

    You might be wondering what this plan is that enabled Mark to buy the bike. In the Netherlands there is a tax law (called “fietsenplan” or “bedrijfsfiets”) to promote cycling. An employee can purchase a bike once every three years with pre-tax salary. You thus save 35-50% on the cost of the bike, depending on your tax bracket. The rule is very straightforward and the only real limitation is that the ruling only applies to the first €750 of bicycle price and €250 of accessories though the tax service (“belastingdienst”) doesn’t seem to care how it gets added up. The bike can cost more but you have to pay out of pocket for the portion over €1000. This law applies to all employed people in the country so, as you can imagine, many of the bikes WorkCycles sells locally are purchased under this ruling.

    Slices Of Saturday

    Our front doors…

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009


    workcycles-front doors

    The strangest thing happened the other day: I arrive at WorkCycles Lijnbaansgracht to open the shop and I find that our front doors have been graffitied, or rather artfully painted actually… with a skeletons and bikes theme. It’s kinda strange and creepy but heck, it’s funny, bicycle related, eye-catching and far better than the stupid tagging we were getting every week!

    It says “Posada” in big letters, I assume a reference to the Mexican artist famous for murals in a similar style. It seems unlikely Posada did this one considering that he died in 1913.

    In small letters in the lower right it says “Abner” and “Slacker” which I assume to be this guy: