My Introduction to the Long John Transportfiets


Before I moved to the Netherlands in 2000 I was hardly aware of carrier bikes, especially anything more exotic than a Schwinn Cycle Truck or Worksman hot dog cart. Even in cycling capital of the world Groningen where I first lived here transport bikes were very uncommon. The streets were swarming seas of cyclists but everybody just rode normal Dutch bikes. The only unmotorized bakfiets I recall was a loaner at a second hand shop called Mamamini. It was big, old fashioned bakfiets just we sell at WorkCycles. Mamamini even shows the bakfietsen in front of their stores on their website. But somehow that trike didn’t interest me. Maybe it just seemed too absurd, as if it were just a prop. In reality these bikes are actually quite easy to ride as long as the terrain is flat.

But in Groningen I met Marjette, crazy about bikes, probably ten centimeters taller than me and fond of riding her bike in absurdly short skirts. Marjette had (and still has) a hand-built carrier bike of a type I’d never seen before (not that that was a challenge). It’s a Long John type bike cobbled together from an old city bike, a folding bike, an upright from a heavy duty shelving system and random scrapyard bits. Most importantly it has a big rack in the middle to carry stuff: a couple crates of beer, a fridge or a chest of drawers etc. It might be crude but it is strong. The steering system was very cranky making the bike difficult to ride but after tweaking it here and there and lubricating the pivot points it was much more manageable. In any case that relationship didn’t last long but the obsession with transportfietsen stuck with me.

How Marjette got this bike is a good story in itself. It was made by the neighbor of an acquaintance who lived on a boat in the Oostelijk Eilanden (eastern islands) area of Amsterdam. This is the 19th century docklands area where WorkCycles Veemart shop is also located. Like a handful of the area residents this guy had a yard full of rusty, old stuff. Marjette brought him 20 liters of paint from a Groningen paint factory where you could get “seconds” paint for free. As payment Marjette could choose something from the scrap pile. She chose the Long John bike and believes the guy was very happy she didn’t go for the motorcycle next to it.

15 Responses to “My Introduction to the Long John Transportfiets”

  1. John, Says:

    It looks Great,wouldnt mind having one they are very useful. There is one Person in Dublin that has one,I see him going into The City on it every so often. I have seen it Parked round the St Stephens Green Area. It is a Ramshackle Bike in Silver, like something they Cobbled together out of bits and Pieces. The Brake Cable on it is very Slack ,I wonder if it is still Working.

  2. John, Says:

    Hi again, I have posted the Photo of this Silver Long John Bike on my Blog before. I will have a Search round and Post it Again.

  3. Anon of Florida Says:

    Excellent, a simple, yet effective tutorial on making a Bakfiets from scraps.

  4. henry Says:

    Not a “Bakfiets” with a capital B since that’s somebody’s recent development and intellectual property, but certainly a generic “bakfiets” or “long john bike” since that’s a public domain design that’s been produced by dozens of firms for at least 75 years.

    But yes, if you have a good grasp of steering geometry and the forces involved, and the fabrication skills to put one together you can make a decent carrier bike. Of course if you possess these skills I don’t see how this example would be so informative or inspiring.

  5. jeff Says:

    I saw two child-size long johns the last time I was in Amsterdam (they look like they were made for 3-4 year olds). I think it is awesome that there are practical bikes for kids too.

    I wish I would have taken pictures.

  6. henry Says:

    Maybe you mean child sized “bakfietsen”, three-wheelers that is. Those are pretty common here. A kid’s long john I’ve never seen though we’ve been joking about making a couple at WorkCycles.

  7. reuben Says:

    are there any of thies bikes for sale pre owned anywere were can i look or
    how difficult are they to make your own!

  8. henry Says:

    Sure, there are always various long wheelbase transport bikes for sale in the various second hand forums in Holland.

  9. lee dowman Says:

    I am just writing to ask how you go about valueing a long john bike has i have one and can not find anyone who knows about them if you could give me a quick email i would be grateful thanks lee

  10. henry Says:

    That’s very simple. A Long John is worth exactly what somebody is willing to pay for it.

  11. lee dowman Says:

    yeah i need it for insurence purpese as far as ive worked out its a 1944 by the code on it

  12. henry Says:

    Now that’s more difficult. WIth recent bikes it’s easy to determine a value based on purchase price and replacement value. With something as old and rare as your Long John there isn’t much to base a valuation on. There aren’t even others to be found for sale to compare to.

    My guess is that even if it’s a really cool and nice example of an old Long John the value would be disappointingly low. They just don’t seem to be as sought after as the more standard format delivery bikes and big Dutch trikes (bakfietsen). Both of these fetch decent sums on the online markets.

  13. Anon of Florida Says:

    Someone posted up a how-to for building a long john from scraps, I saw this posted up on Bike Portland:

  14. Michael of Odense DK. Says:

    If you want to see an old Longjohn cargobike made by SCO Odense Dk in 1956 then try this page ( click budcykel )

  15. Michael of Odense DK. Says:

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