Archive for the ‘Antique/old bikes and history’ Category

Lovely Fongers just sittin’ there

Friday, August 7th, 2009

philips headlamp op fongers opafiets

Yep, I love old bikes, especially really nice old bikes. I would have taken more photos of this old Fongers opafiets if he hadn’t been sandwiched between a half dozen other bikes… Amsterdam style. So I had to be content with a close-up of the giant, bullet-shaped Philips headlamp. If you look carefully you can see the reserve bulb above the normal bulb. Also note the soft luster of the nickel-plated finish on the headlamp, handlebar and brake rods.

Though I’m no Fongers expert I do know that they’re widely regarded as the best of the old Dutch bikes, which would make them the best of the best old bikes. Fongers, based in bicycle capital of the world Groningen, made both standard production bikes like this one and also very, very special bespoke bikes with unusual features such as locking headsets, sophisticated rim brakes and eccentric chain adjustment. These special Fongers models were extraordinarily expensive… and still are if you can find one.

To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge only the older (prewar perhaps?) Forgers are of interest to the serious Fongers fanatics. In the 1950’s Fongers fused with a couple other northern bike makers and then in 1970 it was taken over by Batavus. Bikes have been periodically produced since then under the Fongers name but nothing to get your panties in a bunch about.

Andre Koopmans’ photostream in Flickr has quite a few great pictures of old Fongers bikes (including some made from hundred year old glass negatives), along with some truly arcane discussion about the various esoteric Fongers special bikes from the beginning of the last century. An example below:

1910 Fongers Lady

The Amsterdam Bike Wreck stickers are growing in number

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

amsterdam fietswrak vacation 25

My buddy Chomi and I have been taking photos of the WorkCycles stickers that keep appearing on abandoned bikes around Amsterdam. We’ve spotted them on bikes all over the city, but particularly in several neighborhoods such as the Jordaan and the Oostelijke Eilanden. It’s fun to browse through the slideshow to see the sights or identify the broken bicycles left to rot. Or if you know Amsterdam well you can try to figure out where the bikes are located. Perhaps we should have a contest. Suggestions?

The stickers are available at WorkCycles: €0.50 each. They’re mostly sold out so we’re going to invent some new ones and print more soon.

No bicycles have been harmed in this project.

Gazelle Canal Bike

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

No I don’t mean this type of Canal Bike that tourists ride around Amsterdam, though it does actually like like fun:

arsenia and william in amsterdam canal bicycle bike

Friday Richard was locking up some bikes in the parking spot in front of our Lijnbaansgracht (the “gracht” part means “canal”) and accidentally dropped a loop of the cable into the canal… where it got hooked on something under the water. After some stout pulling Richard found the following:

canal bike amsterdam (4)

Bingo! Free bike. We pulled it out of the water while tourists watched and laughed at this amazing Amsterdam phenomenon. Possibly only moving one’s furniture through the window with a rope and pulley suspended from the hook in the roof can gather more pointing tourists here. And for a better look at our prized catch:

canal bike amsterdam

We see that it’s a Gazelle Omafiets at least 40 years old though it definitely hasn’t been in the canal that long. Forty years ago there was no need for such a huge chain lock. The fish have eaten the rubber blocks from the pedals though apparently didn’t like the taste of the tires. The bike is equipped with rod operated brakes indicating that it was quite a chique model in its time.

canal bike amsterdam (1)

The rear hub has since been replaced with a Fichtel & Sachs Torpedo coaster brake instead of the original Sturmey Archer drum brake hub. Note also that the rear wheel spokes are entirely intact (stainless steel) while the front wheel spokes are almost entirely rusted away (galvanized steel).

canal bike amsterdam (2)

canal bike amsterdam (3)

Restoration project anyone? It’s still standing in front of WorkCycles Lijnbaansgracht shop if you want it.

Life would be so sweet if I were a bicycle seat!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Amsterdam’s happy, horny, musical clown from the 1980’s sings “The Bicycle Seat Song” . Only here in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the world’s cycling capitol city.

The Pfanntoom 1

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Pfanntoom 1

The above photo by supertsaar on Flickr reminded me of a conversation I had with Jos Louwman, founder of the well-known Mac Bike bicycle rental company in Amsterdam. Jos rode the same “Pfanntoom 1” bakfiets to our Oktoberfietsfeest party this past fall and I commented that it reminded me of the casket bakfiets I’d seen recently.

Workcycles Anniversary / Shop Opening Party

As it turns out there’s quite an interesting story behind the Pfanntoom and the reference to the casket trike was eerily close to the truth. Here’s a rough translation of Jos’ response:

“Funny that you the Phanntoom 1 compare to the casket bakfiets. My friend Henk Pfann (the godfather of the Amsterdam Bakfiets Club) is buried in the box that was originally mounted on the bakfiets. As a memorial we mounted a pontoon from a aquaplane on the chassis.”

It’s also worth noting that the box that was originally on this bakfiets (the one Henk Pfann is now buried in) was in the shape of a book, specifically a bible; Henk and his family were in the book business.

The name Pfanntoom is a word play on the Dutch “fantoom”, the English “phantom” (meaning the same thing) and the name Pfann.

A little more about Henk Pfann on Wikipedia.

The bakfiets chassis under the pontoon appears to be an old Maxwell, a long extinct firm that made some of the best bakfietsen ever. Maxwells often had unusual features including triple main tubes, lovely double chainstays, and a handle built into a rear fender reinforcement. Maxwell was founded in 1914 and continued until 1961 though I’ve never seen a Maxwell bakfiets or transportfiets that looked as if it was built after WWII. The Maxwell name is still in use for a generic line of Dutch city bikes but these don’t have anything to do with the old Maxwell.

RIH Sport Amsterdam

Monday, May 18th, 2009
Inside the RIH Sport shop on the Westerstraat

Inside the RIH Sport shop on the Westerstraat

I was just paging through the Jordaan neighborhood newsletter and came across a little article by local bike racer Henny Marinus, who became Dutch champion in 1959 for the first time (and probably quite a few times after). Marinus rode a bike from our neighbors at RIH Sport on the Westerstraat, number 150.

RIH has been building racing bikes since 1921, first in a workshop nearby and then within a couple years in their present spot in the Westerstraat. They’re something of a legend in the Dutch cycling scene. No less than 63 world championships and olympic gold medals have been won on bikes built in the little RIH shop. The founders Joop and Willem Bustraan passed the business onto their son Willem Junior whose partner Wim continues to build bikes there. I’m guessing Wim is either semi-retired or uses much of the week to build in the workshop behind the showroom, since his opening hours are quite limited.

As you might imagine RIH bikes are traditional in style. They’re timeless, cleanly made, all lugged steel and I’ve never noticed any oversized tubes in their bikes. A couple times I’ve stopped by to do something our shops don’t have tools for (Italian thread BB taps for example) and Wim has been very kind, asking only a token sum for his time.

More info about the history of RIH
RIH Sport Website

four person tandem bike in amsterdam

Sunday, May 17th, 2009


four person tandem in amsterdam, originally uploaded by henry in a’dam.

I can’t believe I’ve never come across this quadruple tandem before. I was parked on the Keizersgracht in the center of Amsterdam and looks as if it’s been there for years.

It’s a sweet bike too: a Gazelle, probably built in the 1950’s or 60’s mostly from bakfiets and transportfiets parts. A few cool details:

  • all lugged frame construction
  • three eccentric bottom bracket shells of varying sizes to tension the chains
  • bakfiets rear drum brake operated by the last rider
  • motorcycle front drum brake
  • It’s also really heavy. I tried to set it more upright for the photo but realized that would have required a helper.

    1963: Frank Zappa plays the Bicycle

    Sunday, March 8th, 2009

    On the Steve Allen show. Very strange to see Zappa at 22 years old and still unknown.

    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.

    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.