Archive for the ‘Bicycle parking and storage’ Category

Damn Near Lost My Fr8 Bike

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Reenactment of the scene of the crime that could have but didn’t happen… except that P1 is happy in this photo instead of P2 going full-on tantrum boneless.

To cut to the chase I allllmost lost our beloved Workcycles Fr8 bike. In most every other alternate universe it would have been stolen.

Monday morning I couldn’t find the Fr8’s keys. I never, ever lose keys, so of course I assumed it must have been the fault of “she who misplaces keys”. We checked all the likely jacket pockets but with four year old already ambivalent about going out to play and quickly losing patience I just grabbed the Cargobike keys instead. But just before heading downstairs I looked outside to see who rode the Fr8 last. We park it in one of several racks in front of our house, usually where it is in the photo below.

bike racks outside our home in amsterdam.
Two of the five bike racks in front of our home. Fr8 is in the upper left of the image (with light blue carriers).

But wait, I could see from the window that the saddle was adjusted for me, not for “she who sometimes misplaces keys”. I was thus the last one to ride the bike so its keys are wherever I put/left them a few days ago when the Fr8 was last ridden a few days ago. The plot thickens. P1 and I go the three flights downstairs to the outside world and before unlocking the bakfiets we check the Fr8. Could he who never, ever loses keys actually have left the keys in the bike? Yep, there they were just hanging in the rear wheel lock. The (very protective when actually locked) Abus Granit City Chain was still wrapped in its bundle around the child saddle frame. It’s the perfect place to keep your chain lock by the way. So there it is: I left the keys in my €1500 bike for several days in the middle of Amsterdam, one of the bike theft capitals of the world… and nobody took it. I’m guessing nobody noticed it.

How could I pull such a boneheaded move? Well, firstly I’m just a bonehead sometimes. Just ask the trainer at our Wednesday evening track racing classes. But also anybody with young kids understands the general scenario: You’ve just arrived home with 2 year old daughter who you picked up at daycare after work. It’s the Friday before the Christmas vacation so the kids are partied and danced out. On the way home we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Maybe papa refuses to buy some strategically placed holiday item that little girl wants, or perhaps little girl is just hungry and tired. In any case little girl does just what any self respecting two year old does when they don’t get their way: Tantrum! Turn instantly into a desperate, crying, writhing, wriggling invertebrate creature. After succeeding in wrestling the writhing, now screaming invertebrate two year old into her bike seat you ride the couple minutes home in the driving rain hoping she won’t somehow manage to Houdini her way out of the five point harness. Needless to say the child saddle behind the handlebar is NOT appropriate under such conditions.

Upon arriving home you find an empty spot in the bike racks, carefully release the now frantic storm of a child from her seat, holding her securely around the middle. You grab your bag and the groceries from the bike’s bin and dash inside, out of the rain, of course carefully picking your way across the bike path thick with the evening’s bike and scooter traffic. You get inside warm home, remove wet clothes and shoes and two year old usually snaps seamlessly back into normal child mode. Family sits down for dinner and all is fine. Except that your bike is unlocked outside with the keys hanging in the lock.

I assume this sounds familiar to most every parent because I hear it all the time at Workcycles, usually while discussing the details for a new bike to replace the stolen one. People say “It was my own fault; I left the keys in the bike.” No, that’s total BS. Keys in the bike or not it was stolen. Yes, you made the job much easier but the asshole who took your bike is still a thief. An honest person would leave it alone. A good Samaritan would find a way to help you, perhaps locking the bike and leaving a note with their phone number or email.

Anyhow I’m tremendously relieved that we still have our Fr8.

Dutch Bike Parking: There’s Never Ever Enough

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Somehow it just warms my heart to see thousands of city bikes lined up in endless rows. That requires about as much space as a supermarket or a small office building. Sometimes I wonder how big a parking facility for that many cars would be. I suppose the answer is that it would look rather like the vast sea of asphalt and cars that surrounds a big shopping mall: Occasionally full but usually mostly empty blackness… what a waste of space.

A Dutch bike parking facility, on the other hand, tends to remain remarkably full. Only after business hours does it thin out considerably. When I used to park my bike daily at the Amsterdam Fietsflat I almost always ended up walking all the way up to the upper level since I came in toward the end of the “rush hour”. The lowest level was perpetually crammed with crappy student bikes, often two or three per “official” space.

Of course there’s bike parking all over the city but most of the really big units are at train stations since lots of people ride their bikes to take a train to another town. That might be to “commute” to a job in another town, but it’s often also students who move back and forth between the university in one town and “home-home” in another. They might even keep an old bike at each end. I suppose one could say that this is a misuse of public space, but it could be easily argued that it’s really very, very little space. Any other means of transport also requires some use of public space and resources as well.

Cargobike (almost) in the Canal

Monday, November 15th, 2010

cargobike almost in canal 2

One morning about a week ago I walked outside with the kids on the way to their daycare to discover that our beloved bakfiets had disappeared. A number of Workcycles customer bikes have been stolen recently so theft was our first thought. Nonetheless I walked across the street for a closer look and found the bike hanging from its front wheel. The second lock, which I usually leave behind on that rail, wasn’t connected to the frame. I’m really careful about locking so this all seemed very strange.

A neighbor, headed to unlock his own bike, commented that he’d just seen some guys busy here. Probably they’d tossed the bakfiets over as a joke. He was kind enough to help me pull the 40kg bike back onto land and I continued on to the daycare and work. Aside from some scratches on the box and canopy there was no visible damage.

The bike had been sitting in the water past the rear hub so I asked our shop guys to open the hub, clean the taillamp and chain etc. They found surprisingly just a few drops of water in the hub but that’s still too much. Cleaned and re-lubricated, back in the bike, and the hub now actually feels much better than before. This hub, not uncommon for early Shimano Nexus 8 speeds, was noticeably rough in the fourth gear. Freshly lubed and adjusted, this has all but disappeared.

cargobike almost in canal 1

Fast forward a few days to Friday morning. A storm was passing through (as it often is) and the wind was blowing like mad last night. Bikes, scooters, branches, motorcycles are all over the streets and pavements. Kyoko looks outside and yep, the bakfiets has disappeared into the canal again. From our third floor (fourth to those counting American style) dining room perspective we can just barely see the bottom of the box and a parking stand leg poking into the air. As sentient beings we put 2 + 2 + 2 together and realize that it was, in all likelihood, the wind that tossed the bakfiets off the pavement and not some local, malcontent youths.

But why, all of sudden, does the bike get knocked over by the wind twice in a week when it’s never happened before in the last two years of parking it in the very same spot? Our new habit must be to blame: About a week ago we began leaving the canopy on the bike instead of bringing it inside every evening. It seemed more convenient… and I suppose it would be
if we didn’t park the bike in such an exposed location. Thus a word of warning: Don’t leave your kids in a bakfiets with canopy up in a windstorm next to a canal.

staten island criterium 1982
Staten Island Criterium 1982, I’m the kid with orange helmet, blue jersey, red arm pieces.

Speaking of windstorms my old bike racing buddy Chris sent me this photo from our bike racing days as young teens. It was March 1982 and I’d just moved up to the Junior category (ages 15-18) as District Champion in the Intermediate category (ages 12-14). The race was a criterium on a highly exposed course along the beach in Staten Island, NY. We did thousands of such, little races but I remember this one vividly because it was freezing cold and the wind was absolutely howling. Only those with glasses wore eye protection in those days and clouds of sand kicked up from the beach got in our eyes. Lots of it. At least half the field called it quits after it was too painful to continue. The wind and resulting echelons sliced up what remained of the field and finally only a handful of us finished. Our home was just a short drive away and my dad had lived on Staten Island so my folks came along to watch. Even given the awful conditions in such a meaningless race, quitting was not an option today. Instead I won a meal at a local Italian restaurant (or something like that) and washed sand out of my eyes for days. Those were the days.

Copenhagen-Amsterdam War in the VogelVrije Fietser

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Some Danish guy on a WorkCycles rental bike in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by Amsterdamize.

I usually flip through the “VogelVrije Fietser” (literal translation: “Birdfree Cyclist”) in about 30 seconds and then pass it to my toddler son for shredding but this issue (January 2010) had a few bits worth sharing… before Pascal gets his way with it. The first interesting piece is the latest salvo in the imaginary Copenhagen-Amsterdam war of cycling supremacy. The Copenhagen ambitions to achieve or already have achieved the coveted, self appointed title of World Cycling Capitol are already all over the Internet and the BirdFree Cyclist even made the trek up there to the great white north to see what all the fuss was about. In a nutshell they made the great revelation in the previous issue that the crafty Copenhageners were just as busy improving cycling facilities in their city as in most Dutch cities, and that they’re being more vocal about promoting this fact. Whoopee, the Danes also see value in a city where many people cycle!

De Fietshangar (bike hangar)

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

fietshangar 2

Several years ago while I was doing a project with design students at Technical University Eindhoven I met Jelle Zijlstra of Zijlstra Industrial Design. He’d designed the “Fietshangar“, a protective bicycle parking unit that replaces half a car parking spot. The concept is brilliant and philosophically I just love the idea that a single car parking space will be replaced by ten bike parking places. There are already a few hundred Fietshangars in use in various Dutch and Belgian cities and several hundred more are scheduled to be installed.

Who steals an old bakfiets wheel?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Our web developer Doede sent me a despairing note the other day telling me that the rear wheel of his new, old bakfiets got ripped off. The poor beast looks so sad, like a horse with a broken leg.

In case you’re confused thinking that a bakfiets is a modern, two-wheeler that mom carries her kids in, you’re half correct. That’s a Bakfiets Cargobike, with Bakfiets being the very generic trade name for Maarten van Andel’s brilliant bike. But to Dutch folks “bakfiets” still generally means a giant, heavy duty three-wheeler with a wooden box on the front, a brake lever between your legs and a fixed gear to keep those legs busy. Just to be sure: “bakfiets” is singular and “bakfietsen” is plural. Please remember that as it’s quite painful to read “bakfiet”. Check here for a more detailed description of the etymology of bakfietsen, bakkersfietsen, bakkers, bakken, gebak…

Anyhow the theft raised the question of who would bother stealing an old bakfiets wheel. They’re nearly impossible to find but then again such a wheel has no significant market value. Thus Doede’s wheel was probably stolen by another bakfiets owner whose hub, drum brake or rim finally died after 40 or 50 years of faithful service. And who rides old bakfietsen like these? Well, Doede reasoned, not the sorts of people you’d expect to be stealing their fellow bakfiets riders wheels: hippies, squatters, socialists and others well to the “left” of the socio-political spectrum. Just goes to show you that you can’t judge a book by its cover… or that such demographic stereotypes don’t actually work for crap.

[UPDATE 26-08-09: On Sunday while cycling out of the city with Kyoko and Pascal for a day trip we came across a scene I’d never witnessed before: A building getting broken into and squatted. A raucous mob of perhaps 50 men and women with creative hair and almost entirely black clothing was smashing their way through the door of a pretty, 17th century building in the Weteringschans. Upon breaking the door open the crowd cheered and stormed inside with the contents of a delivery van and no less than two big, old bakfietsen. I also recognized a couple of Amsterdam bakfiets/transportfiets “colleagues” of the old skool variety. Just goes to show you that some stereotypes have a basis in reality.

I pulled my camera out to get a couple pics of the bakfietsen playing a key role in the squatter’s life, but I was immediately apprehended by somebody apparently appointed the “no fucking pictures” man of the event.]

In case you’re wondering what sort of rear wheel would be supporting the rear frame of that bakfiets had some scumbag not stolen it, here’s a quick description:

  • Transporter tire 26 x 2.25″ or 26 2.5″, roughly equivalent to an old motorcycle tire
  • Thick-walled steel rim about 50mm wide
  • 36 or 40 spokes in 8 or 10 gauge (3.0 to 3.6mm thick)
  • Steel hub with large, hand operated drum brake
  • 1/2 x 3/16″ cog bolted to the hub (fixed gear)
  • It would look like this one on a brand new WorkCycles Bakfiets, meaning thus that such wheels are actually still available… just not at a price many old-fashioned bakfiets riders are prepared to pay for:

    And here’s a picture of a whole, brand-new classic bakfiets, just because I’m so thrilled that such gorgeous, durable, early 20th century vehicles can still be in production. In the background is the Nijland factory where these bikes are made for WorkCycles:

    Eddy’s rogue loopfiets strikes again!

    Wednesday, July 29th, 2009


    “Fietsen worden verwijderd” = “Bicycles will be removed” and is a common sign in Amsterdam since bicycles cover every usable wall, sign pole, lamp post, fence, gate, bridge railing, fence, window (and bike rack). Putting a Fietsen worden verwijderd sign on your window or door is no guarantee that the spot will remain bike free but it’ll at least keep the most conscientious people away.

    Ahh, but why is it also written in Chinese characters? I’ll just leave that as a mystery for the locals to answer.

    Addition to the WorkCycles sticker

    Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

    IMG_1916, originally uploaded by henry in a’dam.

    OK, so perhaps somebody disagrees with the sticker: “Tijd voor een goeie fiets” (time for a good bike)… but at least they had the decency to leave the workcycles logo intact.

    ROT OP MET DEZE &*%$#@! FIETS!

    Saturday, May 16th, 2009
    fuck off with this fucking bike

    unsolicited sticker found on doede's bakfiets

    Our website dude Doede van der Linden sent me this pic today. Somebody stuck this sticker on his Bakfiets Cargobike today.

    “Rot op met deze &*%$#@! fiets” roughly translates to “Fuck off with this fucking bike” .

    In other words somebody is displeased with Doede’s choice of bicycle. Below, the same in better detail.

    Fuck off with this fucking bike

    The sticker in all it's glory

    Here we can read the smaller text below.

    Dit is een asociale fiets hij is echt te groot en waarschijnlijk kan ook jij er niet normaal mee fietsen

    And in English: “This is an antisocial bike it is really too big and you probably also can’t cycle normally”

    Now let’s consider this more carefully.

  • The sticker shows a (very badly drawn) bakfiets with three kids, thus demonstrating that the sticker maker/sticker understands at least one function of such a bike.
  • He’s (and almost certainly a “he”) is writing in (bad) Dutch about a very Dutch topic. It seems reasonable to guess that he’s somewhat familiar with bikes and thus understands that one doesn’t carry three kids on any ordinary bike.
  • So I can only infer that he’s expressing his disapproval that a family should have three (or more) kids.
  • Now if anything is antisocial it’s telling people, unsolicited, by sticking things on their bikes, that they have too many kids, that they ride a bike that’s “too big”, and that they probably can’t ride a bike normally. So fuck off, you righteous asshole! Put stickers on your own bike and don’t tell people how they should live. Be happy that Doede rides a bakfiets (no wider than the handlebars of a normal bike in case it matters) instead of driving a Cadillac Escalade. And be happy that you live in Amsterdam, cycling capital of the world.

    Amsterdam S&M love bikes

    Monday, May 19th, 2008


    Not visible in photo: the bikes were a men’s and ladies’ pair. From my neighborhood free newspaper “De Echo”.