Archive for the ‘Elsewhere in the world…’ Category

Guest Post: Cargo Bikes and the Information Revolution.

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

five kids on a long john bike

An introduction to the introduction from editor Henry:

About a week has passed since this post first went online and as of this moment there are 109 comments, quite a few of them rather extensive, a couple mildly angry or at least indignant. A few people have expressed dismay that I would publish such a piece, even if I didn’t write it myself. Another has requested that I add something to the introduction to further qualify the post below. That last request seems the most appropriate approach and what I’ll try to do now.

Interestingly though the post is widely criticized and has even apparently sparked offline discussions in coffee shops (both flattering and a little scary) nobody has suggested that I remove it. This is good since that would be quite a disappointment to all those who’ve invested time in writing, editing, commenting, discussing and even writing their own blog posts about this post. So now I have to actually figure out what it is that really needs to be said to further qualify this post.

That the post is, in retrospect, a grand faux pas is an understatement. But every now and then I just do that: I make a weird misjudgment and stick my foot deeply in my mouth. As one miffed commenter noted it doesn’t matter so much that it’s a guest post; It is my blog and I determine its content. Fair enough.

But what is exactly the problem? I’ve reread the post and slogged through the comments several times. I see two basic issues:

1. Several commenters dispute Josh’s experiences and opinions about two of the bikes discussed: the Bullitt and the Metrofiets. The Metrofiets I’ve only seen in photos so for the sake of discussing the post I’ll focus on the Bullitt which I’m familiar with.

Concerning the Bullitt I had already added from the beginning an editor’s comment that Josh’s opinion about aluminium being an unsuitable frame material was unsubstantiated and probably unjustified. Nonetheless a discussion raged about whether aluminium is a suitable material for such a bike, something I found rather silly.

Yet for all the defense it’s received here the Bullitt IS, in all fairness, a quirky bike. I’ve ridden several of them, loaded and unloaded (as well as being a noted bike designer who’s ridden a LOT of bikes) so I’m not in the dark here. Aside from the still underground CETMA the Bullitt really has no competitors in the world of light, sporty Long John type bikes. Structurally and conceptually it’s brilliant: light and apparently quite tough. But come on folks, please accept that it’s got its quirks too: The steering geometry is far from ideal and the ergonomics are strange. By no means is either factor a deal killer; After a little while you get used to the handing and forget it was ever a problem. You either adapt to the bike’s sitting position or swap out a few parts to make it fit better. My own bike designs have their own quirks and I really don’t mind hearing about them either.

I suspect that any criticism of a bike with such a cult following as the Bullitt will deliver some angry fans to your doorstep but Josh unfortunately digressed too far into opinion instead of more objectively addressing the bike’s virtues, faults and eccentricities. Interestingly, Josh’s Metrofiets critique stuck more closely to his own experiences but was also met with resistance.

2. Interesting material but in the wrong place: I believe the crux of the issue is that posting critical reviews on the forum of a person or company playing in that very field is just tricky business. It isn’t impossible: I do it regularly and somehow seem to find shelter in a steadily more developed mix of obvious irony, humor, absurdity, self-reflection and hard-core objective criticism that’s just difficult to argue with honestly. And, yep, sometimes I just plain old shoot myself in the foot. That I accept as a necessary consequence of keeping Bakfiets en Meer, and by extension Workcycles honest and real. There’s no fluff here folks and I’m not a professional writer.

But that’s all much more difficult to keep straight in a guest post. Josh has a lot of experience and insights and a lot to say. I was game to let him take a crack at a post and I take full responsibility for the results. But then as he notes in one of the now 110 comments below, he’s more comfortable working with metal than with words. And I have only so many hours for blogging. I do also run a company, have a wife and two little kids and like to ride my racing bike fast with my friends when possible.

We’ve discussed this experience offline and Josh seems game for another try… ahem yes, with a somewhat different approach. We’ll see how it goes.


An introduction from editor Henry (the original introduction that is):

Over the years I’ve offered several colleagues the opportunity to do a “guest post” but maybe only once before has somebody gone for it. I’ll begin this one with an introduction and preface:

I didn’t write the post below nor do I necessarily even agree with some of the things Josh wrote. It’s an opinion piece. Nonetheless I found it an interesting and discussion provoking read and after somewhat too many hours editing chose to publish it. Even though it’s written by somebody completely independent of Workcycles, I founded Workcycles and this is my blog. So no, I can’t really avoid taking some heat for the criticism of colleagues’ bikes but I can live with that.

I’ve known Josh Boisclair for six or seven years now. He’s worked for two of our dealers, visited us in Amsterdam a couple times and spent a week or two “learning” in the Workcycles workshops. Realistically he was learning much more about Dutch culture and cycling than about building Dutch bikes because he’s one of those few, gifted mechanic types who doesn’t really need to be shown how something as simple as a bike works. With a couple hints about what to be looking for he’ll figure out the rest. Josh has spotted and solved a couple of our production irregularities from afar.

Such characters don’t generally come without their eccentricities and Josh is no exception. Perhaps Josh’s tick is that he’s brutally, sometimes painfully honest. If he sees that something’s been poorly designed or made… he’ll say it regardless of the political ramifications. If he digs something you’ll hear that too. He doesn’t kiss ass and that makes a great barometer for the thick-skinned. And I suppose that’s why you get to enjoy Josh’s take on cargo bikes ca. 2011; If he didn’t like my own bikes he’d have explained exactly why and then there wouldn’t really be any point in me publishing such unflattering stuff on my own blog.

The other tick is a rather humorous tendency toward conspiracy theory or at least a belief rooted in the misconception that everybody has innate technical understanding. Thus one who sells something that’s less than “as good as they can be reasonably expected to produce” is quickly categorized as dishonest, rather than possibly naive or disinterested.

So my dear colleagues apologies in advance for any bruised egos that result from the report below. I didn’t write it but I do trust both the technical understanding and honesty of its source. Put your hardhats on and have a fun ride!



Pedal Powered Snow Plow

Friday, December 31st, 2010

While we’re on the topic of snow, here’s a rather nicely executed home-brew snowplow – pedal powered of course. I generally find such inventions rather silly but this one looks semi-useful, even in it’s simple, cobbled together in the garage state. Probably it would have a tough time with very wet snow or certainly a deep pile of any snow but then it could also be developed further. Even this prototype looks pretty good for somebody who regularly has to clear a fairly long driveway of light snowfalls… like most of rural northern Europe.

Maybe the city of Amsterdam should have a bunch made since they really aren’t doing crap to clear the streets, bike roads or sidewalks this year. Many smaller streets are still slowly melting sheets of dirty ice from the snowfall of a couple weeks ago.

Thanks to Todd Edelman for the head’s up on this one.

Season’s Greetings from Holland… via Switzerland

Friday, December 24th, 2010

With the business, two little kids and general disinterest in things religious I’m really a slacker when it comes to the holiday wishing stuff . Fortunately for the world’s spirits not everybody is. Here in bakfiets-land the best greeting cards come from Double Dutch in Switzerland.

Thus hereby a “reposted” or perhaps “regifted” seasons greetings from Workcycles.

Happy holidays,
Alex, Frits, Johan, Josh, Henry, Paer, Richard, Sascha, Stephan, Tom, & Wesley

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.

E-Urobike 2010: Same stuff, new colors?

Friday, September 24th, 2010

E-Urobike 2010-other 3
Richard contemplates the meaning of “tuned compliance concept” in front of a Zeppelin.

A couple weeks ago we made our annual trek to Zeppelin capitol of the world, Friedrichshafen, Germany for the Eurobike trade show. Most bike nuts would wet their pants over the idea of some 15 former zeppelin hangars full of the latest carbon fiber race wheels that weigh less than your toenail clippings, extreme downhill bikes with a meter of suspension travel, our favorite pro racers’ bikes complete with real Roubaix mud still in its nooks and crannies and more buzzwords than you can shake a stick at. I, however, am jaded by 30ish years on and off around the bicycle industry. These days I go not to ogle the latest gear but to talk to suppliers and dealers, shake some hands and meet some new people. I also like to take pictures of the dumbest stuff I see but even that’s getting difficult because it’s mostly the same dumb stuff as the past few years, maybe copied by somebody else.

Sleeping in the Bakfiets (#3)

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

asleep in bakfiets

A Workcycles customer in Frankfurt, Germany sent this photo along; one more handy advantage of a bakfiets.

See also:
Slapen in de bak
Sleeping on het bakfietsbankje

Workcycles Cover Boys

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010


The latest issue of the Vogelvrije Fietser, the magazine of the Dutch cyclists’ union features workbikes, which basically means it features WorkCycles. Those are WorkCycles Fr8’s in use by customer Eurotank on the cover as well as in the two page spread that begins the article.

To translate the first part of the article:

“Everything you dare transport”

Somewhere in Azerbijan on the terrain of a cement factory ride bikes from WorkCycles, a bike builder from Amsterdam. Also in Latvia, Nigeria, Serbia and Finland they do their duties in factory halls.

Where the tough transport bikes land and at which companies, Henry Cutler of Workcycles often doesn’t know. “Purchasing organizations order the bikes from us. Sometimes that organization belongs to a concern and sometimes they’re hired in to purchase stuff.” In any case businesses that need tough bikes know where to find him. Cutler is from the US and nourishes the Dutch bicycle culture and history. So has he put the wind back in the sails of the old fashioned, indestructible bakfiets in Amsterdam. “I’m an American who maintains a Dutch tradition. For the Dutch is the bicycle apparently not so interesting. The bicycle is something to use, such as a pair of shoes or a refrigerator.”

Sure Signs of Progress

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010


Julie of Adeline Adeline, our brand-new dealer in Manhattan passed this photo along this evening. Not just one Bakfiets Cargobike in New York… but two Cargobike owners who don’t even know each other. Sure, there are a dozen Cargobikes in front of every day-care and nursery school school in Old Amsterdam… but in New Amsterdam, who’d a thunk? It’s about as statistically likely as having two grandmothers named “Adeline”.

Big Blue Bike

Monday, July 19th, 2010

While much of Workcycles’ business is B2B we rarely get photos of our bikes in action. They disappear into factory halls, paper mills and oil refineries, roam foreign parks, deliver sandwiches and sell coffee in far-flung cities. The industrial bikes are often purchased through supplier organizations who aren’t even sure where the bikes are headed or how they’ll be used. There are a bunch of Workcycles bikes being used around several cement factories in Kyrgistan; we guess it’s related to building oil pipelines.

Thus we cherish the rare photos we have and it’s great when a customer sends his own pictures and a description of what he’s up to. Ben Allen in Cardiff, UK passed along the photo above and the following description of his new courier business:

New bicycle courier business launches in Cardiff.

A new environmentally friendly business launches in Cardiff today. Big Blue Bike uses pedal power alone to courier business items up to 100kg in weight across the city using specially designed cargo bicycles.
Ben Allen (of Roath, 26) started Big Blue Bike after a trip to Denmark revealed how even large loads can be carried safely and securely on bicycles, usually much quicker than using vans or cars.

A passionate cyclist, Ben, knows that as a result of the recession and the current traffic disruption in Cardiff, businesses will focus on the time and money saved by using his service.

Allen adds: “With petrol prices soaring and traffic on our city streets at a standstill it makes sense to switch to a zero emission and congestion easing delivery method”.

Big Blue Bike,
44 Princes Street,
Roath, CF24 3SL
02920 405668

Mobile – 07817466462
Email – [email protected]

Ben’s big blue bike of choice is of course a Workcycles Fr8 with Massive Rack and integrated parking stand. With the (big) locking aluminium chest he can keep your goods dry and safe. A smart addition is the large advertising boards on each side of the bike that can be rented, hopefully providing Ben with a second revenue stream. We wish Ben success in his new venture!

A Trip to Limburg

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Hoeve de Schoor in Baexem, Netherlands

This past weekend we took our first little holiday as a family of four. We loaded the kids into their safety certified car seats in a rental Renault and headed south. Despite the documented danger of driving automobiles we chose not to wear helmets. First stop was our friends’ wedding party at a tranquil old (“old” as in dating to at least the mid 1300’s) farm complex in Leudal township in Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands. The farm, called Hoeve de Schoor, was very similar in format to some old farms I know in France; a continuous ring of buildings forming a sort of walled complex with an inner courtyard. One or more of the buildings are residences for the family, workers and guests and the others are for the farm: barns, storage areas, workshop and so forth. As is typical with these places the encroaching nature combined with the “patina” of curvy thatched roofs, wood- and stonework rounded and polished by hundreds of years of feet and hands is utterly charming and relaxing.