25 votes

Why Dutch bikes are better (and why you should want one)

16 comments

  1. [13]
    spctrvl
    Link
    Neat little video about how the types of bikes common in the Netherlands drive its cycling culture and vice versa. As opposed to the more sporty mountain and street bikes common in North America,...

    Neat little video about how the types of bikes common in the Netherlands drive its cycling culture and vice versa. As opposed to the more sporty mountain and street bikes common in North America, most Dutch bikes are more similar to what we'd call beach cruisers, with upright seating, limited gearing, and heavy steel frames. As a long time cyclist and fan of beach cruisers, I think that the tradeoff of speed for comfort and reliability is way worth it, and apparently I'm not alone. While I'm baffled that people apparently have such a hard time finding them here, having seen them in Walmarts for under $100, I definitely think that if they were more common, cycling would be more popular; the difference in comfort is night and day.

    6 votes
    1. [9]
      MimicSquid
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      The things you see in Walmart are something people in the bicycle industry call BSO's (Bicycle Shaped Objects). They're inexpensive, but hard to maintain or repair and so quickly become...

      The things you see in Walmart are something people in the bicycle industry call BSO's (Bicycle Shaped Objects). They're inexpensive, but hard to maintain or repair and so quickly become frustrating and difficult to ride.

      That said, beach cruisers are great if you have the infrastructure to support their speed and handling, like the Netherlands does. The average commute in the Netherlands is 2/3 of that in the USA, and a beach cruiser is half the speed of a road bike. They also top out at 15 MPH, which makes riding them on city streets less compatible with the 25 MPH expected speed of traffic in the USA. Suffice it to say there's a lot of reasons why the Dutch style of bicycles haven't caught on in the USA, and it's not that people are failing to buy things that are in their own best interest.

      That said, I'm definitely in favor of infrastructural shifts that would make cruisers more useful. Shorter commutes, separated bike lanes and more cycling would all be lovely.

      13 votes
      1. [4]
        nukeman
        Link Parent
        Part of it seems to boil down to the fact that the Netherlands is quite flat and has a mild climate - try riding through Boston during January or Houston during July. Even good bicycle...

        Part of it seems to boil down to the fact that the Netherlands is quite flat and has a mild climate - try riding through Boston during January or Houston during July. Even good bicycle infrastructure can only do so much against geography.

        13 votes
        1. MimicSquid
          Link Parent
          I have a friend who cycled in Boston in the winter, and he described the crossbreezes downtown when he entered the intersections... no thank you.

          I have a friend who cycled in Boston in the winter, and he described the crossbreezes downtown when he entered the intersections... no thank you.

          6 votes
        2. hungariantoast
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          The Finns would like to have a word Also, for two years I cycled more than ten miles to class and back three or four days a week. Houston's eight months of summer is definitely my least-favorite...

          The Finns would like to have a word

          Also, for two years I cycled more than ten miles to class and back three or four days a week. Houston's eight months of summer is definitely my least-favorite of our two seasons to ride a bike, but it was perfectly doable. Even after in-person classes stopped, I still rode (ride) my bike just about every day.

          Anyway, I think climate is a minor barrier to the adoption of bicycling in cities.

          4 votes
        3. NaraVara
          Link Parent
          The flatness probably is a factor honestly. At the very least it makes single-speed bikes and heavy-duty steel construction less appealing. Although there are ways around this, like bicycle tows...

          The flatness probably is a factor honestly. At the very least it makes single-speed bikes and heavy-duty steel construction less appealing. Although there are ways around this, like bicycle tows or escalators for severe hills. Or just having bike paths along routes with very mild gradients.

          I don't see the rest being as big of a deal. This same channel has a video about bike infrastructure and wintertime cycling..

          2 votes
      2. [3]
        spctrvl
        Link Parent
        I'm going to disagree with that on the Walmart bikes, maybe I had good luck or maybe there's not much to go wrong on a cruiser, but I've got one with at least six years and 10,000 miles on it...

        I'm going to disagree with that on the Walmart bikes, maybe I had good luck or maybe there's not much to go wrong on a cruiser, but I've got one with at least six years and 10,000 miles on it that's not needed more than one set of replacement tires and one replacement chain.

        3 votes
        1. skybrian
          Link Parent
          I think one of the complaints is that sometimes they’re assembled wrong. If that didn’t happen for your bike then maybe it’s fine.

          I think one of the complaints is that sometimes they’re assembled wrong. If that didn’t happen for your bike then maybe it’s fine.

          4 votes
        2. monarda
          Link Parent
          I loved my beach cruiser! I commuted about 20 miles a day on it for about 5 years in a hilly city. Nothing ever went wrong with it. It's the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. Friends would...

          I loved my beach cruiser! I commuted about 20 miles a day on it for about 5 years in a hilly city. Nothing ever went wrong with it. It's the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. Friends would sometimes try to get me to "upgrade" and yeah I could go faster on another bike, but it was at the expense of comfort. And besides it was still faster than taking the bus.

          3 votes
      3. arp242
        Link Parent
        When no one is riding bikes there's no incentive to create better infrastructure, and without better infrastructure people won't be riding bikes. And U.S. city planning doesn't help either. I saw...

        When no one is riding bikes there's no incentive to create better infrastructure, and without better infrastructure people won't be riding bikes.

        And U.S. city planning doesn't help either. I saw the same when I lived in New Zealand where cities 1/4th the size take up twice or more surface area (and in spite of this, people aren't even living in bigger homes on average).

        3 votes
    2. [3]
      rosco
      Link Parent
      I love Dutch biking culture and could not agree with more with his assertion: In North America bikes are seen as the territory of children and assholes. When I pop on my neighborhood Nextdoor, I...

      I love Dutch biking culture and could not agree with more with his assertion: In North America bikes are seen as the territory of children and assholes. When I pop on my neighborhood Nextdoor, I am always greeted with stories of outrage at the onerous cyclist, the unnecessary bike lane expansions, and general ire for our death defying two wheeled friends. It is such a bummer. I know others have brought up the points of climate and geography. However, being from the SF Bay Area with Dutch levels of elevation changes and one of the mildest climates in the US, I think we can agree that is not the main factor hindering the wide scale adoption of bikes as a viable method of transit.

      I love Not Just Bikes, and their videos on Stroads and infrastructure does more to convince me of hurdles to adoption than merely the design of the bike. London saw a boom of commuting cyclists due to expanded infrastructure programs (though quick note that while Boris has claimed ownership of the boom in bicycles the plans and funding were arranged by the Labor party before Boris held that position) and other studies have backed up that improved infrastructure increases bicycle commuting and hobbyist use. Ok little infrastructure side rant over.

      One of the communities I would love to highlight is the Xbike community, particularly in the United States. I think they are such an interesting take on cycling because their focus on bikes that can handle all terrain reflects our terrible infrastructure and need for adaptable bikes. The group is literally building machines to overcome our shitty roads and poorly linked trails. They are the punks of the transportation world. They even take the Walmart bikes u/spctrvl was referencing and turn them into a thing of beauty.

      Ok, last point on Dutch vs NA bike culture. The bike black market. So many of the Omafiets you see riding around Amsterdam have been purchased for around 50 euros at one of the second hand markets around the city. Everyone who buys them knows they are stolen and there isn't a negative stigma around that. One of the nicest perspectives I heard about it while living there was that is was "an informal, non-governmental tax that provides support to the homeless and addicted communities of the Netherlands." If you had your bike stolen, "oh well, just head to the market on Saturday and grab another." The bikes are cheap, plentiful, and the attitude about them is laissez faire. I think this is another benefit he doesn't talk about. Bikes are pretty easy to steal, and in big cities it is going to happen. To contrast North America bikes are expensive and there is a very, very punishment oriented flavor of our criminal justice system. Compound that with poor infrastructure and widespread negative associations with cyclists (as Not just Bikes gets into) it's a miracle that anyone cycles. But then again, it just goes to show how magical biking is that we still frequently see it here (if a less than our European cousins do).

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        pallas
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I have to strongly agree, unfortunately: infrastructure and hostility are much larger barriers to utilitarian cycling in the US, and the hostility---really, hostility to anything other than cars,...

        I have to strongly agree, unfortunately: infrastructure and hostility are much larger barriers to utilitarian cycling in the US, and the hostility­---really, hostility to anything other than cars, thus also including pedestrians---is an enormous barrier to the infrastructure.

        What you describe on Nextdoor is, sadly, not confined there. It remains astonishing to me that, in my experiences with city meetings at a supposedly progressive mid-sized city in California, the most vicious, aggressive matter that would come up was opposition to bicycling. Plans to put in bike lanes would result in large, angry protests. People would vote against candidates supporting actual increased bicycle infrastructure on a single-issue basis. Anyone naive enough to bring up even the smallest request about bicycles at city meetings would be met with organized, overwhelming public opposition and vicious, entirely unwarranted personal attacks: I once saw a father decried, at a small committee meeting, as wanting to harm seniors, disrespecting the community, possibly secretly being part of some bike lobby and probably not part of the community (could he really be a genuine local while looking Asian?), and potentially having inappropriate relationships with children (where was his children's mother? Why did he ride bikes with them?) for requesting a single bike rack at a public park. No one gave comments to support him; there were more people there on this matter (all in opposition, save for the father) than all the NGO representatives and lawyers there for the multi-decade, multi-million-dollar topic that was the only other item on the agenda (as one of the representatives, my commenting in support of his request, for various reasons, would have been inappropriate and likely counterproductive). City projects around cycling (and sometimes pedestrian) infrastructure thus focused on largely useless or worse-than-useless projects that would have no impact or perceived impact on cars, while continually delaying actual projects such that voters could be confident they would never be started. I can somewhat understand the reluctance on the part of politicians there to put in real bicycle infrastructure: it would have been political suicide, and was clearly opposed by a majority of the politically-involved public. BLM activists at public hearings were less emotional and angry while discussing people being abused and murdered by the police than concerned citizens (usually affluent elderly white women) discussing the trauma of having bicyclists roving the streets.

        I have a Dutch-style bicycle in California, and do try to commute on it when I'm there, but the level of hostility, from both drivers and pedestrians, is enormous. Being on a bicycle while not being able to maintain 25 or 35 mph makes drivers even more hostile, so the experience is enormously stressful, and a heavy bike is not comfortable. Bicycle infrastructure, meanwhile, often makes bicycling more dangerous, with "sharrows" that are meaningless, "bike routes" that consist only of signs saying "bike route / share the road" on busy roads, and unprotected bike lanes on parts of the asphalt that are far rougher (with frequent potholes and metal covers) than main traffic lanes, and frequently blocked illegally by cars. Unless you're an "asshole", the experience is terrifying.

        For some reason, in one city I ride in, bicycling on the sidewalk is also explicitly legal. Yet, while doing so, I have had pedestrians scream at me to get off the sidewalk and threaten to call the police. I have had some run after me to try to pull me off my bike, and who have tried to start physical altercations, even when I haven't even passed by them; and if there are any pedestrians on a sidewalk where I'm riding, I'll be going slowly enough that they could catch up with me.

        At some level, unfortunately, I feel as though there's a strong perception throughout many parts of the US (other than parts of the East Coast) that walking, cycling, or taking public transport as a means of actual regular transport and commuting, rather than exercise or novelty (or being a horrible spandex-wearing, traffic-law-ignoring bicycle fanatic), is something you would only do because you're too poor to have a car, not something you would choose, given the ability to have a car.

        Everything seems to be designed around this basic assumption. Bicycling, walking, and taking public transport need to be possible, for the dregs of society to lift themselves up by their bootstraps enough to be able to afford a car, but don't need to be pleasant, safe, or reliable.

        6 votes
        1. rosco
          Link Parent
          Man, your experience hits so hard. I haven't experienced the level of abuse you have, but have had smaller tastes of it (and I've never attended city meetings on bicycle infrastructure). I used to...

          Man, your experience hits so hard. I haven't experienced the level of abuse you have, but have had smaller tastes of it (and I've never attended city meetings on bicycle infrastructure). I used to commute in Oakland and the near misses with agro drivers were just about daily. Just last week I had a local woman stand in the middle of a single track trail with her arms out wide screaming "THIS AREA IS FOR WAAAAALKING!!!" in the heart of one of our largest MTB areas. The majority of my bike commuting experience is also in California and the attitude towards bike commuters seems so at odds with the Northern California 'ethos' (or maybe just perceived ethos after looking at results from state/county propositions). My partner and I with a few neighbors will be putting in a formal request for bike parking in Monterey in the next month or so and your story of the father has me less confident in the results.

          Sometimes I wonder if the issue could be reframed (a la, lets get these bikers off of the road for cars and into a protected bike lane where they can't slow you down), or if any perceived benefit for cyclists is felt as a loss to those who hate them. What am I saying, obviously it's the latter.

          Do you think there is any hope for expanding bicycle infrastructure? Like could we attach the issue to more palatable movements like climate resiliency or community equity? It just feels like there is so much promise but I don't know how to assuage their rage. Why is that rage even there? I don't understand.

          6 votes
  2. [2]
    autumn
    Link
    If you live anywhere with hills, you’re gonna want many gears. I personally find beach cruisers really uncomfortable, but maybe that’s because I’ve been riding with drop bars for so long. That...

    If you live anywhere with hills, you’re gonna want many gears. I personally find beach cruisers really uncomfortable, but maybe that’s because I’ve been riding with drop bars for so long. That said, the best bike is the one you’ll ride, so find one that’s comfortable for you!

    I have what’s called an “adventure” or “gravel” bike which affords me lots of ways to attach bags to my bike. It’s got wide tires to absorb shock on crappy roads or gravel, and I’ve ridden it just about everywhere around here.

    I have a feeling once I get another 20-30 years on me, I’m going to want an electric assist bike! Those things are rad and can power you up some long steep hills like we have where I live.

    6 votes
    1. Staross
      Link Parent
      Yeah here in Switzerland these kind of bikes would suck in many cities. I'd love to see some kind of bike lift solutions, I think for cities with a major hill it would work well (you go up then us...

      Yeah here in Switzerland these kind of bikes would suck in many cities. I'd love to see some kind of bike lift solutions, I think for cities with a major hill it would work well (you go up then us gravity to go where you want to go).

      5 votes
  3. Gaywallet
    Link
    Thanks for the video, it provides a lot of food for thought - I'm going to be moving to SF soon and some of the considerations in this video were ones I had not previously considered.

    Thanks for the video, it provides a lot of food for thought - I'm going to be moving to SF soon and some of the considerations in this video were ones I had not previously considered.

    1 vote