Dutch Language Blog

Typical Dutch Bicycles Posted by on Jul 7, 2010 in Dutch Language

In my last post I introduced you to some places where you can buy a bicycle in the Netherlands.  But what kind of bicycle should you buy?  Bicycles in the Netherlands come in a plethora of shapes and sizes, each designed to suit a different purpose.  What you end up riding will depend on a lot of things: personal preference and particular use being very high on that list.

Gears and Brakes

The first two things you should think about are gears and brakes.  It’s not uncommon to find bicycles without gears, and there are benefits to both having and not having gears on your bicycle.  The positive side of having gears is that even though it is a mostly flat country, you will be able to adjust the resistance on your bicycle to a more comfortable position for you.  You will also be able to go a bit faster by shifting to a higher gear.

The negative side is that gears require maintenance.  Shoving your bicycle in and out of bicycle racks, cycling in rainy weather, leaving your bicycle outside a lot…all of these are things that can damage the gears and they can be expensive to fix and maintain.  I ride a bicycle without gears because it’s easier for me and I have yet to find a situation where I really needed gears.  You might prefer one with gears because you are more comfortable that way.  There is no right or wrong.

There are also two styles of braking systems.  The first is having levers on your handlebars that connect to cables that work the brakes.  The other type are brakes that you operate by pushing your pedals backwards.  I have to admit, it took me a little bit of effort to get used to this second type of brakes, but in the end, I don’t think I would go back to the other style on my city bicycle.  The reason is simple.  Because I no longer have to have my hands on the handlebars at all times in order to brake, I can now carry tons of groceries and bags and other things while I cycle, and still be able to stop.  And again, they are less maintenance.  Because the cables for the brakes sit on the outside of your bicycle when they connect to the handlebar levers, they can get snagged, twisted, and bumped around quite a bit from the regular wear and tear of riding a bicycle in the city.  But this is also a matter of preference, and there is no right or wrong here either.

How do you want to sit on your bicycle?

If you want to sit in a more upright position, the following bicycles are ideal for you.

Traditional Oma/Opa/Opoe-fiets

This is the typical Dutch bicycle.  If you want to feel Dutch, you probably want to ride one of these.  They are built like tanks, and if you get a good quality brand, even used, they can last a lifetime.  Unless it gets stolen, but that’s another topic altogether.  Because they are a bit heavier they are also more stable, but this can make them slower.  My bicycle is a used opoefiets from a good brand, so that’s my preference.

Path or Comfort Bicycle
Another very common style of bicycle is a path or comfort bicycle.  They look similar to an oma/opa-fiets, but are more modernized in style, and more lightweight.  They look a bit like a stripped-down mountain bike.  You’ll also see a lot of these, and depending on the quality of the bicycle, they can also last you a lifetime.  Many people are very happy with these modernized omafiets variants.  Many of my friends use these, and sometimes I think they are a little bit more agile than the old opoefiets I ride.

If you want to sit leaning farther forward, try these bicycles instead.

Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are also fairly common around here, despite the lack of mountains.  They are comfortable to ride, have gears, and handlebar mounted brakes.  They have wider grippy tires, designed to go off-road.  I don’t see too many of these around in the city, but enough to make me think that people enjoy them.  If you are most comfortable with a mountain bike because it’s what you are accustomed to, go for it!

Touring or Racing Bicycles
Koga (a very expensive brand)
You know those lightweight bicycles you see people zipping by on in the Tour de France?  That’s a touring bicycle.  You do see them in the city, although people rarely use them as their day-to-day bicycle.  Occasionally you will see a sort of stripped-down and beaten-up version of one because someone has decided they love riding this style of bicycle, but they don’t want to use an expensive one in the city.  They are usually very light, very agile and very fast.  I used to have one of these, but admittedly I wouldn’t be comfortable using one in all the stop and go traffic we have in Amsterdam.

Special Bicycles
There are also a variety of bicycles for special situations.  The bakfiets is very common for transporting children, dogs, and frequent larger loads.  Another popular style includes a carrying rack mounted to the front of the frame.   And there are even electric bicycles with small motors attached.

Last but not least, the brand

Last but not least, you need to think very carefully about the brand of bicycle you are purchasing.  You can get something very cheap that looks exactly like a high quality bicycle, but frequently these fall apart earlier.  They are made of cheap parts, rust easily, and sometimes even the frame is weak.  You can buy a cheap knockoff, but it depends a lot on how you use the bicycle.  I don’t recommend doing this if your bicycle is stored outside for any length of time or if you really plan on using your bicycle every day.  If you only plan on riding occasionally or on weekends, and you can store it somewhere inside, it shouldn’t be a problem.

With higher quality comes a higher price.  New bicycles from such brands as Gazelle, Pointer, Batavus, Sparta, and de Fietsfabriek are an expensive investment.  You can even purchase an insurance policy for them.  Another option is to buy those same brands used.  You can get a much shinier looking cheap brand or a beat-up looking used quality brand for about the same price, but only one of those has the possibility of lasting you a lifetime.  You can always repaint your bicycle to look shinier but you can’t make it higher quality.

And there you have it!  Those are the things you should think about when you go to purchase a bicycle in the Netherlands.  There are many more types of bicycles available.  I hope this helps simplify the process for you, and of course…happy cycling!

What kind of bicycle do you ride? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  1. KC:

    Hi, I especially like Babboe bakfietsen. It’s a Dutch cargobike brand. They sell 2-wheel and 3-wheel cargobike.