Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rethinking the Whole Dutch Bike Thing

Faster than a Dutch bike

Ok, I admit, my previous two posts read a little mushy, a little gushy, a little self congratulatory. That was the process of finding an authentic Dutch bike and then wrenching the Kaptein up to running condition speaking. I like the process, I do. The end result of living with it is a bit harsher. It is a rather blunt tool for the job.

After that last post, I set out to ride to Rockridge, the most outermost, northerly part of Oakland. I filled the tires to their max pressure of 70 psi to gain max efficiency. I put my items in the bag on the rear rack (I had removed the wire basket, it looked better on my Entropy bike) , filled the water bottle and set off. Not a block had passed under the rubber when I noticed the thump thump coming from the back end. I've felt this before when a tire starts de-laminating. I stopped and a quick look confirmed that the tube was about to burst out the sidewall. The aged, dried out tire had failed under pressure. Damn! This meant the dreaded rear tire change. I returned home and exchanged bikes, and rode my Miyata out to my meeting and back. Always a nice ride, there is that magic quality in my purple and yellow steed.

I ordered some Continental puncture resistant tires online and when they arrived I braced myself for the rear tire change. This particular process is a challenge, trust me. First remove the two halves of the chainguard, pry the chain out of each half. Disconnect the shift mechanism. Disconnect the rear brake cable and drum arm frame attachment. Remove the stay adjusters from both sides. Remove the axle nuts and catch the chainguard support when it falls off. Thats the easy part. Remove old tire, put new tire on. Put wheel back into stays, making sure brake support arm is in correct alignment. Make sure all washers are in correct positions. Stay lock keys must exit the rear of the stays, if they are put on backwards, the wheel must come off. Adjust the brakes. Adjust the shifting. Reinstall the chainguard, and align. The whole process takes at least an hour, and aligning the wheel after everything is completely together is difficult---two nuts on the stay adjuster bolts have to be tightened separately before the axle bolts are tightened. But I did it more quickly this second time around, and I was happy with the results, and was ready to ride. Ah, the feeling of new tires is happy times. By the way, I took the liberty of installing stop flat liners so I would not have to do this again for years. I hope they work.

The following week, I set out again for Rockridge, by way of Alameda Point first. The first thing that is most apparent when riding this bike is how slow it is. Its heavy. Almost 50 pounds with the U lock. It is smooth, and it cruises the flats nicely. However, when I got to Oakland and started the very gradual uphill to Rockridge, things got quite slower, and frankly, it was not fun.

My body, brain and kinesthetic pathways are set to road bikes, which are quick, light and nimble, with multiple gears to contend with the mildest slope to the gnarliest grades. My Miyata makes short, pleasant work of a 9 mile ride to Rockridge. On the Kaptein, it feels like a major expedition. The slightest uphill is felt and the gears are not right---low is too low and medium is too high, so an efficient cadence is hard to find. Then there are real hills to contend with. For instance, when I got to the block long, but major hump of a hill at the end of Grand Ave., I had to dismount and push the bike to the top, and even that was some work. What ignominy, I've never had to do that before on this hill. The feeling I had was of discontent, disgruntled that this bike is inefficient for what I want to do and where I want to go. Too heavy, too slow, too much work. Add to that the total pain in the butt which is changing a rear tire, or just fixing a rear flat, and the whole romance of the Dutch city bike looses its luster.

I've been told that Holland is flat. My town of Alameda is flat as well. The Kaptein is a fine bike for Alameda and Holland, or for short trips of just a few miles. Longer trips or trips that involve the pavement rising up ahead quickly reveal the shortcomings of this design and the heavy component mix. So, I am not sure what role the Dutch bike will play in my stable of rides. I may just keep it around as an unusual collectible. For the Miyata has shown its superiority in all ways save for getting my trousers caught in the chain. A small price to pay for speed.


  1. You gotta love those roller breaks in the rain. No brake fade from wet rims.


  2. Dude. I just picked up an old Dutchie, a 20 year old Burco, and am stil enamoured, but I have yet to change the rear tire. Thanks for the guidance.