How/where can I get a Dutch-style city bike in NYC without breaking the bank?
April 24, 2009 6:15 PM   Subscribe

How/where can I get a Dutch-style city bike in NYC without breaking the bank?

I've been riding around a beat-up old Panasonic road bike for awhile (it's a 1981 model that I bought used, and has turned out to be something of a lemon), and I've sank so much money into repairing it that I don't see the point of keeping it anymore.

I'm an occasional commuter (Brooklyn to downtown, ~5 miles, including a bridge), and a pretty experienced rider (fairly fast, traffic weaving) but not a bike nerd or great at maintenance. 99% of this bike's usage will be on-street.

I saw these on Wikipedia and fell in love (my work pants are always getting torn up in the chain, drum brakes are probably better for the seemingly always-wet roads)... can I find a bike after the Dutch model in NYC? Without dropping a grand? Or is it time to call eBay?
posted by zvs to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I see them on craigslist in Toronto every once in a while. For instance, here's one for $375.

I would try there. However, you should keep in mind that they're fuckin' heavy. If you've got to carry your bike up or down steps, you may not want to get one of these.

Were I you, I'd convert the Panasonic to a single speed bike--there's nothing really that can break on it or turn out to be a "lemon". It'll be light-weight, super fast, and obviously is a proper fit for you.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2009

Best answer: Don't do it. The trend makes sense in Amsterdam, where those bikes are a plenty, not here where they cost not a grand, but $3000. They are also heavy.

You can "dutch-ify" your Panasonic road bike. Follow these steps-

1. Raise the handlebars to get an upright seated position. You can either change the stem (to something like a nitto technomic) or use a cruiser bar/Nitto North Road/Velo-Orange Porteur/Soma Arc bar. You also might be able to find something in a parts bin at a bike shop - check shops that work on older cruisers.
2. Buy or make a chainguard to keep your pants clean. Velo-Orange is selling them. You might also be able to pull one off an old cruiser bike and clamp it onto your frame.
3. I don't find coaster or drum brakes to be more efficient, and they are heavier as well. YMMV, but remember: building a new wheel around the drum brake hub is more expensive than getting new brake pads.
4. Install full fenders to keep your butt and pants dry.
5. Might consider going to single-speed freewheel to avoid shifting issues/maintaining the drivetrain. A very simple conversion would lighten your bike a bit
5a. If keeping derailleurs, look into bar-end or thumb shifting to keep things easy and at your hand.
6. Buy a basket or collapsible side baskets for carrying your items. Wald makes cheap ones.
7. Install a rear rack for carrying other goods/using panniers.

and the links: Velo Orange, the casual cyclist's store. Check out Time's Up! bike repair classes, with a new location in Williamsburg, as well as some parts for sale. Rivendell Bike Works, another supplier and publisher for the casual comfortable cyclist.
posted by stachemaster at 6:46 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The one thing I'll say before mulling these posts is that I don't care about weight, as long as it's rideable without trouble -- I have ground-level bike parking at home and at work. (Rare luck.)
posted by zvs at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2009

my work pants are always getting torn up in the chain

can't help you with the bike, but you might want to check out outlier for pants you can bike in and wear to work.

(full disclosure: outlier's run by a friend. i've seen the pants in action and they're awesome, $$$ but worth it if you end up biking a lot and wearing them often.)
posted by lia at 6:53 PM on April 24, 2009

stachemaster makes some excellent points, but I'll make one more.

For a grand, you could get a modern city bike like a Civia, a Breezer Town Bike or a Specialized World bike (no endorsement intended--these are examples off the top of my head)--you won't be having a lot of Craigslist Missed Connections on a bike like that, but it might be a better choice for the kind of riding you're doing.
posted by box at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2009

The Electra Amsterdam comes close and is under a grand. I know two people who ride them, and they both love them.
posted by chez shoes at 7:43 PM on April 24, 2009

(Oh, but you might want to skip 2007-2008 models!)
posted by chez shoes at 7:44 PM on April 24, 2009

These seem somewhat like my Schwinn Collegiate, three speed, coaster brakes plus one hand brake. I ride it to and from my office and on local errands. It has two big fold out baskets in the back for my laptop case and other stuff. Here's similiar one on ebay.
I bought mine for 15 bucks at a rummage sale years ago and it is a prized possession. Nice ride and I usually have a skirt or dressier pants on when riding, it's handy to have the chain guard.
posted by readery at 8:06 PM on April 24, 2009

Most airlines will ship a bike for under $100. One assumes this is so someone like me could, say, go someplace and take my bike with me for use once I was there.

But hey, if it's going to cost you $3000, why not journey across the water, buy a bike, go for a ride, and then return home with your new bike.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:21 PM on April 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

My wife loves her Electra Amsterdam after two years of riding it. I put some baskets on the front and rear and she often tows a kid trailer as well and it holds up.
posted by mathowie at 10:35 PM on April 24, 2009

I lived in the Netherlands, and adored the look of the Dutch bikes but wouldn't want to ride one. They're sturdy as all get out but they are not designed for comfort unless you swap out grips and saddles for fancy ones that you wouldn't want to leave around in the city - that bike is going to stand out and you'd want to be locking it up well. They are also designed for land that is flat.

However, if you are set on it, Gazelle is one of the big Dutch brands, and they have been exporting a fair bit lately. You may also like to widen your search to Danish bikes, which are very similar but oddly, sometimes cheaper. Pashley, a British brand also has some similar models. None will be cheap.

Kid Charlemagne notes shipping charges. I bought a Dahon in the Netherlands (I know, an American bike in Holland. But folding!) and many airlines out of Amsterdam are very generous with bikes. Singapore Air let me take the bike home (to Australia) for free.
posted by wingless_angel at 10:45 PM on April 24, 2009

Best answer: I picked up an American Electra Amsterdam new (all swag included) for about $500 - way less than the $3k that's quoted upthread as the going price for imported Dutch bikes. I love it. My commute's a little longer than yours, and I'm also no bike hipster. Bike hipsters will, of course, think you're lame for riding such a bike (and an American version, no less!), but the Dutch-style combination of skirt guard, chain guard, internal gears (3 in the basic model, way less maintainance than derailleurs), fenders, rack, generator-powered lights, etc. is great for commuters and people who bike to run errands, rather than for exercise, lifestyle, or leisure. Sure, it's upright and heavier than a racing bike, but for city commutes, you won't be going that fast anyway: people with Nice Bikes would leave you in the dust on a 10 mile stretch of rural road, but in the city, you're lucky if you go a bunch of blocks without hitting a light. And oh man, not having to worry about "pants you can bike in and wear to work" is awesome. I wear ridiculously baggy pants and - on occasion - skirts and have never had anything tear.

If you get one, I do suggest adding a hand brake for the front wheel at least; I actually like coaster brakes a lot, but you very much want to have a brake that will still work even if your chain is broken. Along the same lines, getting the more expensive model or swapping out the front up for a hub generator is a good idea, since they're more efficient and aren't affected by stuff like wet weather. Beyond that, honestly, I've never needed any serious repairs or alterations.
posted by ubersturm at 10:54 PM on April 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all. Although I initially hated the idea, I ended up going with stachemaster's modification plan, which was terrifying at first but ended up being doable with about $40 in parts and junk, even for a n00b like me. (Still gotta get the fenders and chainguard, but the single-speed conversion did handle a lot of the "beater" problems of the bike.) Thanks for the handy referrals, which I will probably use when this bike is crushed by a car.
posted by zvs at 5:52 PM on April 25, 2009

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