What do the Dutch do cross-country?
July 23, 2014 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I have a new commute that is hilly and mostly off-road, instead of my previous flat all paved one. I don't think my Dutch bike is suited to this, but I LOOOOOOOVE it so much. I never really enjoyed cycling before I got it. Is there a better suited bike that will make me equally happy?

This is my new commute. Pic 1. Pic 2. Pic 3. (Note that what Google maps shows as paths through the various areas of parkland are actually often the dirt tracks seen in the above photos).

This is my current bicycle. (Gazelle, three (internal) gears, hub brakes, dynamo lights, fenders, full chain guard, super heavy, comfortable seat, upright riding position.) I love all those features a lot. But I'm pretty sure it wasn't designed for the above conditions.

I'm guessing my best options are (a) trade it in for a mountain bike or similar or (b) trade it in for a similar Dutch bike with more than 3 gears, and stick to roads instead of the cross-country route. The roads aren't anywhere near as pleasant as the cross-country option, and it's not much faster, either, but at least I could still ride a similarly awesome bicycle.

My only experience with mountain bikes in the past has been riding second hand ones on-road, so not really treating them the way they are designed to be treated. I kind of hated them, but maybe I'd love them more if I was using them cross-country?

Given that I love all the above-listed features of my current bicycle, what sort of mountain bike am I likely to be happy with? Is there another option besides a mountain bike that could handle the sort of commute I would be doing?
posted by lollusc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried it on the Gazelle? All that steel will soak up a lot of bumps. How does it feel?

Also, what is your budget?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:37 PM on July 23, 2014

I tried it this morning and it felt okay, but I was worried that since the bike isn't designed for riding off-road, it might not be good for it in the longer term. Is this untrue? Would the only difference with a mountain bike be the suspension? Because if that's the case, I'd probably stick with a Dutch bike. (I'll still have to upgrade to something with more gears, though, as I had to get off and walk a couple of the steeper hills on the way home.)
posted by lollusc at 10:39 PM on July 23, 2014

Oh, and my budget is as low as possible, but up to $1000 if need be. I'd probably try to buy second-hand to keep the cost lower.
posted by lollusc at 10:40 PM on July 23, 2014

I think you can get there using the network of minor side streets and have a very pleasant, paved bicycle commute.

Look at the network of bicycle routes and bicycle friendly streets indicated on this map. I can see several different possible routes and they all look enjoyable.

I mapped one possibility here.

I don't know how hilly any of those routes would be but I'm guessing they would all be do-able and quite pleasant with your Dutch bike. If you try them and they're too hilly, then something like your Dutch bike but with some lower gearing would certainly do the trick.
posted by flug at 10:48 PM on July 23, 2014

I tried it this morning and it felt okay, but I was worried that since the bike isn't designed for riding off-road, it might not be good for it in the longer term.

You won't get a mountain bike off the shelf with the kinds of features your Gazelle has. You would be looking at a custom job.

But your setup is pretty hard wearing. Steel frames are notoriously hardy, and those Nexus hubs are also very tough.

Possible concerns; depending on what rims you have, they may not hold up well on rough dirt paths. That's OK, if you're having trouble, you can always replace the rims. That will cost less than buying a new bike, and you can get tougher ones the next time round. In the meantime, you could put tires with better tread on to give you more stability on the dirt.

You might also want to think about cleaning your chain a bit more often if there is mud and gravel getting in there. But you would have to do that on any other bike you got, unless you had a belt drive.

If you feel like you need more gears, Shimano make an 8 speed Nexus Hub which you could drop into the Gazelle. But you could tough it out on the hills - it'll make you stronger.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:49 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

That bike looks plenty capable, as long as the pics you showed were the roughest patches on your route. You might need to alter or adapt your riding style though. Make sure you down-shift on the uphills, probably to your lowest gear. Practice pedaling standing up; learn to use the handlebars as leverage against the pedals.

You might want to look into different tires if you'll ever be riding in the rain. It's hard to tell from the picture what kind you're rolling, but you can find commuter tires that have a little extra tread on the sides and remain smoother down the center. They offer the gentle ride of slicker tires and better grip when cornering (especially in wet conditions).
posted by carsonb at 10:51 PM on July 23, 2014

Dutch girl here, never owned another bike than a typical Dutch one. Your Gazelle will do fine on that route, though the above tips absolutely won't hurt.
posted by Ms. Next at 10:55 PM on July 23, 2014

Would the only difference with a mountain bike be the suspension?

There would be a few differences. You aren't doing major downhill riding, so you would likely be looking at 'hardtail' bikes, ie front suspension only. That would help on the bumpy bits.

The wheels would be wider, so bigger fatter tyres, with more tread. That would help with the bumps and make you more stable and give you more grip. Slower on roads though.

The vast majority of mountain bikes have flat bars - the riding position would be lower than on your Gazelle.

Most of them have aluminum frames, so they would be probably be lighter than your current setup also.

Disc brakes are also increasingly coming standard these days, which is helpful in the rain.

None of them will be as pretty as your Gazelle.

I think you should stick with the Gazelle, spend your money on a new set of tyres and an 8 speed hub.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:56 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Flug, I'd like to see the route you mapped, but I'm getting a permissions error.

I do already change gears on uphills (in fact, I had to do almost the whole ride home in my lowest gear, which is why I think I need more gears), and I do stand on hills already too.

Thanks for the tips about the tyres, though, and it's great to hear I can probably get an 8-speed hub for my current bike!
posted by lollusc at 11:08 PM on July 23, 2014

cleaning your chain a bit more often

reads like advice from somebody who has never experienced the joys of a fully encased Dutch chainguard. Those things work.

Before replacing your whole gearing setup, you might care to try replacing your current chainwheel with one that has somewhat fewer teeth. That will have the effect of lowering all your gears, so it will cost you some speed on the flat and downhill, but it will cost very little money and might be good enough.

The fact that you already have hub brakes gives you a fair bit of flexibility in wheel rims and tyres, too. You might want to play with using a slightly fatter tyre run at very slightly lower pressure to smooth out the bumps some. There's a tradeoff there against rolling resistance, but rolling resistance on rough ground is never going to be stellar anyway.

Take Mme Gazelle to your local bike shop and check out your options.
posted by flabdablet at 11:16 PM on July 23, 2014

reads like advice from somebody who has never experienced the joys of a fully encased Dutch chainguard. Those things work.

Good point - I thought from the photo that it was only a half-guard, but I now see the error of my ways.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:27 PM on July 23, 2014

I'm with the majority (unanimity?) here. That's a great bike, and I know how much more pleasant a bike ride is on a bike you looooooove.

I'll add two suggestions:

If you don't do it already, add Slime to your tubes. Almost every puncture I've had has been caused by a thorn (we call them "goat-head thorns" here) and your path looks like it could have some thorny vegetation. Once or twice a year, Slime saves me from having to change a tube. It's relatively easy to see and avoid glass and other foreign matter, but thorns are invisible until you find one in your tire.

Second: just be sure to tighten your various bolts and nuts once a month or so. Bouncy terrain can shake things loose over time.

Enjoy! Looks like a great commute!
posted by The Deej at 6:35 AM on July 24, 2014

Watch out for catching debris (twigs & wood chips) between the front fender & tire. I've done this & have a new front tooth as a result. If your fenders don't have safety releases on the stays like the SKS securi-clip, consider adding them.

My fender was an SKS plastic-over-metal bluemels and it accordioned all the way up to the fork where it jammed the wheel solid. I use Planet Bike all-plastic fenders now, which should split & shatter if debris tries to wedge. I wouldn't use them off-road, though: too floppy.
posted by morganw at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2014

Thanks everyone! I contacted my bike shop (where I bought the Gazelle) and they gave me quotes for (a) replacing the cog with a larger one to lower all the gears or (b) putting in an 8-gear hub. They also offered to take my Gazelle as a trade-in towards one of the similar bicycles they have with more gears. That would probably work out to be slightly cheaper than putting in an 8-gear hub on the Gazelle, so I'm going to go in and test ride their other bikes to see if I love any of them as much as mine. If not, I'll probably try the larger cog option first.

I'm happy to hear that it isn't madness to keep riding a Dutch bike on a commute like this. Yay!
posted by lollusc at 6:23 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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