Commuter Bikes

What is a Dutch-Style Bike (and Why Are ‘Omafiets’ So Popular)?

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MAMILS – middle-aged men in Lycra. Not caught in the crosshairs of a Discerning Cyclist piece. But necessary to provide a pivot to the axis on which the activity of cycling turns.

This breed has borne the brunt of complaints and grief from other road users. Sometimes in good measure. Sometimes without reference to the Highway Code and legislation. 

Although they are probably just keeping fit, their full kit and kaboodle can include the most expensive and fragile road machines and their camouflage is best seen out on country lanes or minor roads.

But look around you. The veins of the urban limbs which criss-cross our towns and cities are being oxygenated not just by those perceived as entering some kind of mid-life crisis. The streets are filled with more and more machines built for function, ridden by people getting from A to B, with friends, or for work, or to beat the bulge.

From cargo bicycles ridden on the school run or by forward-thinking courier companies and even plumbers. Hybrid bikes, bought once as a weekend runner but now replete with panniers and mudguards / fenders or a rack to travel to and from work in. There is a quiet revolution happening. Simple, utilitarian, egalitarian bicycles are returning.

The source of the slow return to urban cycling by the masses for the masses is driven in part by the world around us – dwindling resources, climate crises, and from people seeking, retaining personal spaces and freedoms in a changing world. 

Our betters are making our roads gradually more safe. Cycle lanes and roundabouts are geared to support and remember two-wheeled transport.

We have long looked across the North Sea to the shallow flats of the Low Countries for our guidance and inspiration of free and simple riding. Why? Because the Belgians and the Dutch have and can continue to teach us the beautiful tranquility attached to the flow and dynamism of their cities which commute. With positive results for health and happiness.

The outstanding (we won’t say shining) example of the functionality of cycling comes in the form of the Dutch-style bicycle. A simple product built to last and to perform in all conditions and not demand or insist on Lycra. 

What is a Dutch-Style Bike?

A thing of simplicity designed for the pursuit of cycling in a socially inclusive upright position on a machine which is easy to mount or dismount providing relative comfort via a softer wider saddle whilst protected from some of the elements and oily chains and grease.

Dutch-style bikes are utilitarian and prioritise rider's comfort

It has a frame you can ‘walk-through’, as opposed to the diamond frame of a men’s model, this design originally allowed women to ride easily even though they were wearing dresses or, later, wearing skirts. 

It has a guard covering the top third of the rear wheel (at 9 o’clock to 1 o clock) which specifically was designed to prevent garments from becoming meshed in the back end.

Why Are Dutch Bikes Called ‘Omafiets’ (Granny Bikes)?

Although the name has its origins in the 1970s, the machine referred to has changed little since the time of the First World War. The memory is from the Dutch seeing their elderly relatives still riding this type of bicycle which fell out of fashion elsewhere in Western Europe.

The ‘textbook’ Omafiets bicycle has the character we’ve already described but on the technical side it will include a single-speed gear, 28 inch / 635C wheels, a black frame and mudguards. The rear of these is painted white in the lower third. The chain is also fully covered. They often have a built-in dynamo to provide lighting.

The frame is made of steel and is heavy. Weights with the accessories included may top 25 kilogrammes. The riding position created by lofty handlebars and a long stem joining the headset is comfortable and friendly – it’s hard to be aggressive on a granny bicycle.

Dutch bikes characteristics

Why Are Upright Bikes Popular in the Netherlands?

Upright bicycles are firmly in the Dutch DNA. The benefits of a long unbroken history with cycling is that it limits the fads and fashions.They have never been out of style. Longevity means there are millions of them. The upright style allows more visibility of the rider and for the rider. 

They offer so much flexibility and comfort. It’s not unusual to see a passenger sitting across the rear racks on designated cycle racks. You can hold an umbrella (after you’ve examined all the safety considerations!) and change gear. Many have coaster style brakes so you can slow down by pedalling backwards.

Are Dutch Bikes Any Good? 

If something is so universal, free of distinction by class and unchanged for years, it stands to reason that it must be good. It meets the criteria of comfortably taking a simple form of transportation that is reliable and hopefully cheap and easy to maintain. They are sociable and a way-of-life.

There are millions and millions ridden in the Netherlands by citizens of all shapes and sizes, free of status checks or judgement. That’s not a bad assessment of how good they are perceived by the one of the most well-educated groups of bicycle users.

Dutch Bikes: Pros + Cons 

Easy to ride with civility and graceYou will have to acknowledge a slower average speed
No slave to weight saving – robust and cheap to maintainNot every city is as flat as Amsterdam or Utrecht and hills will seem harder
Lots of helpful standard features and flexibility Not efficient for transporting or carrying
Pros of Dutch bikes
Cons of Dutch bikes

Common Question About Dutch Bikes

Are Dutch Bikes Good on Hills? 

Gravity has an annoying habit of slowing you down. Single-speed gearing and a weight over 20 kilogrammes that you ride upright pushes a lot of wind against you. Dutch bikes are designed to be ridden along cycle lanes and boulevards of urban centres and will be able to cope with slight elevations. 

How Long Do Dutch Bikes Last?

They are not thoroughbred race horses like road bikes. They are ridden sedately with gearing and braking tucked out of sight. There are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands and these machines are not ridden intensively. You can store a Dutch bike outside for 20 years.

Are Dutch Bikes Heavy?

Most Dutch bikes are over 20 kilogrammes. The average speed of rides in the Netherlands is around 12 kilometres per hour. A heavy bike accounts for this. Are you likely to need to brake suddenly or make a tight turn at these speeds. Ride comfortably in clothes without needing a shower. How cool is that?

Are Dutch Bikes Better?

Developed countries have looked to the Netherlands for inspiration on infrastructure; the comfort and sociable ride offered by its most popular bike may follow. It is one of the best ways to get around the urban environment if you know your road surfaces are consistent and you ride regally.

Are Dutch Bikes Unisex?

The Omafiet has a relative in the Opafiet (“Grandpa bike”). They are essentially the same type of bike, except that the Opafiet has a crossbar rather than being step-through. However, while many people label step-through bikes as “women’s bikes”, Dutch bikes are actually unisex.

Omafiets vs Opafiets

How Much Do Dutch Bikes Cost?

A second-hand machine is yours for £150 (~$200). The most sought after brands sell a traditionally styled Dutch Bike for over £1,000 (~$1,300). The average price is around £800 (~$1000) for a new Dutch Bike.

Why are Dutch Bikes So Expensive?

A savvy cycle riding public which each rides 1,200 kilometres per year on average demands quality and that is what they get. They are asked to carry out multiple tasks and are built for them. They do need to be sturdy. They come with a lot of standard accessories. They hold their value well.

Best Dutch-Style Bike Brands

  • Gazelle
  • Batavus
  • Pashley
  • Veloretti
  • Azor
  • Burgers
  • Bella
  • Amsterdammer

Best Dutch-Style Bikes

Best Dutch Bike under £1000 

Pashley Roadster Classic 3-Speed 

A machine built to handle Britain’s cobbled roads and rougher country lanes, fitted with as stylish and supple Brooks saddle.

The ride is relaxed for urban rides or trips into the countryside, with the Pashley fitted with full mudguards, chain guards and coat guard on the rear wheel. Gearing and brakes are sealed to beat the weather.

Best Dutch Bike under £500 

Fabricbike City 7-Speed Bicycle 

A chic urban model with an easy step-in frame design for women.

This 7-speed bike features a steel frame with a rear rack to add accessories like rear baskets and children’s seats and comes with front and rear mudguards as standard.

External gears are included with this model which are wide enough could help on the hills.

Best Electric Dutch Bike 

Van Moof S3 

The Knight Rider of bicycles.

The Van Moof S3 has to be one of – if not the – best looking urban e-bikes in the world. It’s just stunning.

Comes with a standard diamond frame shape featuring next generation tech, motors, automatic electronic gears and even onboard alarms.

You can even unlock your bike via an app.

Best Cheap Electric Dutch Bike (Under £1000)

Electric City Bike Elops 120E 

A well-equipped bike with electrical assistance, accessories and a design intended for short journeys.

Has a solid range of 60 kilometres and takes about four-to-five hours to charge from empty to full, with the rider being able to choose from three assistance modes when riding.

Great value budget electric city bike.

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