A Friendly Debate

A good friend and I have been engaging in an ongoing and amiable debate regarding what constitutes a good commuting/utility bike. He was the editor of a bicycle magazine for many years and speaks from a position of immense knowledge and authority, so he’s a great person to spar with if you want to learn a thing or three. I quite enjoy confronting him with controversial ideas — some of which I don’t necessarily wholeheartedly agree with myself — just to see where it leads our discussion. Something interesting almost always comes out of these exchanges.

Recently, this friend has been on a quest to learn everything there is to know about traditional Dutch (and English) Roadsters. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and he believes the Northern European pedigree of Dutch bikes may transfer well to the rainy climate where he lives. He’s learned much, and shared much with me, about band brakes and internal gear hubs, load carrying and how it relates to frame geometry, the pros and cons of chain cases, and on-and-on. At this point, he’s almost, but not quite, convinced that traditional Roadsters (particularly those of the Dutch variety) represent the ultimate in practical bikes for daily transportation, at least for riders who live in a dank-and-damp climate and don’t have many hills to climb.

Always one to play the Devil’s Advocate when it comes to discussions around bike design, I’ve been throwing it back at him, advocating for more modern, higher performance, U.S.-centered commuter bike designs such as those from Civia, Breezer, Rivendell, Raleigh, and others. I live in Northern California, where on a wet year I’m likely to encounter heavy rain on no more than 20-30 commute days; I don’t need a bike that can withstand sitting in the rain 150 days a year. I also don’t mind working on bikes, maintaining drivetrains, and adjusting brakes and the like.

For the soggy conditions in which he rides, enclosed drivetrains and brakes make sense. He likes drum or band brakes because, unlike rim brakes, they don’t create brake sludge. He likes enclosed chain cases because they protect the drivetrain from the elements. He’s not 100% sold on internal gear hubs, though he likes the concept for ease of use (his reservations have to do with the difficulty of repairing IGHs in the event of a failure). Of course he insists upon fenders and racks. He prefers integrated lighting systems with internal wiring. He wants a bike that won’t be damaged if it’s parked out in the rain everyday. He doesn’t care much about performance or weight, so he doesn’t mind the fact that most traditional Roadsters are built like bricks and are quite heavy.

Here in suburban California, everything is spread out, so getting anywhere on a bike can take a while.

Here in suburban California, everything is spread out, so getting anywhere on a bike can take a while. I rode a Pashley for over a year, and it’s a lovely bike in many regards. But like my wife said about her Princess just the other day, it’s a bike that likes to go one speed (slow), and as long as you’re not in a hurry or don’t need to travel too far, it’s a nice ride.

The thing is, we’re covering longer distances on a regular basis, and for us, lighter, faster bikes make the trip more enjoyable. We’re not talking racing bikes with skinny tires, but practical bikes that share some characteristics with traditional Roadsters while being manufactured with modern materials to reduce weight and increase performance. These bikes may also be missing some accessories that are unessential for our climes and limited cargo carrying needs.

For example, a bike like the Rivendell Sam Hillborne is a sweet ride for someone who has a longer commute, has access to indoor bike parking, and has the need to carry only up to touring loads. The Hillborne I’m riding is outfitted with a traditional component set including a triple crank, 8-speed cassette, bar-end shifters, and high profile cantilever brakes. My friend, who lives in the rain forest, has little interest in an exposed drivetrain or rim brakes like on this bike, and I can certainly understand that. But it’s a non-issue for me, and I’d rather have a lighter bike with a lively frame, wide range gearing, and exposed drivetrain components that are less expensive and easier to adjust and replace in case of a failure.

My Civia takes a different approach, with a full Alfine group including IGH, generator hub, and hydraulic discs. It’s a bit of an enigma in that it’s built with high-tech materials, yet the components are essentially maintenance-free following the traditional Dutch lead. The Breezers and some modern European Roadsters fit this model as well. I think of the Hyland as the bicycle equivalent of a modern automobile such as a Honda Accord or Toyota Prius; very high-tech and very reliable, but not necessarily easy to service or repair at home for most people. The approach is basically, “ride it until it makes a funny noise, then take it to the dealer for service”, which is a totally legitimate approach and a great way to maintain a bike for many people. What the Civia has over traditional Roadsters is higher performance in nearly every regard.

I could ramble on about individual bikes and their unique mix of design priorities all day (oops, I guess I’ve already done that). Like most bikes, Dutch Roadsters are the result of a process of natural selection, which makes them ideally suited to the wet climes and flat terrain where they were developed. Bikes like the Rivendell and the Civia are coming out of a different lineage altogether, and arguably, may be more well-suited to the varied and expansive terrain found in some areas of the United States. Ultimately, I believe local conditions are everything, and local conditions probably do more to determine our specific preferences than any overarching advantages or disadvantages inherent within differing bike designs.

49 Responses to “A Friendly Debate”

  • Fritz says:

    The description of your riding makes me think of Breezer’s Finesse, which was designed specifically as a “go fast” bike with utilitarian commuter features.

    I think the longer travel distances is something some of our overseas ‘bike chic’ friends don’t get (or are even purposefully obtuse about). I think another importance difference is that northern Europeans mostly look at bikes as a way to walk fast, while here in the U.S. we’ve tended to look at bikes as something akin to slow cars. The design follows from our wide open spaces.

  • brett says:

    Agreed. I have a Dutch Oma, and it’s just about perfect for urban Portland, t hanks to the 8 speed hub. With my bad knees, I wouldn’t be able to get up some hills without it. Most of my riding is in the central city, often accompanied by drizzle and/or puddles, frequent stop signs and lights, and pedestrians, so I’m grateful for the chain case, roller brakes, back rack, wheel lock, bell and all the other practical features that came pre-loaded and help on wet streets. (I did have a hub generator headlight installed.) As for repairs, I’m lucky to have a full service store (Clever Cycles) that can handle my maintenance and equipment needs — panniers, lights, clothes, etc.

    It’s fairly rare t hat I bike more than three miles, though the bike is fully capable of that if I’m not taking big hills. I’d like to test ride a Breezer someday, as I admire the concept a lot. But I love the upright position of my Oma for riding in downtown Portland — much better for frequent stops, seeing cars (and being seen), and easier on my wrists and back (I’m 50). If took longer rides with fewer stops, I’d probably want a faster bike, but for urban commuting, a traditional Dutch style bike is just about ideal. Even if I had a lighter, faster bike, for the kind of riding I do, I probably wouldn’t get where I’m going much faster. Actually, I do have a hybrid Specialized that was my main bike before I found the Oma, but I lent it to a friend and have thus far never needed it back. Maybe if I go for a long ride in the country next summer I will.

  • Chester says:

    There’s just too much variability for any one bike to be ideally suited to “commuters,” even within a particular city/region.

    For example, a Dutch town bike can be great for someone who commutes over flat terrain, wants to sit upright, who doesn’t want to wear special clothes to ride (or “modify” their clothes to ride), and who appreciates the style. But…if that person has to carry their bike up to a third-floor walk-up to store it securely at night, it’s a terrible choice.

    And integrated lighting — regardless of the wire-routing — is great…but terrible for someone who will be locking up their bike on the street, either during work or errand-running.

    And an internal geared hub’s on-the-spot repairability isn’t really a concern for a commuter who couldn’t repair a more traditional drivetrain anyway…or who can take the bike home via mass transit to work on it.

    Different regions call for different bikes, but there’s a massive range in needs tied to an individual’s lifestyle, living arrangement, workplace architecture, etc., etc.

    So it’s cool that there’s so much variability in bikes. Personally, I ride a singlespeed road bike with fenders and a chainguard and that’s worked out best for me, though…I’m thinking about “upgrading” it with a Nexus hub.

  • The Opoponax says:

    “I think the longer travel distances is something some of our overseas ‘bike chic’ friends don’t get (or are even purposefully obtuse about).”

    Then again, their typical refutation of the travel distance issue is that a majority of American car trips cover distances of under 3 miles. If there’s any truth to that statistic, they’re right and we’re wrong, plain and simple.

    I think that in general we Americans have a really hard time giving up the “sport” associations of cycling, and I don’t think it has much to do with the distances we ride or the conditions we ride in.

  • Dave Marquez says:

    OK, what about a guy like me. I live in the dark and damp Pacific Northwest, but I live in a very hilly area to boot!!!
    I really like the idea of either a belt or enclosed chain. Internal Gear hub will definitely be the drivetrain on my next bike. Dyno hub with internal wiring makes great sense to me along with fenders.
    I don’t want the all out weight of a “Dutch” bike either for the sake of the rather still but short hills around Tacoma.
    As for brakes, discs make the most sense to me. maximum power and no wear and tear on the rims.
    I’m watching what Civia, Breezer and ANT are putting out. I wish Rivendell would come out with something like this!

  • Alan says:


    “I think that in general we Americans have a really hard time giving up the “sport” associations of cycling, and I don’t think it has much to do with the distances we ride or the conditions we ride in.”

    True, though perhaps not so much among the crowd that hangs out here.


  • Helton says:

    Alan, you touched a very important and almost always overlooked point on design scope for commuting bikes, that makes all the difference:

    1: “I also don’t mind working on bikes, maintaining drivetrains, and adjusting brakes and the like.”

    2: “The approach is basically, “ride it until it makes a funny noise, then take it to the dealer for service”, which is a totally legitimate approach and a great way to maintain a bike for many people.”

    The two approaches must be very thoroughly considered, since most probably the people who DESIGN bikes belong to the first category; sometimes these people stubbornly think that ANY people who decides to regularly ride bikes MUST learn to maintain it because that’s the ONLY way to be. Unfortunately (by my viewpoint, because I decidedly belong to the first category), the overwhelming majority of normal people (who would still ride a bike regularly) belong to the SECOND category.

    (by the way, the same thing happen about computer use, but that’s another long discussion).

    Finally, your last words were definitive, and I completely agree with them:

    “local conditions probably do more to determine our specific preferences than any overarching advantages or disadvantages inherent within differing bike designs.”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    My husband and I each own Pashleys, as well as a few other bikes, and we discuss this very topic often.

    One thing I’d like to add, is that while English Roadsters and Dutch bikes may look similar, they have some crucial differences in geometry that translate into significant differences in ride quality. So despite their overt similarities (chaincase, heaviness, upright riding position, etc), I would not put them in the same category in terms of riding experience.

    Also, I am curious whether you have ever tried a (properly refurbished) vintage Raleigh Roadster/ Tourist (the DL-1), say from the mid 1950s – late 1970s? I recently acquired one (this one here) and was absolutely floored by what an amazing machine this is: It is considerably faster, more efficient, more stable, and lighter than any modern Dutch bike I have tried, or, I am sorry to say, my shiny modern Pashley. I got it as a fun restoration project and vintage eye candy, not suspecting that I would actually end up riding it more than any of my other bicycles – which is what’s ended up happening. I did a 30+ mile ride yesterday in high heels and a skirt, and barely broke a sweat. If they could make a modern bike that copied the geometry of the Raleigh DL-1 exactly while using modern brakes, that I think would be THE perfect transport bike.

  • Stephen says:

    Alan, with all due respect, you’re a bike snob. I don’t see a word about security above. Amsterdam, and I would guess Copenhagen to a significant degree, suffer from astronomical rates of bike theft. Can anyone really imagine riding a $2,700 fancy Hillbourne in cold sleet and then leaving it outside chained up along with thousands of other POS bikes? If you were a Dutch or Danish junky, what would you steal?

    Yes, yes, the Civias, Rivs, ANTs, etc. are all lovely bikes. My Heron with its boutique finish and parts is a thang of booty, but it wouldn’t be my first choice if I lived in an intensely urban area with sometimes wretched weather. I’d ride something a little less fussy and less attractive to thieves.

  • Alan says:


    “Alan, with all due respect, you’re a bike snob.”

    Here’s the last line from the article again:

    “Ultimately, I believe local conditions are everything, and local conditions probably do more to determine our specific preferences than any overarching advantages or disadvantages inherent within differing bike designs.”

    If I lived in a city with “astronomical rates of bike theft”, I’d probably be discussing how to deface my bike to keep it from being stolen, but I happen to commute in a relatively low-crime area and my bike is stored in a bike locker while I’m at work, so, like I mentioned in the article, my local conditions dictate my choices. Not sure what any of that has to do with being a bike snob, though I suppose I can’t exactly deny the charge… LOL.


    PS – From what I understand, the Dutch bikes being exported to the U.S. are much nicer than the typical bike seen on the street in the cities you mentioned.

  • Amy says:

    Faster, lighter, some cargo? I went to a cyclocross bike with a rack. I love that I can haul stuff but prefer to pack light and go fast–and not worry if I need to hit the curb or trail to get there. I like the look of the heavier upright bikes but I love being able to keep up with road rides and put my bike on top of the car easily. And I want hard exercise when I commute.

    But I’m always in a hurry and going far.

    The only downside to my newer bike is the theft factor during errands…so far so good. At least my workplace is very safe.

  • Stephen says:

    No, I’m not attacking you. If anything, I’m a bike snob too. And yes, local conditions are critical. I live in a city where bike theft used to be galactic-class, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore when there are so many cars for the pickin’. Virtually everyone here rides, and because of that, I ride my lovely Heron w/o worrying about it getting nicked, but then I also have a light commute and a very secure place to lock it up. But my point is that Dutch bikes are utility bikes meant for hard use. Even the import models are relatively heavy and crude compared to the works of art you regularly review. Comparing them to Rivs and Civias is kind of pointless. The world needs more simple, crude bikes, instead of overpriced hothouse flowers, and safe places to ride them.

  • Alan says:


    After reading my comment, I realized it sounded defensive when I didn’t intend it to come across that way, so I went back and added a line admitting that I am, in fact, a bike snob. :-)

    Regarding your point about comparing Rivs and Civias to Dutch bikes, perhaps those were bad examples. Better might have been the Surly LHT or Raleigh Alley Way, both of which are no more expensive than bikes like the WorkCycles Kruisframe, but would represent the U.S.-based approach perfectly well in a comparison.


  • doug says:

    When it comes to functional bikes, give me an old steel mountain bike any day. Reasonably light, incredibly versatile, and strong enough to take anything I’m willing to dish out. They are also dirt cheap. Why spend thousands on an overweight Dutch import when I can get something that I think is better for $100 on craigslist?

    I’m also pretty committed to external gears and rim brakes, if only because I know how to maintain them. Right now I’m entering my fourth year of every day bike commuting in the Pacific Northwest, every year using external components. I’ve never had any real problems. And would I leave one of those expensive Dutch bikes sitting out in the rain? Hell no! I wouldn’t leave any bike sitting out in the rain all day if I could help it.

    I see a handful of Dutch bikes around Seattle, usually ridden by well-off types. I can’t help but think that for them it’s more of a style than functional choice. How on earth do those people ride up the hills that separate the neighborhoods around here? I suspect they don’t, at least not very often. They too damned stylish to be really useful!

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    Alan, I think you are talking about different users and application here. The vast majority of Americans drive for daily trips of 5 miles or less. For these folks who are not extremely fit or don’t need to go far and want to wear regular cloths, the Dutch bike/ English Roadster concept would be perfect. The internal brakes and gearing make low maintenance and the built in fenders, rack, lights, and lock all make the bike very practical. Add to that the fact that most of these users want an upright position and actively avoid the more performance oriented seated position. The roadster answers a lot of issues of practicality for these users.

    I love Dutch bikes. I build these bikes for a living. I would not regularly ride these bikes more than 10 miles at a time. As you have mentioned, they are wonderful rides so long as you are riding slowly. For the longer distances you mention, the touring bike which is the genesis of the bikes you mention is a much better bike if somewhat more limited in overall utility. I would argue though that these users are the minority and usually the more committed cyclist. If we are talking about putting more non-cyclist on bikes for transportation, the bikes you are touting aren’t going to do it (though they are a hell of a lot better than the bikes most people have foisted upon themselves by the major brands.)

  • Alan says:


    I have ridden a couple of old Raleighs and they were very nice. I agree, they ride more like modern road bikes and don’t seem quite as industrial as some of the Dutch bikes. I’m not surprised it’s becoming one of your favorites.

    “If they could make a modern bike that copied the geometry of the Raleigh DL-1 exactly while using modern brakes, that I think would be THE perfect transport bike.”

    Sounds like a custom A.N.T. You need to talk to Mike Flanigan… :-)


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    > Sounds like a custom A.N.T. You need to talk to Mike Flanigan… :-)

    Alan – Done, and done. We have been talking about these issues for the past couple of months and stay tuned for some test ride reports of his new models.

  • Alan says:


    Good points, thanks.

    To clarify my original point, I’m not touting Rivs/Civias/Raleighs over Dutch bikes. All I’m saying is that different circumstances require different tools. My friend in the rainy Northwest has certain needs, while we CA suburbanites may need something else. It’s that “local conditions drive choices” idea…


  • Alan says:


    “We have been talking about these issues for the past couple of months and stay tuned for some test ride reports of his new models.”

    Looking forward to it!

  • Matt says:

    My wife and I moved from the Pacific North West to Central Washington a few years back and what once worked on the rainy side of the hill has lost a whole season (and a long one) here on the cold, often snowy side of the Cascades. Right now I’m riding a reconditioned lugged steal frame from the 70’s with an open transmission, fenders, and relatively narrow wheels. Often I pull around a BOB trailer because I like to use my bike for utility purposes more than anything else.

    This morning there was ice on the road and sleet in the air when I got up before the sun and headed over to the University. Slow and steady and I made it there without issue, but I know that if I keep this kind of riding up I’m going to take a header and that hurts. Time to consider my options.

    The Dutch and English Roadsters have potential in my book, but one thing I don’t think they do very well is haul larger amounts of crap. This morning I had about 80 pounds of Environmental Impact Statements to take back to the library. I get away with replacing my car and hauling loads like this because of the trailer. If I were to switch back to panniers on a standard geometry I’d just be headed back to that inevitable header with book and electronic stuffed bags.

    I’ve been looking at two options as a possible response to deal with this situation. First option is a long-tail specifically because the fat tires and long wheel base would work particularly well in the ice and snow that are common here. If things get particularly bad I can always add studded snow tires and drop the fenders. It will sound like a low-slung, EIS laden, human-powered, environmentally sensitive tank, but the likelihood that I’ll be spending quality face time with hard packed pavement will significantly decreased.

    Second option is a dutch bucket bike, but while I can probably get away with carrying more groceries and books on a platform like this I’m not convinced that it will be any more stable on the ice than a roadster. Plus the tire options on a bike of this sort are limited and there is generally a differential between the front and the rear.

  • Alan says:


    A longtail with all-weather fatties sounds like a great option for the icy conditions of Eastern WA. There’s that “local conditions” idea again! :-)


  • Rick says:

    I’m not so sure what the fuss about weight/lack of weight and fast/not so fast is all about. I roll on a Lightfoot Sprite delta trike. All-up commute to work weight is probably a bit north of 60 lb with fenders, lights, tool bag, hydration pack, a change of clothes and toiletries. My overall average is right at 10.5 mph to work (one big hill to climb, 1 big downhill, one bigger downhill) and 7.7 mph on the return (1 big climb, 1 bigger climb, 1 big downhill). Yeah, I’m way slow on the big climbs – a determined runner can pass me easily – but the compound drivetrain allows low enough gears to avoid pain in my damaged knees.

    As far as going fast goes, in my opinion the faster you go the sooner you finish, and if you go too fast you finish too soon. Get out and enjoy the ride. Don’t get out and conquer the ride.

  • John Lascurettes says:

    I’ve been riding a Novara Fusion for a little over a year that I’ve been very happy with in soggy Portland. The closed components (roller brakes, internal gear hub, fenders, racks, dynohub, etc) are great and maintenance free. Yes, I can’t catch many of the roadies, but that’s fine by me. I also don’t have to wipe down most of the components after every ride. I wipe down and lube the chain maybe once a week in the worst weather (with no difficult nooks and crannies of a cassette). I really appreciate the always-ready B&M IQ Cyo light (after market) for the long-dark winters above the 45th parallel – I never need to worry about dying batteries or not being seen. Since roller brakes are rare, I might miss them if I ever switch to a bike with discs (you still have to replace caliper pads with discs but roller brake hubs should last almost as long as the frame they’re on). The roller brakes are truly no worries and the stopping power in a deluge of rain is amazing. The only maintenance they’ve needed in year is a small squirt of white grease into the drum to kill squeak.

    I am pining for a Civia Hyland or possibly one of the new Raleigh Alley Way bikes. Though I am going to continue beating on this Fusion for a couple more years first. It gets year round usage and I recently had the back wheel rebuilt with thicker, higher quality spokes than the stock ones (after breaking them three times) – they get a lot of stress doing urban riding, hauling my work clothes and my 60 lb son on a follow me to school.

    Additionally, I picked up a dutch style frame lock and plug-in square-link chain – high security for those days when I need to park somewhere other than my garage or my work’s bike locker. More weight, but great convenience, security and ease of use.

    I had ridden an old trek steel-frame mtb the first year I rode here and had to continuously wipe out all the gunk and road grit from the chain and cassette in the winter. The rims were also taking a beating from the same grit. That old mountain bike is now my emergency snow and ice bike and hangs in the garage most of the year, fitted with studded tires.

  • Jim says:

    IMO, too much is made of things like IGHs and disc brakes. Those features have their plusses and minuses, but the most important feature, again my opinion, is tire clearance and provisions for mounting racks and fenders. Without those things, the bike’s potential is severely limited. With those things, you can have a workable bike regardless of what kind of drivetrain and brakes you have. For my taste and sensibilities, the two companies who “get it” are Rivendell and Surly. Both companies are run and staffed by people who are way into bikes (as a lifestyle), but for whom any sporting considerations are way down the priority list.

    The IGHs usually work fine, but lack the modularity that I want/need. For me, it’s important to have the option to replace this or that part. Since most IGHs have limited-to-no replacement parts availability, and no options for different parts (cogs are the exception), not to mention limited shifter choices, I would have much more trouble reworking an IGH bike to get it how I want it, and have the freedom to, say, swap handlebars someday. I understand why others may want an IGH, but it simply doesn’t fit into my own cycling life. (this has nothing to do with me having racing biases, because I don’t).

    I think Dutch roadster-style bikes are cool because they’re so robust and upright and smooth riding. But I have no interest in owning one, and if I did, I doubt I’d ride it much, because it would be so ponderous and unwieldy compared to my usual bikes.

    Civia baffles me, but I hear some of their new models are pretty nice.

  • Xtra says:

    Lovely Bicycle!,

    Could elaborate on the differences between the dutch and english bikes?


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Xtra – Classic English Roadsters were designed mainly as countryside bikes, to travel long distances and at a fairly brisk pace, while carrying fair (but not monstrous) loads. Dutch bikes (which were a slightly later modification of the English Roadster) were designed as city/town bikes to go short to medium distances and carry even heavier loads.

    In terms of geometry, a classic English Roadster will have the seat tube level with the head tube, and the stem set up to extend a fair but not drastic amount past the headtube. The look should be something like this. When riding the bike, the cyclist sits upright, with their arms extended downward in a relaxed fashion, and the hands resting upon the handlebars. Here is me riding my bike in this fashion.

    A typical Dutch bike will have the handlebars set much higher than the saddle, which is achieved with a super-duper-long stem, often supplementing a frame geometry where the head tube is already considerably higher than the seat tube (see this one). When riding the bike, the cyclist sits upright, with their arms bent at the elbow and the hands reaching up to the handlebars, as if they are holding a tray. Here is a photo I found that illustrates this).

    There are also subtle, but significant differences in the angles of the frame that encourage this difference in sitting positions. The result is that the classic English Roadster is faster and more feasible for long distance travel without the rider growing tired, whereas the Dutch Bike can tolerate even heavier loads for short-term travel and enables a bolt-upright sitting position. Both Dutch bikes and English Roadsters have very slack geometry and 28″ wheels.

    Having said all this, the modern Pashley is not entirely true to the English Roadster design, especially the women’s model. It is clunkier in terms of handling, and the proportions are different. I can ride for 30+ miles on my vintage Raleigh Roadster without getting tired, but on my Pashley even much shorter rides can be exhausting. The Dutch bikes I have tried (Gazelle and Batavus) are even worse in this respect.

  • David says:

    As the song says, “Love The One You’re With”, so it is said, ride the bike you got.

    I see all sorts of bike used as commuter machines as the distances here are rather short but nary a one commuter specific designed bike. People around here will cobble together what they have with lights, racks bags and the such to serve their needs.

    My primary commuter is a Burley Rock & Roll Tandem. I ride with my youngest to her school, drop her off and head off to work. Just under 10 miles one way.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “I’m not so sure what the fuss about weight/lack of weight and fast/not so fast is all about… …60 lb with… …hydration pack, a change of clothes and toiletries.”

    I think the hydration pack, change of clothes and toiletries would seem like a bit of a fuss to some commuters, while not a fuss to others. I think speed is a justifiable concern to riders with a +20 mile daily commute. Like Alan said, I think environment and circumstance should be the guiding force for every individual’s choice.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    Jim, isn’t Civia and Surly the same company? If one gets it, wouldn’t the other one as well?

  • JohnB says:

    Can I throw a Brompton into the mix…

    Very nice for doing anything less than 5 miles, if you’re doing more, you can take it on the train or bus easily and there’s no need to leave it anywhere. Also only 11kg or so.

    In terms of number of journeys, mine is massively above all my other bikes put together! It has the 2 gear setup which seems to be very resilient (I rode it every day through the winter in the UK and never did anything to it but oil the chain) though I wouldn’t fancy tacking anything above 15% with it.

    The only downsides I can see is that I don’t know about it’s carrying capacity and the fact that if you get a flat on the rear (unlikely with kevlar tyres – has only happened once in a year) you need a spanner to deal with it because of the fiddly chain tensioner etc.

    I’m also with Doug on the mountain bike. I switched to fat road tyres on my mountain bike and used it as a commuter for many years, sadly I switched to a lighter sportier bike that I never particularly liked because of the ride quality. In retrospect I could have just put drops on the mountain bike (ie cyclocross) to give it better aerodynamics and it would have been perfect.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    My solution is a bike for every purpose. I have a Dynamic shaft drive for town use. Heavy? yes but a total year’s maintenance is 3 or 4 pumps on a grease gun. A Surly LHT for road riding, a Schwinn World Sport for nostalgia, a recumbent bike and trike for a change of pace. Life is good.

  • Alan says:

    I like your style, Bob. :-)

  • David says:

    I agree with Bob Baxter.

    “A bike for every purpose.”

    One can never have enough bikes.

    Tandem, triplet, mountain bike and classic road bike, I Love Bicycles.

    My new bike, A Bluevelo, Velomobile Quest is now due to ship November 10th.

    This is my mid life crisis machine……LOL

    I refinanced my house to pay for this baby……(-;

  • Jim says:

    Surly and Civia are both owned by QBP, but they are run by different groups of people, and each of these groups has a high degree of autonomy with regard to design, part spec, etc.

  • Bob says:

    For year-round commuting, local conditions—particularly weather—are indeed key, and I imagine the relatively small winter commuting market in the snow/ice/cold parts of the country might contribute to the relative lack of options available. For example, both the Breezer Finesse and the Civia Hyland take something like 35 mm tires. My current year-round bike takes 40 mm max, and even that felt narrow once the plows had been out and mixed sand, salt, and 8-10 inches of snow. (The blend sets like concrete very quickly around rolling tires and your wheels get minds of their own.) Civia’s Loring takes fatter tires and sports a plausible winter drive train, but it may be just too pretty. Those bamboo fenders and baguette-and-a-bottle-of-wine front rack would need to come off six months of the year.

    The “old mountain bike” beater approach sounds good in theory, but assuming one can find such a frame with suitably long chain stays and eyelets for rack and fenders, I wonder just how much savings there is if the build includes an IGH out back and a dynamo hub up front.

  • Jim says:

    I tend to agree with you Bob, especially about the limited tire clearance on commuting-specific bikes, but I’m curious about your phrase: “plausible winter drive train”. What do you mean by that? Are there implausible drivetrains?

    I have ridden many thousands of Minneapolis winter miles, mostly using 8/9sp cassette hubs and midrange Shimano MTB derailleurs, and also on a fixed gear. I have also done some winter riding on a 1960 Raleigh Sports 3-sp. The only times I had drivetrain troubles, all of which were minor and non-disabling, were when my rear hub pawls were slow to engage at -20F and one time when my cassette cogs got clogged with snow during a blizzard when the snow on the ground was deeper than my BB. Often I hear that derailleur systems are not suitable for winter use, but my experience has been generally satisfactory, except for a handful of incidents during some extreme weather.

  • Eric From Portland says:

    I live in a suburb of Portland Oregon. And, I am usually the only person I see on a bike at the local grocery stores, post office, library and such. I am about 12 miles south of downtown on the West side of the river. This means big hike-a-bike hills and long distances between activities and many Moms in SUV’s oblivious to anything but the kids in the back and the soccer schedule. So, a bike that is light and sporty is my choice for most rides, and I try and stay off the most direct roads for safety reasons.

    On the East side of the river and closer to downtown, there are many bike paths and bike boulevards and the area is quite flat. The Dutch bikes are great in this environment and would be my choice. Also, the public transportation is much better downtown and helps mitigate the longer distance trips.

    Therefore and thus, love the bike you have, upgrade it to your needs, and always remember to keep the rubber side down.

  • Spike says:

    There’s been much talk about “Dutch-style” bicycles, but not too much about the sort of bike that is traditional south of the border from Holland, in Belgium. The weather is every bit as wet as Portland, and the landscape (at least in the north, in Flanders) is flat as a pancake. The Belgians use bicycles for everyday riding just as much as the Dutch. Yet, the traditional Belgian commuter bicycle is a totally different beast from the Dutch city bike. The men’s version has a conventional lightweight frame that is derived from racing or touring bicycles, while the women’s version is typically a curved mixte. Aside from that difference, both versions share the other features: relatively lightweight alloy 700C wheels with 700X32 tires, flat but narrow touring handlebars, front and rear handbrakes (typically Weinmann sidepull calipers), and either a single-speed hub or a 3-speed derailleur setup with a Huret or Simplex unit. There are always fenders and a short chain cover, usually alloy, and a rear rack. The women’s models sometimes have plastic skirt covers over the rear wheel. The resulting bicycles are much lighter and better-handling than a typical Dutch bike. I believe that this difference is at least partly due to Belgium’s rich bicycle-racing history, and represents an attempt at reconciling the racing bike with the commuter bike. These Belgian bikes are tough, cobblestone streets are every bit as common in Flanders as they are in Amsterdam, maybe more so. They used to be made by dozens of small manufacturers, all following a common template, with the women’s models showing the most variety in frame design. Even today, the old-fashioned name for bicycle shop in Flanders is “Velo-Maaker”, bicycle builder, even though most small shops have bought their frames ready-made from large manufacturers for many years. In recent years there have been changes, and the inevitable cost of globalization has started to change the design of the Belgian bicycle, towards a more homogenized International Mass Market style reflecting the economic power of Chinese manufacturers. Plenty of the traditional bicycles can still be found on the streets of Northern Belgium, however, and I believe that they demonstrate that there is a good alternative to the Dutch style bike.

    I’ve built my New York City commuter bike along these lines, using a 1971 Peugeot PX10 frame with alloy racing parts, lightweight but enormously strong Weinmann concave alloy rimes with 700CX28 tires, caliper brakes, and a single-speed freewheel setup. Fenders and a Blackburn rack with folding baskets round out the package. The only place where I’ve seriously deviated from the belgian model is the handlebars, opting for racing-style bars rather than the flat bars. The resulting bike is practically bullet-proof, but still retains good performance characteristics. I prefer this to the Dutch-style city bike, no question.

  • Alan says:


    Very interesting! Thanks very much for the information; I learned something today.


  • Bob says:


    Perhaps “plausible” wasn’t the best choice. “Desirable” would have been better. My winter derailleur troubles (Iowa City; not too much different than Minneapolis) have been, like yours, mostly non-disabling, but I attribute this to (a) luck, (b) working two blocks from my LBS, and (c) southern exposure where I can usually find a place at a rack. I believe—and I don’t have first-hand evidence at the moment—that in the long term an IGH setup with the right cog/chainring combination would require less cleaning and fewer spring visits to the shop.

    Your earlier point about ease of part swapping on an IGH-equipped bike is well-taken, as far as I can tell from my research. At the moment it appears that aside from single-speed or fixed, the choice for winter-beaters is between easier-to-customize/rebuild derailleurs and fewer-moving-parts IGHs.

  • TD says:

    While I agree with weather, distance of the commute, terrain etc. all factor into a commuter build, I also think a big thing is economics. I’m in that 20-something crowd that graduated from college to the tune of economic collapse. While I am (thankfully) employed, I am only P/T and basically live paycheck to paycheck. This makes one very crafty with their hobbies.

    I built my commuter to be a light touring rig that I could use for cyclocamping and long daytrips as well as going to work. The frameset I used is an ’80s Peugeot “Crazy Horse” MTB frame. I set it up with some generic road drops, old diacompe non-aero levers, fenders, front and rear racks, 26×1.5 road slicks and a stem shifter to switch my 1×8 drivetrain. This was built with spare parts laying around in my work area for the most part, and its a reliable machine even if its a bit of a rattletrap. My commute is 20 miles roundtrip, and I haven’t had the slightest problem as of yet (I’d like to think this is due to my prowess as a mechanic ;) )

    I would love to spend a few grand on a commuter bike (or any bike for that matter!), but not all of us have that luxury.

  • Ian says:

    Are disc brakes really suitable for a commuting bike?

    Most cyclists i’ve spoken to who’ve used disc’s never fail to mention the pads wearing out pretty quickly.

  • Alan says:


    They seem to last as long or longer than standard brake pads for me. Were the riders you spoke with mountain bikers? That would explain the accelerated wear.


  • Mr. CrankyPants says:


    Regarding disk brakes for commuting, they’re by far my first choice. I’ve a set of BB7’s on my commuter with +5K km on the original pads thus far and there’s plenty of life left in them. It’s worth noting that like anything else, quality does make a difference. Avoid cheapo low end disk brakes as they are more trouble than they’re worth.

  • Ian says:

    They were on mountain bikes tbh.

    I also read a review of a touring bike sold over here that has disc brakes, pad wear being a big criticism from customers although thats probably not helped by a load of luggage.


  • Saddle Up says:

    I see the Dutch bike simply as a tool. It’s not about going out and having fun. It has a job to do. These bikes are designed to provide simple cheap transportation. Bicycles are used out of necessity.

    Bicycles like a Civia or Rivendell are built for cyclists. These bicycles are built to do the same job as a Dutch bike many times the difference being they are ridden for the shear joy of riding a bike. They make the job fun.

  • My perfect commuter bicycle « Bike Monkey Magazine says:

    […] @ Eco Velo also started a great discussion on the virtues of Euro city bike design vs more American “sporty” bikes used for […]

  • Ints says:

    Going neither Dutch nor North American Commuter, I ride an aluminum Schwinn cruiser frame set up with an IGH, leather saddle, fenders, city wheels and tires, even a basket. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I do know I like it. The one change I am still thinking about is to go with a more upright set of bars. In my quest to rationalize yet another purchase, I cam across this post on Cycle Chic that maybe can inform this discussion.
    The argument for the upright position is that it is more akin to our natural bipedal stance to which we are intimately adapted.
    27 OCTOBER 2009
    Cycle Chic Guide #6: Safe Bicycles

    The Cycle Chic Guide to Safe Bicycles is really quite a simple concept. It all starts in our childhoods when our mothers taught us to sit up straight. All we need to do is apply this simple advice to riding bicycles.


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