A Fryslan Fortnight

It’s been a fortnight since I brought the Fryslan home, so I thought I’d quickly post a few impressions of the bike and how it feels to own a Dutch style bike in a city that is known for its hills.

Handling

Everything I’ve ever heard about the ride on a Dutch bike has proven to be true of the Fryslan. The heavy steel frame feels rigid but not unforgiving, and even though the tires on the bike are much narrower than those on my Trek (1.5 inches versus almost 2 inches), I don’t really feel as if the bike can’t support to my weight. I’m not going to be bouncing it off curbs, but when I stand on the pedals while coasting downhill to slow my descent, I don’t have to worry that the Fryslan will collapse under my weight. That was a very nice surprise, indeed.

Steering a bike like this is a challenge, especially if you live in a city where the average traffic-calmed bike route is also a major thoroughfare and source of pedestrian traffic. I used to think Vancouver’s bike infrastructure was some of the best in the world but then I started riding a bike that steers like an ocean liner. And it really isn’t cars that are causing me so much grief, it’s pedestrians who blithely step out in front of you even after they’ve made eye contact, or those pedestrians who decide that walking on the bike side of the separated bike/pedestrian track is perfectly OK. But that’s another axe to grind for another post.

Essentially, I’m not used to riding such a big bike that requires such a wide turning radius, and I’m also not used to hub brakes that you have to squeeze hard to get a response, and because of that I’m finding the steering and handling on the Fryslan are leaving something to be desired. I now understand why omafiets are so popular in The Netherlands and Denmark, because separated cycle tracks are the norm there, and people on bikes rarely have to make sudden changes in direction or take defensive moves against cars or pedestrians. I have a two big nasty bruises – one on each thigh – that are result of the brake levers jamming into my legs after having to suddenly turn the handlebars to avoid hitting a pedestrian.

Aesthetics

There’s no doubt about it: the Fryslan is an absolute stunner. I thought it would be too girly and frou-frou for my minimalist aesthetic, but now when I look at pictures of the Breukelen, I find I now prefer the more graceful lines of the Fryslan. Who’d have thunk it?

When I’m on the street, I get looks from pedestrians and other cyclists, but surprisingly, most of the comments have come from men. I’m a librarian, so I work around a lot of women, but with a few exceptions, most commute on commuter specials (though there is one Surly and one A. Homer Hilsen parked in our bike room). There have been a few appreciative comments, but I think most of my colleagues prefer hybrid bikes to an omafiets.

Parking her in the staff bike room is a bit of a nightmare, as our racks are too close together, are undersized, and almost completely full by the time I get to work (cyclists make up a 10% share of our workforce). I’m a little afraid of parking her outside as it is a high theft area, but as were not allowed to bring bikes indoors, I may not have much choice.

Maintenance and Fine-Tuning

I could wipe her down with a clean cloth if I felt like it, but I haven’t felt like it. I did buy a black automotive paint pen for touch-ups. Other than that, I don’t worry about a thing.

I have had a heckuva time finding the right position for her seat and handlebars, though. If the seat is too low, I find I don’t get enough power in my stroke to bring her up to speed. If the seat and handlebars are too high, I start to feel unsteady. I have discovered that I like having my handlebars in a lower position as it makes the Fryslan easier to control, but if they’re too low, I jab myself in the thighs. I should mention that as a fat person, I have thighs that are bigger than most, so if you’re thin(ner) this may not be a concern.

Hill Climbing

If you live in a city like New York, or Toronto, or Chicago, then the stock 5 speed hub and coaster/handbrake combination might be sufficient. My bike was upgraded to a 7 speed Shimano Nexus hub, and hub brakes on the front and rear.

When going up all but the steepest hills, I’m pleased to report that the 7 speed upgrade was absolutely the right choice, because I can climb moderate hills with relative ease. The large diameter and the slim width of the tires, plus inertia work together to make moving such a big bike up hills a relatively pain-free process. I still get off the bike and walk it up really steep hills, but even then it isn’t any more difficult than pushing my Trek.

Closing Thoughts

After two weeks with the Fryslan, can I say it was worth the money and the hassle? By and large, yes. Most of my complaints have to do with Vancouver’s infrastructure and pedestrian habits, but you should keep considerations like those in mind if you live in a place where you’ll have to stop frequently or share space with multiple modes of transportation.

But despite those shortcomings, I am still enjoying the bike, though her novelty has worn off somewhat. I can’t honestly say whether I’d recommend it as an excellent purchase for Vancouver bike commuters, but if you still have your heart set on a dreamy Dutch-style omafiets, you should definitely move the Fryslan to the top of your list of bikes to consider.

10 thoughts on “A Fryslan Fortnight

  1. For 25 years I rode the same bike. I decided two years ago to buy the Trek Allant WSD. Like you, I must tackle hills on my daily commute, which felt like, to steal a line from your previous post, I was stuck in neutral on my old bike.
    I have never regretted the Allant purchase, as it fits my needs perfectly. The Allant can take the hills without any problems. But the Dutch bikes keep calling my name. Fortunately I live in Los Angeles and have test ridden several Dutch bikes.

    Hopefully more styles of Dutch bikes will find their way to my area as I think the novelty of owning an omafiets would wear off for me too. Your review answered a lot of my questions. Thanks for posting this detailed review.

    • Hi Maggie, thanks for your comment.

      I loved the Allant (though I secretly wished the women’s version came in a different colour), and it was on my short list of bikes to consider if the Fryslan didn’t work out. I convinced a male friend who was new to biking to purchase the Men’s Allant, and he’s crazy about it. It was one of my prouder conversion moments. :)

      If you live in LA, I think Flying Pigeon has a pretty wide cross-section of city and dutch bikes available, including the Fryslan and Breukelen from Batavus. On a heavy bike, as I’m sure you know, gearing makes all the difference.

      Happy riding!

      The novelty of owning this bike has worn off, but I’m still quite fond of her, quirks and all.

      • I refer to Flying Pigeon as my ‘not so local’ bike shop. I have purchased several items from Josef, been on their ‘Get Sum Dim Sum’ rides and can even take the Metro (yes, we have those here!) right to his store.

        I remember that you were considering the Allant. Mine looks more Dutch thanks to the wicker basket, 27 yr old classic Dutch panniers and Spanniga rear light that Josef installed.

        In the mid ’80s I was fortunate enough to live in Holland and own an old omafiets. I never regretted not shipping that bike home.

        Next time I’m at Flying Pigeon, I’ll have to try the Fryslan. Who knows, the heart might rule out. Hey I rode the same bike for 25 years. Why not ride two bikes for the next 25 years? ;)

  2. Now I better understand the questions about bike handling that you were asking me Cecily! You lowered your handlebars – now I get it. I left my handlebars up high -much higher than on a cruiser bike or any other upright bike I’ve ridden . And I do have my seat raised up a little to give me more leverage and to keep my knees at a good angle, but my handlebars are still up high and I haven’t encountered quite the handling challenges you have. To me I would think it would be more difficult to handle with the handlebars lowered, but I guess that is how a mixte would ride. These bikes do require a wider turning radius but it’s not as unwieldy as I thought it might be – I did get used to it very quickly. I am very tall though, and have long arms and legs, so perhaps those proportions help me maneuver the bike? Or perhaps it’s because I’m half Dutch and it’s some genetic thing – ha! It is a dream to ride though, super smooth ride, not slow in any sort of sluggish way, but not speedy or super fast,

    I haven’t had quite the same braking issues that you have had either. I have caliper hand brakes on my Trek mountain bike and never had a problem with them even zooming down hills in Michigan, but they do lose power when they are wet and I had to compensate for that. My WorkCycles Oma has front and rear Shimano drum/roller brakes and they bring my big ole bike to a stop on a dime w/o much effort.

    Keep up your reports – they are useful and offer a glimpse of what it is like to ride one of these bikes in a non-flat metropolis. It’s a little over a month now that I’ve had mine and I can’t imagine riding anything else now which is sorta odd considering how many years I ride my Trek and how perfect I thought that bike was for me. I still have to tell myself to slow down now and then though,

    • You may be on to something with the height/longer arms/longer legs thing, Samantha. I’m 5’7″, tall by women’s standards, but not that tall, but the Fryslan is much, much larger than my Trek was, so maybe the bike is just a bit too large for me. Unfortunately, the 50cm is the smallest size in the Fryslan.

      Right now I’m riding with the bars high enough to give me thigh clearance if I have to turn suddenly, but low enough to keep me feeling stable. I think, though, when I last adjusted them I might’ve left them a little crooked. :-D

      Are drum/hub brakes the same thing? I need to get my lingo straight.

      I’ll keep up the reports for sure – she’s a part of my life now, and I can’t imagine life without her, quirks and all.

  3. Can you leave the bike locked up in the bike room, but not up against one of the racks? I’d be wary of leaving a bike this nice in the racks outside – if I remember correctly they were one of the highest theft spots in the city. I think it would be safer in our bike room, even if you can’t lock it to a rack.

    • There’s really only two spaces where she’ll fit comfortably – one is between two bike racks, and the other is up against the window. The problem is, the space between the only bike racks she’ll fit without obstructing other people’s entrance or exit is always taken by the time I get to work. The space by the window is also almost always taken, and I don’t like to move other people’s bikes (you know how touchy some people can get). Let’s just say I can’t *wait* for the new bike overflow room to open.

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