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.
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.
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.
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.
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.