After spending five glorious weeks in cycling utopia, one thing became abundantly clear: daily cycling in The Netherlands – and Europe as a whole – is not about speed, lightweight frames, or flashy bikes.
For the majority of people we saw riding the streets and cycle tracks, practicality was the most important feature of their bicycle. Something that is reliable, could easily carry their groceries or children, and is built to survive daily trips to the office, store, and everything in between.
These upright, utilitarian machines are not unfamiliar to our family, with all four of us happily riding our own Dutch-style city bikes. Unfortunately, finding these types of bicycles to purchase in North America is frustratingly difficult.
Over the past several years, we have witnessed businesses dedicated to city bikes come and go, including Whoa! Nellie, a shop owned by our friend Christopher Quine, where we bought our daughter her first bicycle. In fact, when searching for a proper Dutch upright bike last summer, it was a secondhand Batavus belonging to Quine that we purchased to join our fleet.
All hope is not lost, though, with a few North American brands coming onto the scene like Simcoe Bicycles, Brooklyn Bicycle Co., and the better known, Linus Bike. But still, finding a well-built, upright bicycle from Europe can be similar to searching for the Holy Grail.
Through our work at Modacity, we have been fortunate to maintain a friendship with Lamar Timmins, owner of Allo Velo Boutique and Café in Montreal, who specializes in offering those European bicycle brands so rare on this side of the Atlantic.
It was Timmins who, in 2014, rode our now cherished Trio Bike Cargo across Canada, and who, earlier this year, was happy to send us a beautiful Creme Cycles 7-speed Caferacer to pedal around the streets of Vancouver, seeing just how well this upright, mixte framed bicycle could handle its notorious topography.
Allo Velo Boutique’s online storefront, velolifestyle.com, made it simple to select our bike of choice, and it was shipped directly to our home almost completely assembled, save for the pedals and handlebars. Within less than an hour from opening the box, we were taking the bike out for its inaugural ride, testing out how it stood up against our other upright bicycles. It did not disappoint.
A frequent argument against the typical, Dutch-style bicycle in Canada, and specifically Vancouver, is that they are heavy, and often single speed. European manufacturers have long recognized this about the North American market, and Creme Cycles is no exception.
The Caferacer, much like many of their other models, is relatively lightweight compared to some of its counterparts, and offers 1-, 3-, and 7-speed versions in most of their models, providing variety for cyclists of all abilities, and making even our steepest hills manageable.
Aside from gears and weight, we have long argued that a bicycle built for everyday riding must include all the essentials. Namely lights, fenders, a chain (and/or skirt) guard, front or rear rack (or both), and a bell.
While most North American brands still see these as extras, European bicycle manufacturers, like Creme, understand that for a bike to be functional everyday, it must be equipped to meet all a rider’s needs, and any conditions it may face. There is truly nothing worse that getting chain grease on your clothes or skin, or water from the road up your back.
After spending several weeks riding throughout Vancouver, we can happily say that the Caferacer ticks all the boxes as a perfect bicycle for anyone who needs one that can get them to and from the office, and everywhere in between.
It rides like a dream, came with all those aforementioned accessories, including a front and rear dynamo-hub light, meaning we never have to worry about charging batteries, and has made our rides to school, day camps, meetings, and the beach easy and stress-free.
For the moment, companies offering practical European bicycles that are built to last are still few and far between. Timmins and Allo Velo Boutique are leading the way in ensuring that just because we have an ocean between us, doesn’t mean North Americans can’t savour the functional, everyday riding that Europeans have been blissfully enjoying for years.