Owning Bakfiets.nl In Brooklyn, NY
After obsessing over the “Dutch SUV” for many years during my frequent trips to the Netherlands, I told my wife that once we had a child, we had to get one. I took the above picture back in 2008 as I saw it as the embodiment of what a bicycle is capable of, truly replacing a car. A few months before she gave birth to our daughter, we took a couple for a test drive at Rolling Orange. At the time they had the Defietsfabriek Original with and without the electric assist. I went with the non-assist version and loved it immediately. The ability to pack it to the brim for trips to Fairway and handle weekend errands with ease lived up to all my expectations but living at the bottom of Carroll Gardens meant that I wasn’t exactly getting around quickly being stuck in 2nd or 3rd gear constantly going up hill or with a heavy load. Starting to regret not getting the electric assist, I let my friends at Rolling Orange know of my lament and they were happy to offer some solutions.
This spring Rolling Orange started carrying the Bakfiets.nl with the electric assist and the Urban Arrow. After test riding them both, I went with the Bakfiets.nl mainly because it was what I had always envisioned having and if you have ever been to Amsterdam, the Bakfiets.nl is the one that you will see most often. I was estactic to have more room and even happier to have the assist. While I felt like I was “cheating” by getting the assist versions, these bikes are not light and Brooklyn is not nearly as flat as The Netherlands.
I ride on almost a daily basis logging about 20 miles per week at a minimum and have gone as high as about 40-45 in a Monday-Sunday span. Mostly, it is used to get my daughter to daycare and me home from the subway stop nearest her daycare. As well, every weekend we load it up with groceries and my daughter during our weekly round trip to Fairway. I have taken a friend barhopping in it, given the babysitter a ride home (plus her sister once) and my wife and I are not afraid to use it as our date night mode of transportation. Without question, I have tested the limits of it regarding weight in the box, life cycle of the battery and general city biking stress. It has lived up to the challenge and then some.
At first, it doesn’t seem like all that much is going on, especially if you are used to a normal bike or are an impatient New Yorker that wants everything fast fast fast but then you get to a hill or you put some weight in the box and all of a sudden you could not imagine riding without it and even normal trips seem to fly by. I have often passed bikers on 10 speeds going up hills and smirked even though I was getting extra help. When my wife and I ride around (she has a VanMoof) I have to turn the power down so that the pace is fair and I am working as hard as she is on hills. The battery life is substantial and lives up to the distances noted in the handbook. We once rode from Carroll Gardens to Williamsburg to Bushwick to Chelsea and back to Carroll Gardens in one day with my daughter and only half a battery. It was about 22 miles total, the battery was on its final red bar by the time I got to the Manhattan Bridge and it still made it home with juice to spare. More recently we went to Coney Island and back (22 miles round trip) on three bars and made it without issue.
Charging takes about 3 hours and is required about every 50 miles if I had to guess.
The “hum” of the motor is pretty funny and something I have grown very fond of hearing while I pedal.
The assist requires a key to turn the batter on and off, this is separate from the hub lock. Luckily I had the perfect key chain to allow for both keys to be on one while reaching both keyholes when riding. If I were to give any constructive criticism of the design it would be that the bike requires two keys at once and next round only one would be much better.
I moved the location of my assist control from the middle of the handlebars to be closer to left hand for easier access to “throttle” up and down.
Overall, I could not imagine a bakfiets in NY without the assist and bakfiets.nl has an excellent one.
These bikes are surprisingly easy to maneuver. I have a good friend who rides a proper racing bike sometimes hundreds of miles in competitions. I made him give it a go once and he was shocked at good the handling was. The low center of gravity makes it a cinch, especially with a heavy load. Breaking is no issue either, you just need to be cognizant of how long you are!
Its a beautiful bike, the wood is marine quality and while mine has cracked a bit along one seam it is cosmetic only and an easy fix with wood glue, likely due to heavy use. The more you use it and become familiar with it the more the details and thought put into the design becomes increasingly impressive. From holes for water drainage to small (almost unnoticeable) step ups for kids to get in you can tell it has been perfected over the years.
I would have loved to have seen the head and taillight better integrated, like the VanMoof or Urban Arrow but again, there is little constructive criticism to give this bike. It even has an “emergency” air pump integrated into the rear rack.
We get some interesting looks and comments, but all positive and they range from (this is a direct quote) “that’s some gangster ass shit right there” to “cute bike” and everywhere in between. Its easy to tell why these are so popular in the Netherlands and I feel lucky to have one in Brooklyn.