Monday, May 23, 2011

Choosing a Bakfiets (box-bike)

It would be impossible to blog about life in the Netherlands and not write about the Bakfiets - the ubiquitous box-bike . It is, in my humble opinion, one of the coolest if not THE coolest thing about living in Holland. Wikipedia, as always, sums it up quite nicely in their definition of what a Bakfiets is: "Human Powered Vehicles designed and constructed specifically for transporting large loads". 

Large loads indeed. It is not unusual to see these bad boys going by with 4+ children, large amounts of groceries and a partridge and a pear tree. I myself have managed to transport my 2 kids and a live animal
to various destinations on more than several occasions. But back to the topic. 

In my 8th month of pregnancy with my 2nd child, I decided that I absolutely had to get a Bakfiets, at that very moment. Without a car or any other practical form of transportation, I began to have nightmares of being housebound with a 1.5 year old and newborn during the eternal Dutch winter. 

And so my Bakfiets research began. For starters, a good Bakfiets is not cheap. A bare-bones model from one of the good quality brands will easily set you back 1,500€ to start. You can try and find one second-hand, but they are quite hard to come by and can still cost you anywhere from 600€ to over 1,000€. Though I am by no means a Bakfiets expert, I spent a good amount of time talking to people, shopping around and testing out different sets of wheels. Here were a few of my learnings that might be helpful to those of you on the market for a Bakfiets:

The Best Bakfiets Brands: De Fietsfabriek, Christiania, Bakfiets, Gazelle
I won't evaluate any particular models because this is more of a personal choice. Expats in general seem to prefer the 3-wheelers, simply because you have less risk of tipping (or at least feel that way when you're on). But those who gone fully Dutch and advanced to the 2-wheeler also sing their praises, particularly about how light they are. Whichever model you decide suits you best, here are the brands that I would trust with transporting around my kids:

  1. De Fietsfabriek: Top of the line iconic Dutch brand and with a price tag to match. Starting price for the Bakfiets Classic is €1,895. 
  2. Christiania Bikes: The Christiania bakfiets hails from Denmark. We love this one for its light aluminum frame. Starting price for a Christiania Cargo Basic is €1,549.
  3. The original Dutch "Bakfiets" brand. Starting price for the Bakfiets Cargo Trike  is €1,785.
  4. Gazelle Cabby: Gazelle only makes a 2-wheeler bakfiets as far as I know, but quite a few friends rave about this bike. You usually can't go too wrong with a Gazelle, in general, they also make great bikes of very good quality. Starting price for the Gazelle Cabby is €1,699.
*The Nihola is another brand that I've seen around quite a bit. I have a couple of friends that have really taken to this bike. Unfortunately I don't know a thing about it so can't speak for it one way or another.

The Bakfiets Brands to avoid: Babboe,, Cangoo, Tuk Tuk
If the Bakfiets comes to your house in a big box ready to be assembled, as any of the above brands likely will: SEND IT BACK. There is a good chance that box came straight from China and that your Bakfiets, which is a cheap knock-off, will fall apart soon after assembly. I've heard horror stories about some of the cheaper Bakfiets copies losing their wheels while transporting children etc...You don't want this to happen to you. Just remember that the good ones come in one piece. 

Where to buy a Bakfiets: 
A new Bakfiets from one of the top brands is a considerable investment. If you don't feel like you can drop €1,500+ to transport your large load, the next best option is to get one 2nd hand. There are not easy to come by because good used Bakfiets get snatched up like hot cakes. The overall mechanics and frame of a good Bakfiets generally hold up quite well. With regular maintenance and tune-ups, you can get a lot of years out of your boxbike. 

The best place to buy a 2nd hand Bakfiets is Owned by Ebay, Marktplaats is the biggest second-hand online market place in the Netherlands. It's entirely in Dutch, but if you do any online shopping at all, you can quickly pick up on how the website works. If I managed to do it, you can do it. Search for the above brands using keywords like "De Fietsfabriek bakfiets" etc...

Beware that transporting a Bakfiets is not easy. If you find a good 2nd hand Bakfiets at a considerable distance (i.e. you cannot bike it back to your house), you will need to hire a little trailer or a truck to get it back to your place. As mentioned above, the good ones cannot be dismantled (trust me, we tried).

Another place to try for 2nd hand bakfiets are directly through the retailers or big bicycle shops. They occasionally carry used models still in good condition. 

Where to maintain your Bakfiets:
The Beer Transportfietsen in the Hague is THE place to get your Bakfiets in tip-top condition. These guys know everything there is to know about the Boxbike and you can often go and try a bunch of different models out. If you live in the Hague, it's a good place to start for feeling out the Bakfiets scene. They also have a whole slew of accessories for your Bakfiets and can customize your Bakfiets in the configuration you need (Installing an additional bench, Maxi Cosi adaptors etc...).

If I missed anything or if you feel otherwise, please feel free to tack on your experiences and advice.
In the meantime, good luck finding the best way to lug around your big load!

1 comment:

Nomad Parents said...

Someone recommended this post to me and I think it is great information. I wondered if you would be willing to let me repost it on my expat parenting website ( I would give you full credit with a link back to your blog and a listing on our contributors page. Sorry for putting this in a comment, but I didn't know how else to reach you.
Thanks for your consideration - Lynn