The Batavus Interview
Posted on 09 February 2009
Editors note: After importing Batavus for two years and working hard to sell Dutch bikes to an emerging North American market, we needed Batavus to hear the emerging concerns of this market so they could adapt their products to suit - so we invited them over. Alas, the market adaption they made was the launch of the Batavus BuB, a bike that was pretty neat except that the North American models looked very different from the Dutch models (which we had ordered) and featured a totally different spec sheet. As we realized that our efforts importing city bikes were being challenged by North Americans designing city bikes we saw the writing on the wall. It may have begun with Dutch bikes, but Dutch bikes would never become more than a really important niche (unless they radically listen to the marketplace here).
- February 2016
We’re pretty used to heading out to Europe for our business trips, and it was a nice surprise when Ralph Prins (above middle), export manager of Batavus told us he was coming to town to see what we were up to. He couldn’t have picked a worse time for weather. Nonetheless, we thought it would be perfectly civilized to welcome Ralph with a slushy bike ride through Toronto. Ralph is used to riding through the highly organized, near-utopic infastructure of Amsterdam but seemed undaunted by Toronto’s very cold, chaotic and sloppy streets. As a bike industry professional in a country that understands city bikes and city biking perfectly, we thought Ralph might have some interesting things to say about city cycling in North America. In exchange for this ‘travelogue’ we let him keep the bright blue toque (that’s a beanie to all you American readers!).
Eric: (General Manager: Curbside Cycle) What is your job at Batavus? What do you love about it?
Ralph: Within Batavus I am responsible for export. This means that all Batavus sales outside The Netherlands is my responsibility. Today we are exporting Batavus bicycles to seven countries, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, UK, Canada and the USA. In Belgium and Denmark we have our own branch offices. Exporting Dutch bikes is a mix of sales and marketing. In one country you are a pioneer, in other another countries you are challenging the local manufacturers. Everyday is a challenge and unpredictable.
Eric: You are in town for business but also a conference on sustainability. I know a Batavus bike lasts longer than the average bike - which is sustainable - and of course biking itself is sustainable. But I wonder if the actual method through which a Batavus is produced is sustainable?
Ralph: A Batavus bike is a very green product. We use water based paint, which is less harmful to the environment than oil based paint. And the quality of our paintwork is excellent. In our factory we use Green electricity (wind, water and sun generated) and we have our own water treatment facility. Furthermore we have a special project team who is active in the field of employee bikes and company bikes. In The Netherlands can offer company bikes to their employees. This is to a certain limit tax deductable.
Eric: Batavus is a very cosmopolitan city bike manufacturer. You make different bikes for the UK, Denmark, Germany, Holland, and French market. Batavus is also making two bikes for the North American market. How are Batavus bikes adapted to different regions while still remaining an essentially Dutch product?
Ralph: In general we can say that we have a large range of bikes which we produce and market for all our export countries. But in some countries we have to adapt our bikes because of local legislation or customs. For example: In Denmark and Germany consumers are accustomed to foot breaks. If you want to be successful in these markets, you should make some slight changes. But we will not make a German Batavus bike. German consumers choose Batavus because we make distinctive Dutch bikes. Yes they may have some changes, but the look of the bike is Batavus!! For the North American market we will make 2 different models, the Fryslan and the Breukelen. Also in this case we make some adjustments, but the heart of the bike stays intact. If you want to serve the needs of the North American consumers, you have to listen to your consumers.
Eric: Not many people know that Batavus started with sewing machines and ice skates! Can you give us a brief history of Batavus? Why is a Batavus considered Holland’s leading bike?
Ralph: Batavus was founded in 1904 by Andries Gaastra. Batavus is an old company. Batavus will celebrate this year its 105 years anniversary. In the beginning it sold sewing machines. Two years later they started to sell German bikes. But the imported bikes were quickly replaced by Batavus bikes. The real boost of bikes comes directly after World War II. People didn’t have a lot of money, but a bike is a relative cheap way of transport. Batavus had the most modern factory of that time. The business of Batavus progressed and in 1956 a new production facility was opened and we didn’t move since, but we have enlarged the factory several times. Today Batavus is one of the most important bicycle brands in Holland. We produce our bikes in Heerenveen in Holland. We have very dedicated people who make high quality bikes. We are trendsetters in the market. Batavus bikes are comfortable, have a very high quality, are spec’d with innovative components and are design wise ahead of time.
Eric: If you look at the bicycles locked up around Toronto, what do you think of them? What does a Batavus offer that these bikes lack?
Ralph: Most of the bikes I have seen in Toronto are mountain bikes. These bikes are OK for a ride during the weekend, but not suitable for commuters. If I compare these bikes with our bikes than the biggest difference is the bikes are completely equipped. We try to make a bike as complete as possible. This means with coat protectors, mudguards, good lighting and (hub) dynamo, chain case and a lot of comfort components.
Eric: After riding around Toronto for a day, you probably noticed we don’t have many bike lanes, and the ones we do have are kind of lousy. Did you feel safe?
Ralph: I felt very safe. But that was thanks to my two hosts! I am very spoiled in Holland. The infrastructure is perfect for riding bikes. We have a lot of bike lanes. Most of them are even separated from the main road. This is done to provide an even more safe road for the cyclists. In most cities cyclist know that they are vulnerable and you just have to be extra cautious. I had the impression that Canadians are friendly towards bikes, but they just have to get used to it.
Eric: We’re in a global recession and there is a great fear of global warming. What role do bicycles play in this? What do you think North America must do to keep the future bike friendly?
Ralph: Bicycles can be a substitute for cars for trips until 5-10 kilometres. If you have to commute longer distances you need to mix public transport and bike rides. Bikes are a very green mean of transport. And a good bikes is an investment. But please take into consideration that a good bike does cost more initially. But a Batavus bike lasts at least 15 years. So it is a good investment.