Batavus versus the Electra Amsterdam
Posted on 05 July 2007
Editors note: It was 2007 and we had been selling Dutch bikes for about a year when Electra, a company from San Diego, decided to build a Dutch bike. Which is like Batavus building a beach cruiser. Perhaps Electra thought Dutch bikes were like beach cruisers because they (often) both had internal gears, fenders, and racks. Or, perhaps they thought Dutch bikes were fashionable, and beach cruisers were too. The difference may very well be the difference between Amsterdam and San Diego. Amsterdam is a city that never experienced Southern California's mass-evacuation from downtown (or complete lack of downtown). Thus, the Dutch bike is meant for riding everywhere (including the beach!) whereas the beach cruiser is meant for the only safe place left to ride after everyone's moved to the Southern California sprawl: the beach. And, that's a little sad. Can a beach cruiser company really evolve the Dutch bike? Or does it just commodify it into another disposable novelty?
When we first heard about the Electra Amsterdam it was about a half a year ago, and we were intrigued. We even flew to Las Vegas to see it. There, in a secret tent with security guards was the bike alongside the cool Mondrian style Electra cruiser bikes. We were pretty impressed, until, of course we saw the Batavus booth across the hall. No security guards. But then, there were no secrets worth protecting - the secrets have been out for over 100 years. Truth is, Batavus has a great deal of secrets that Electra still has to learn. But that's not suprising, Electra's not Dutch. The Batavus booth was packed.
We showed the Batavus boys the Electra Amsterdam and they were immediately confused - why is this bike called a 'dutch bike', they wondered. Will it last fifty years stored outside through rain or snow, is it a galvanized frame? How many times was it powdercoated? Why does it have such a low seating position? Why would a person want a flat-footed bike when it lowers the riding position below the roofs of moving cars - how is this safe? Where are the stainless steel and chromed plated parts to ensure longevity? Where is the ubiquitious Dutch rear-wheel lock? And most of all, is it made in Holland?
Electra is amazing at producing 'retro' bikes, and they have done it again with the Electra Amsterdam. But you won't see any Amsterdams in Amsterdam. Thing is, real Dutch bikes aren't actually retro. Batavus has been producing the same model for over 100 years - it has always been in demand. Style is one thing, style and function another. When the Dutch buy a bike it better be pretty, but it also better be exceptionally durable, low maintenance, and above all, it better be safe - and that's the one unique aspect of a Dutch bike, you ride above traffic, not below it, so you can see what's going on. Plus, riding a Batavus is as comfortable as walking.
The Electra Amsterdam certainly has market. Like all North American bikes produced out of the far east it is meant to be stored in the three car suburban garage when not being used and the flat foot technology is brilliant for recreational bike path riding or suburban exploration. But the mean streets of a North American urban center? We don't think so. The Batavus is built more like a tank because even in Holland, motorists and cyclists are still at war, and it is better to have the sturdiest, safest and most solid bike available. Plus, most urban cyclists with their apartments, condos, or small houses don't have a three car garage to store their bikes. If their bike is going to be parked outside, it better be built for it. As the Batavus boys said to us, "look, North American bikes, they last what, five years? Our bikes, fifty, easily". See, Dutch bicycle companies survive only if they are accountable to Dutch consumers, and Dutch consumers beat the living daylights out of their bikes. Just look at Amsterdam Centraal, a train station with a two storey parking garage just for bikes. Just pulling out your bike from the mess of other bikes should cause damage to your bike (and your neighbours), but the Dutch bikes keep on running - that's why they're so heavy, they're built to last.
Think about it: every morning six million Dutch cyclists wake up and ride their bikes to work, to school, to run errands, to visit friends, to go on dates, to attend formal events - all on their bikes. They walk outside, unlock their twenty year old bike, and ride to work, unaware of the rust, the maintenance issues, and the safety problems that plague North American bikes. Six million cyclists can't be wrong.
So thats why we stand by Batavus. Besides the Electra Amsterdam there are more 'Dutch style' bikes on the market these days. Do your research, heck, visit Holland. Every second bike is a Batavus - and that says a lot. Holland means cycling, and cycling in Holland means Batavus. Truth be told, we think North American commuters aren't that different from the Dutch. They want to ride to work on a bike that will keep their clothing clean, provide decades of low maintenance, and ride safe and upright with the highest quality possible. Which is why Batavus bikes are still made in Holland. See, we like the Electra Amsterdam, a lot, its really pretty (well, so is Batavus), it will keep your clothes clean (and believe us, that's progress for a North American bicycle company, kudos!) but it ain't Dutch. Not even close. Just ask the Batavus boys.
Batavus bikes are distributed in Canada by Fourth Floor Distribution.