How to buy the best second-hand city bicycle in the Netherlands

Currently in my fourth year in The Netherlands, with four bicycles under my belt, and having photographed more than 1,000 bicycles, I’ve come to develop a pretty good notion of what’s the best second-hand city bicycle to acquire.

An omafiets on the run in Amsterdam

An omafiets on the run in Amsterdam

Hell, you’re going to be riding it almost every day, in harsh weather, busy traffic, big puddles of water, not just cycle paths but also brick roads. And you are also going to park it in busy and frantic places, with a small amount of time to find a good spot, and when you are back, there’s a high probability that someone stole your bike.

Fortunately, time and the natural survival of the fittest answers the quest for the best city bicycle. Look around you, what do the Dutch cycle every-day? A trendy fixie? No way. A powerful mountain bike? I don’t think so. A quick racing bicycle? Only on weekends. What you’ll see everywhere is what they call a omafiets, or a opafiets if you are a guy.

An omafiets facing the city life

An omafiets facing the city life

That translates to Grandma’s bike and some of these (bicycles) look pretty old. Do you think Dutch people are crazy about vintage items? Not all of them, these bicycles really did survive decades of usage. Omafiets are traditionally black and its design does not exactly stand out to the eye, sounds boring? Congratulations, you’ve fallen in the first bicycle shop trap.

Grandma’s bikes don’t stand out, but all the other models do. As a foreigner your first impulse will be to buy that awesome mountain bicycle you rode as a kid. Wrong. You’ll be swearing the day you bought it when all your pants are full of oil, or you don’t have a rear rack to carry stuff around or even when you are not able to give a ride to that Dutch cutie. The same applies for trendy fixies and racing bicycles. Racing bicycles give extra-problems for everyday life in the city as they have thinner tires which is a pain on brick roads and you can fall easily when, for example, you have to do a strong turn to avoid a crazy pizza deliverer that’s abusing the cycle path. No, omafiets is the answer for your prayers.

A usual thing in The Netherlands, giving a ride to someone on your bicycle

A usual thing in The Netherlands, giving a ride to someone on your bicycle

And a second-hand omafiets is even better. Why? With all the action that the bicycle will get it will soon look and become like a second-hand one. And do you really want to have a more than 500 Euro shiny new stud parked in the city? Apart from quick devaluation your new bicycle will suffer from another malady, especially in The Netherlands. Guess what bicycles are prioritized for robbery? That’s right, your beautiful new ride. And these robbers are quick, they can open a lock in seconds.

Going for a quick trip to only buy cigarettes parking your bicycle with only the rear lock? It’s a long walk home. Jesus, I even know people who were robbed while attending church. Forgot to insure your brand new (and now robbed) bicycle? There goes one Portuguese minimal salary down the window. Anyway, do you really want your bicycle to be more of a worry than a solution? Monthly insurance instalments? Losing trains because you could not find an official parking spot for your pretty bicycle? Not worth it, a second-hand omafiets is your solution.

An omafiets facing the birck road

An omafiets facing the brick road

But not all omafiets are OK. The perfect ones need to have these three main characteristics: minimum maintenance, maximum durability and comfort. Fortunately, I have made a quick list based on these three stepping-stones to be checked when you are buying your second-hand city bicycle.

Checklist for your perfect city bicycle

Minimum maintenance

  • No gears – you’re in the Netherlands, big climbs are abroad!
  • Backpedalling brakes – no hand-brakes, coaster brakes perform well in rain or snow and do not need maintenance for years;

Maximum durability

  • Tires in good condition – make sure they are not worn out;
  • A fixed rear wheel lock – very easy to use, nevertheless, always buy a movable lock also, like a U-lock or chain-lock, to decrease the probability of being stolen;


  • Mudguards on both wheels – just try cycling without these on a rainy day and you’ll understand;
  • Full chain guard – against your worst enemy, oil stains, and it also protects the chain;
  • Sturdy rear racks – it gives you the possibility to add a cheap bicycle bag to carry groceries or even to carry a friend along;
  • Lateral or central stand – it sounds like a simple thing, but with this you can park your bicycle everywhere.

Not essential but will help

  • Handlebars curved in towards the rider – this is the Dutch style, for a more comfortable ride;
  • One hand-brake – for extra-safety, in case you plan for example to carry children. Do bear in mind that, although it never happened to me, if the chain gets out of place, the coaster brake will not work at all.


An example of a good omafiets equipped to carry a child

An example of a good omafiets equipped to carry a child

OK, so now you know what bicycle you are looking for. You’ve printed the checklist. What comes next? Where are you going to find this companion for life? Where is this sacred one that will take you endlessly from point A to point B without hurting you or others in the way? The place where it all ends and begins: the bicycle shop.

And bicycle shops in The Netherlands are not your usual ones. They have a lot of clientele and a lot of competition. The ones that managed to survive in the market are good in what they do, they know all the dirty secrets and will get the biggest amount of money they can for what they are offering. And a foreigner is not a Dutch person, he is not used to bicycles and usually when he enters a bicycle store in The Netherlands he’s buying his first bicycle. Foreigners are therefore a good prey. Please be aware that I’m not saying that all bicycle shop owners are tricksters, the truth is a foreigner will be damaging himself: he does not even know what type of bicycle he is looking for. But now you know. You want a omafiets with the characteristics on the above checklist. Nevertheless, you still need a plan of action to approach the bicycle shops. Let me lay it out to you.

Bicycle shop stickers, you'll notice usually every bicycle has one

Bicycle shop stickers, you’ll notice usually every bicycle has one

Action-plan to buy a bicycle

  • Take an afternoon and visit at least five bicycle shops in your city – believe me, there are much more stores than that. Don’t go to the nearest bicycle shop, plan an itinerary;
  • Use the check-list above – make sure you get all the points checked;
  • Pay less than 100 Euros – don’t forget, you are buying a second-hand bike;
  • Do a test ride always – ascertain if there are any strange noises, if the brakes work and if you feel comfortable. But don’t be too picky, it’s a second-hand bike;
  • Negotiate prices – use the big supply to your advantage, let them know that you can buy it cheaper somewhere else. It is very common to see the same bicycle being sold for 100 Euros in one place and 70 Euros in another, you’ll soon discover it. If you cannot lower the price, negotiate freebies. For example, I got my rear wheel lock for free on my last bicycle.
  • No lights is OK – you can always buy the easy and cheap strap-on lights at HEMA;
  • If you found a bicycle that fits all the above buy it quickly – the turnaround of second-hand bicycles in The Netherlands is impressive. Once I lost a perfect buy because I hesitated for only 30 minutes. While rechecking competition someone bought it during that time frame.
An omafiets ready for the city life

An omafiets ready for the city life

There you go, you are now ready to cut a perfect deal and you’ll have your perfect companion while staying in the Netherlands: a low-maintenance, durable, comfortable and cheap omafiets. Safe rides!

The Franco-German War on the Bicycle origin

What tormented soul and in which troubled times grasped and aligned the concept of nowadays bicycle? On some sources, Comte Mede de Sivrac from France is quoted as the forefather of the bicycle with his celerifere. On other sources, the german baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun has that title with his draisine. After all, who should be credited as the bicycle forefather? Let us start with the French side.

A Celerifere depicted in a Gazelle tile.

A Celerifere depicted in a Gazelle tile.

The first contraption that resembles a bicycle is reported by some sources to have been constructed around 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France. Called a celerifere (say-lay-ri-fair), it was a wooden scooter-like device with no pedals or steering. The rider would use his feet to propel the bicycle. The roots of this creation are found in a toy called a hobby horse.

A Draisine with a horse's head, notice the similarities with the the toy that seems to have originated both contraptions.

A Draisine with a horse’s head, notice the similarities with the toy that seems to have originated both contraptions.

Unfortunately the celerifere did not become mainstream: apart from the difficulties on handling it, it was also very costly. There are however some reports of noble young men gathering in French parks, including Versailles, to race these unusual creations.

But a question still remains today: Did Comte de Sivrac really exist?

Some say he was an invention of the French journalist Louis de Saunier in his 1891 book “Histoire générale de la vélocipédie”. With the French defeat on the Franco-German war that lasted between 1870 and 1871, Louis had his personal revenge on who should be the glorified bicycle inventor. Nah nah, not the German Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, but someone even more noble. Yes, a Count. A French Count called Sivrac, for which there are still no conclusive proofs of existence.

A Draisine also depicted in a Gazelle tile.

A Draisine also depicted in a Gazelle tile.

And now moving on to the German side, namely to Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, the baron which can be confirmed to have existed. Because of the eruption of Indonesia’s Tambora volcano, the summer of 1816 was snowy in Europe, which made oats scarce and expensive and led to the death of an unusual number of horses. That got von Drais thinking about how you could get around quickly without a horse.

He created (and patented) the Draisine in 1818, naming it after himself, by improving the celerifere with a steering mechanism attached to the front wheel. It was also dubbed the hobby horse (again the toy) and these devices were often graced with equine figureheads, or even carved dragons and elephants. In the first-known draisine race in 1819, a German cyclist named Semmler covered the 10-kilometer course in 31½ minutes — an average speed under 20 km per hour.

A beautiful Draisine with a carved dragon head made in 1820 by Anton Burg & Sohn from Vienna.

A beautiful Draisine with a carved dragon head made in 1820 by Anton Burg & Sohn from Vienna.

Unfortunately the utilitarian-inspired mechanical horse – like the celerifere – became a fancy toy for aristocrats and the rising bourgeoisie. These two-wheelers really needed smooth surfaces, of which there weren’t many. It was also way too easy to fall off the contraption and people’s shoes were nowhere near as durable as a horse’s iron shoes. What’s more, it also faced competition from another new invention: the railroads.

Drais died in 1851, but his concept of the rider straddling a two-wheeled vehicle with the rear wheel following a steerable front wheel still lives on in both the bicycle and motorcycle.

A practical yellow Draisine built in France around 1820.

A practical yellow Draisine built in France around 1820.

As the forefather of the bicycle, the German baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun seems to be currently leading the race against its French counterpart as he patented his contraption and there are no doubts that he really existed.

Does this mean that Germany won the war on who is responsible for the origin of the bicycle? Not so fast. Guess who added pedals to the draisine to form a velocipede, the forerunner of the modern bicycle? That’s right, a Frenchman. Don’t miss the next chapters on the Franco-German War on the Bicycle origin.




All photos taken at Velorama, the Dutch Bicycle Museum in Nijmegen.

Why Veloretti is doing it right

Due to the high prices charged by the biggest bicycle brands in the Netherlands, there is still a profit margin that enables new competitors to enter the market by using a lower price strategy together with similar quality and/or differentiated design and maybe a fresh approach to marketing that big companies are not agile to pursue.


A new player in the market is Veloretti, founded in 2013 by young entrepreneur Ferry Zonder and based in Amsterdam. With prices below 380 Euros, these cool and affordable retro-hip city bicycles are increasingly appearing more in the street. I was introduced to the brand while covering this year’s Amsterdam Vogue Fashion Night Out in September (all photos are from that day). The models were riding Veloretti’s in the opening parade. Can it get any better than this? I believe it will. The brand will continue to grow and here are the 5 main reasons why:


1.Classy Name


Velo – French word for bicycle. Veloretti – an Italian ending touch to a French word. It’s like eating a croissant with mozzarella di bufala campana, yummy. And these are also two countries with a great cycling tradition. The striking red on the logo gives the final touch. Funny enough, the inspiration for the name came from another two-wheeler world: Ferry was an avid collector of Italjet Velocifero – a legendary scooter.


2.Retro-hip minimalist design


One gear aluminum bicycles with coaster break. No gears and no hand-brakes: that’s what I usually look for in a city bicycle and Veloretti follows the same moto. The minimalism raises the classy look one notch making it hipster. It also offers a sturdy bicycle with low maintenance, perfect for the city.


3. Lifestyle statement


In some of the biggest European capitals, such as London or Berlin, biking is a lifestyle choice and the bicycle subculture is strong. Veloretti aims to carry that spirit, breaking away from the typical omafiets in the Netherlands and providing a stylish and affordable option. It is hard to expect anything else from an Amsterdam brand founded by a serial entrepreneur in his early thirties who studied management abroad. Ah, I forgot to tell you that the bicycles are delivered to your doorstep in boxes labeled ‘f*ck cars’. City riders, unite!


4.Marketing wizardry


As stated before, I’ve discovered Veloretti on this year’s Amsterdam Vogue Fashion Night Out in September. One month later I saw Veloretti again on the Amsterdam Dance Event. In fact, they built a specific model for that called Clubracer which you can order at their webshop. The brand can also be found over the pages of Elle, Quote, Esquire and Cosmopolitan to name a few. For a newcomer, it seems a very well connected brand.



5. 100% Online


Veloretti bicycles are sold exclusively from the website and the brand is focused on excellent customer experience and after service. It reaches its audience through social media and point number 4 above. All these options make the company much lighter and agile and closer to the final customer with no middleman. The brand image is therefore carefully displayed and the strong connection with the buyer tries to press the right buttons to make him a brand ambassador.




If Veloretti is also able to setup a manufacturing system that responds to an increasing demand, and for all the reasons above, I believe we’ll hear more about this suave brand in the years to come. And by the way, here’s how to assemble in less than 10 minutes a Veloretti delivered to your doorstep:



Le Tour murals live on

Having already participated in some big events (for example the Euro 2004 in Portugal or the Tour de France in Utrecht this year) I’m always hoping that the cities hosting these major happenings can treasure and maintain some of their allure when they end. After this crazy July, I keep living in the same city and walking its streets, and sometimes I bump with memories from Le Tour. As when I’m cycling down Maliesingel in my omafiets and imagining that I am Mollema on the Time Trial, hearing the crowd going mad and forgetting all the pain. But, apart from these dreams, what is really left in Utrecht after Le Tour? One thing stands out and still celebrates this event: the murals. Two main projects originated at least 4 murals which you can still see in the city.

The first project, called Painting the Town, was a collaboration between Nimeto college in Utrecht and the city of Utrecht. These murals, with the theme Tour de France Utrecht 2015, were painted by third year students specialized in restoration and decoration on the walls of Wulpstraat, Maliesingel and Mulderstraat. The artists Job, Joris & Marieke, Menno Anker en Lotte van Laatum, all from Utrecht, are responsible for each unique design. You can find a bit of info about each mural below.

Mural "Peloton" at Wulstraat

Mural “Peloton” at Wulstraat

The mural ‘Peloton’ was designed by Lotte van Laatum for the Geerteschool at the Alkhof/Wulstraat. The focus of this mural is more on cycling in general than in racing: 17 residents and neighbors are portrayed on their own bicycle in a life-size wallpaper. The background is inspired by a wallpaper designed in the thirties which is part of the museum archives at Nimeto.


Mural "Rietvelo" at Maliesingel

Mural “Rietvelo” at Maliesingel

The mural ‘Rietvelo’, designed by Menno Anker, is setup on Maliesingel. The mural is a tribute to Utrecht architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld. The image pictures a colorful cyclist heading downtown from Joke Smitplein. Menno chose Rietveld and Bart van der Leck art movement De Stijl as inspiration for his design.


Mural "Bon Voyage" at Mulderstraat

Mural “Bon Voyage” at Mulderstraat

The mural ‘Bon Voyage’ was designed by Job, Joris & Marieke studio and setup by a team of seven girls. The theme is mainly based on the cool short animation movie that the studio also produced for the start of Le Tour in Utrecht and it fits perfectly in front of the park at Mulderstraat. Here is a peak at the movie also.


Another mural project was Tour des Artes. Alongside the Tour de France route, on Cartesiusweg, a huge mural with portraits of former winners Joop Zoetemelk and Jan Janssen was designed by artist Daniel Roozendaal as part of this project. It got plenty of media attention as it screened on the worldwide television broadcast of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France on Sunday 5th July. By the way, the two guys portrayed are the only two Dutch cyclists to have ever won the Tour de France. Great stuff!

Tour des Artes mural on Cartesiusweg

Tour des Artes mural on Cartesiusweg


And in conclusion, I found another mural in the city, close to Biltstraat, which did not appear in the media (as far as I can see) but definitely also got my attention. It pictures the Eiffel tower on top of Utrecht canals, as if the French cycling mystique landed in city. And it did!

Mural on Biltstraat

Mural at Biltstraat

Le Grand Départ in Utrecht

The riders by the Dom tower on the Second stage. For me, the best photo I’ve taken during Le Tour

The riders by the Dom tower on the Second stage. For me, the best photo I’ve taken during Le Tour

Today is the last stage of the Tour de France through beautiful Paris. Unless an accident occurs, the results are known: Chris Froome will be crowned for the second time on the Champs-Elysées with Nairo Quintana accompanying him on stage like two years ago and Alejandro Valverde occupying the third spot this time. It was a pleasure to cover Le Tour via my Instagram Account and a privilege to see it start from Utrecht. With nearly one million people visiting Utrecht, the impact on the city was beyond expectation.

Mollema, one of the crowd favourites, accelerates on the first stage of Le Tour in Maliesingel.

Mollema, one of the crowd favourites, accelerates on the first stage of Le Tour in Maliesingel.

Le Tour in Utrecht was not only those two stages on the hot weekend of 4th and 5th of July. Many other events related to it happened in the city throughout the year. I had the chance, for example, to ride 35km of the Tour one weekend before, toured around the city to see the murals painted for the occasion, I checked out the exhibition in the Train Museum about Dutch cyclists in the history of Le Tour and greeted all the teams in the official presentation some days before. You can get a taste of it in the photos shown below, only a parcel from the ones I’ve been posting on a daily basis in Instagram.

In front of Rabobank headquarters at the starting line of the Toerversie Utrecht, in which you could ride Le Tour one week before.

In front of Rabobank headquarters at the starting line of the Toerversie Utrecht, in which you could ride Le Tour one week before.


The Project “Painting the Town” where to an existing art route in Utrecht, three new murals were added with the theme “Grand Départ”. This one is located in Mulderstraat.

The Project “Painting the Town” where to an existing art route in Utrecht, three new murals were added with the theme “Grand Départ”. This one is located in Mulderstraat.


The wonderful exhibition at the Spoorweg (Train) Museum about Dutch cyclists in the history of Le Tour. Here pictured Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk, the only Dutch winners of the Tour de France.

The wonderful exhibition at the Spoorweg (Train) Museum about Dutch cyclists in the history of Le Tour. Here pictured Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk, the only Dutch winners of the Tour de France.

The team presentation in Park Lepelenburg where each team arrived in a boat. Here pictured is the team MTN-Qhubeka which made history with Daniel Teklehaimanot as he became the first African rider to wear the polka dot jersey.

The team presentation in Park Lepelenburg where each team arrived in a boat. Here pictured is the team MTN-Qhubeka which made history with Daniel Teklehaimanot as he became the first African rider to wear the polka dot jersey.

Altogether, it was an unforgettable experience that combined one of the most important cycling events of the world, Le Tour, with the country of bicycles, Netherlands, and my current city, Utrecht. And as H.G. Wells said: “Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.”

A quick “Love to Ride my Bicycle” guide to Utrecht

I’m truly delighted that the Tour of France is starting this year from Utrecht and you can see my daily cover of this event on my Instagram account. Lately I’ve been receiving some questions about Utrecht from cycling lovers visiting the city for the first time. To make it easier for everyone I’ve decided to build a quick guide to Utrecht, to sum up my favorite spots in the city. This guide comes from my personal experience of living in the city for the last 3 years and I’m still returning to these places on a regular basis. The Guide has the following sections: Top Sights, Eating, Drinking and Nightlife, Entertainment and Shopping. You can also find a link to each website in the name together with a small description. Welcome to Utrecht!


Top Sights

Kasteel de Haar - a quick detour and you'll find one of the most beautiful castles in the country.

Kasteel de Haar – a quick detour and you’ll find one of the most beautiful castles in the country.*

Name Description
Theehuis Rhijnauwen Pancakes in the nature. The most visited green area in Utrecht.
Rietveld-Schroeder House Rietveld, a world-famous architect, lived in Utrecht. This is his masterpiece.
Spoorweg Museum A lovely train museum, which you can also access directly…by train.
Kasteel de Haar One of the most beautiful castles in the country. Worth the detour from the centre.
Pandhof van de Domkerk The Dom’s Pandhof, or inner courtyard. An oasis of peace in the city centre.
University Botanic Garden The Butterfly area is simply beautiful.
Dom Toren The best view of Utrecht.
Canoe by the canals Discover Utrecht through its canals



Black Bird Coffee - Coffee and Vintage Bicycles

Black Bird Coffee – Coffee and Vintage Bicycles

Name Description
Graaf Floris Most famous dessert in Utrecht: appelbollen
Milan My favorite take-away, good portions of Suriname food for good prices
Black Bird Coffee Coffee and Bicycles, quite the hipster crowd. In fact, it’s were I also bought my bike.
Yum Saap Good service, good asian food, good prices and handy location
30ML Coffee Best coffee in town.
Da Portare Via Best pizza in town.
De Bakkers Winkel Cheesecake yumminess.
Broodje Mario Most famous sandwich in town.
Dimitri Petit Tasty greek food, quick and cheap, very hard to beat.
Gys Hipster spot for healthy and affordable meals.
Il Mulino Best ice-cream in town.
Te Koop Creative kitchen with good ingredients, worth the extra-price.
Restaurant Kasteelheemstede One of the best restaurants I’ve ever been in the Netherlands, worth the detour and the extra-price.



Drinking and Nightlife

Cafe Olivier - Holly Belgium Beer

Cafe Olivier – Holly Belgium Beer*

Name Description
Cafe Olivier An old church turned into a Belgium bar. A must see!
Brouwerij Maximus One of my favorite breweries, a bit far away (15 minutes Bus) but totally worth the visit. My favorite beer is Pandora.
Oudaen Good Micro-brewery with great ambiance right in the center.
Ledig Erf One of the most famous (and older) bars in Utrecht, excellent beer selection
Pub Pub crawl 1: Oudegracht – Tolsteegzijd to Donkere Gaard Why not start with a beer at Kafe Belgie, and then explore the crossing were Orloff stands, plenty of options for a lively night
Pub Pub crawl 2: Neude square Probably the most crowed square in Utrecht’s night, plenty of bars (for example this or that one) and a lively atmosphere
Mick O’Connels Irish Pub Most famous bar among expats
Klein Berlijn A small cosy bar, hidden away with regular clientele



Beach in the City at Maarsseveense Plassen

Beach in the City at Maarsseveense Plassen*


Name Description
Louis Hartlooper Complex Old Police Office converted into an Arthouse Cinema, cool bars also.
Springhaver One of the oldest bars in town with one of the smallest (and cosiest) cinemas in the country.
Ekko The go to Disco in Utrecht
Dbstudio Cool underground spot that bands rent to rehearse with a bar with all year round concerts
Maarsseveense Plassen Sun and swimming at the lakeside. Who said you can’t have city and beach?



Cargo bike in front of Laag Catharijne - a wide range of second-hand by the Central Station

Cargo bike in front of Laag Catharijne – a wide range of second-hand bicycles by the Central Station

Name Description
Republic Bikes One of my favorite all-time bicycle stores. You’ll be impressed, I love their new racing bicycles.
Cacao Best chocolate in town.
Second-hand stores by the Oudegracht – Tolsteegzijde Lovely second-hand stores. Also take a chance to enjoy the basement (for example here). Utrecht is one of the only cities with two storey canals.
Vanilia Classy Dutch fashion brand for the ladies.
Kruideniers Museum One of the oldest candy shops in the city. They also have a small museum on the upper floor.
Laag Catharijne Large selection of second-hand bikes right in the Train Station.

*Photos kindly provided by



Wim “Locomotive” van Est

From tobacco smuggler to the first ever Dutchman to win a yellow jersey at the Tour of France, Wim van Est is one of the greatest legends of Dutch Cycling.

Wim "Locomotive" van Est with the Tour de France yellow jersey

Wim “Locomotive” van Est with the Tour of France yellow jersey

Born in Brabant in 1923, he was second of a family of sixteen children and in order to support his family during the war he illegally crossed the border to smuggle tobacco as a teenager. This eventually led him to jail but also gave him a pair of powerful legs. After World War II, at the age of 23, he decided to try his luck with cycling. He quickly made a name for himself and had several nicknames such as “Iron Wim”, “Locomotive” and even “Executioner”. According to various media he was the prototype of a farmer with a blushed face, calloused fists and a hairstyle with a lateral sharp line. Brute force, passion and cunning characterized Wim, the personification of the ordinary peasant boy, together with an accent which was unintelligible for most Dutch people outside his own region. Although strong as an ox he was not known for his skill and control and was unfortunately hitting the ground often.

The powerful and fierce Wim van Est

The powerful and fierce Wim van Est

His first major victory came in 1950, when he won the 600 km Bordeaux–Paris race. The following year he was subsequently selected for the first time to represent the Dutch national team in the 1951 Tour de France. Before that he had never seen a proper mountain.

In the 12th stage, from Agen to Dax, he escaped with a small group, won the stage and gained 19 minutes, enough to move up to first place overall. As the first Dutchman to wear the yellow jersey he was praised by the public and media at home.

The next day consisted of a mountain stage with climbs of the Tourmalet and Aubisque. Wim was determined to keep his yellow jersey although he hadn’t almost any experience as a climber. He decided therefore to attack very early on with the hope that his initial lead would be enough. This worked out very well, as when he reached the top of the Aubisque, he was still near the main contenders, Fausto Coppi and Stan Ockers.

The problems started during the descent. As Wim had little experience in descending he followed the Italian Fiorenzo Magni, one of the best performers in the peloton. Aubisque is unfortunately a treacherous descent. Wim falls into the gravel at a hairpin turn but quickly jumps back to his bike. Still convinced that he must defend his yellow jersey he threw himself even more reckless in the downhill. Moments later it went wrong again: he came up with an excessively high speed on another hairpin turn, could not brake in time and drove straight into a 70m ravine! In the words of Wim in an interview: “I wanted to go left but the bike went straight on. Now there is a wall (on the same corner) but not in 1951. I was lucky because I unlocked the pedalstraps just before I started to descend. When I fell I kicked my bike away and held my hands over my head. In a few seconds I saw my whole life. My fall was cushioned by some young trees and I caught one of these trees.” Behind Wim, the team cars stopped and there was major panic. When his team manager Pellenaars got out he saw Van Est some 60 metres down, climbing his way slowly back up the mountain.

Wim's bicycle from the 1951 Tour de France in exhibition at the Spoorweg Museum

Wim’s bicycle from the 1951 Tour de France on exhibition at the Spoorweg Museum

One of the first people to reach the rider was the Belgian photographer Piron, who also helped to get the rider back onto the road using with a string of bicycle tires. Although he only had grazes, he was put in an ambulance as his manager fought with photographers who wanted to capture the drama. Yet Wim got back out of the ambulance and went looking for his bike. His manager convinced him to go to hospital to be checked out, but the doctors did not find anything wrong. He was truly a man of steel!

Fortunately a good thing came out of this spectacular accident, Wim also became a pioneer of modern sports marketing. The Belgian photographer that assisted Wim took a picture which would be later used by Pontiac, the Swiss clock brand sponsoring the Dutch team, on an innovative ad campaign. The yellow jersey on, the despair of a fighter and a Pontiac watch on the wrist together with the slogan: “I fell seventy meters deep, my heart stood still, but my Pontiac ran …“. Priceless! It was one of the first examples of the link between the Tour of France, and even of Sports in general, and the corporate world.

The famous Pontiac advertisement

The famous Pontiac advertisement

On the next day after the accident, the manager decided to withdraw the entire team because of this almost deadly accident but Wim would return on the following years to win two stages in 1955 and to wear for two days in 1958 the yellow jersey. We would finish the Tour nine times. He had a long and successful cycling career but he nevertheless remained better known for the 1951 Tour de France. To remember this, a monument was placed on the mountain 50 years after the event, on 17 July 2001.

By the way, I discovered Wim van Est story at the Train Museum in Utrecht which is holding a wonderful exhibition about Dutch cyclists that participated in the Tour of France. It will be open until 25th July and is totally worth a peek.

Another detail of the exhibition at the Spoorweg Museum

Another detail of the exhibition at the Spoorweg Museum


More Pontiac advertisements:

The future is Sparta

A beautiful vintage folding Sparta found in Utrecht

A beautiful vintage folding Sparta found in Utrecht

Every time I see a Sparta bicycle, I’m always thinking of the movie 300 and how cool it would be if someone asked me at a cocktail party what brand do I ride, to which I would reply: “Spaaaarrrtaaaaaaa!”.

A Sparta on the move in Utrecht

A Sparta on the move in Utrecht

Back to The Netherlands, it’s no wonder we see Sparta bicycles of all shapes and sizes in the streets, they have been around since 1917, founded in Apeldoorn originally under the name Verbeek & Schakel, the surnames of the founders.

Like most of the early bicycle producers in the Netherlands, they also had a go with motorcycles throughout the 20th century, switching production between motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles as demand changed, sometimes combining both technologies.

A powerful Sparta stands out in Zuidas

A powerful Sparta stands out from the crowd

In the 40’s they became the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the Netherlands, in the 50’s and 60’s they supplied the world with mopeds, in the middle 80’s, together with the German Sachs, they came up with bicycles with auxiliary engines and finally, in 1998, they were the first company to sell electric bicycles in the Netherlands.

A Sparta found in front of the Portuguese Club in Amsterdam

A Sparta found in front of the Portuguese Club in Amsterdam

Accel Group, one of the biggest bicycle companies in Europe, added Sparta to their portfolio in 1999. Let’s have a quick look at some of the brands they currently own:

A Sparta ready for the city life

A Sparta ready for the city life

The brands are all household names and all Dutch. How is Accel differentiating Sparta against these mighty brands? The answer is electricity. Accel wants Sparta to be the leader of the electric bicycles market. On their annual reports, this receives a lot of emphasis, as one of the segments with the most promising growth rates.

I can already imagine Accel executives when they are asked what will drive their business in the future. The answer will be: Spaaaarrrtaaaaaaa!

A Sparta found in Amsterdam in front of Cheech & Chong's Coffeeshop

A Sparta found in Amsterdam in front of Cheech & Chong’s Coffeeshop


The legendary Koga-Miyata


Blue Koga Miyata

Blue Koga Miyata, found in Zuidas

This legendary Dutch brand, born in the seventies, has one of the most interesting stories in the bicycle business. It has a strange name right? Surprisingly enough it was a joint venture between a Dutch company and a Japanese one. The Dutch part of the name, Koga, is a combination of Andries Gaastra name, the founder, with his wife’s name, Marion Kowallik. This is very common in Dutch business, take C&A for example.

Andries left his father’s company – Batavus, a big player in the bicycle market – in 1974 to start this adventure. To differentiate himself he decided to join forces with the Japanese frame builder Miyata. And this was no ordinary Japanese company.

Founded in 1890 (correct, 19th century swag) by Eisuke Miyata, a gunsmith employed by the Hitachi Kuni Kasama Clan, Miyata is coined in having pioneered triple butting and revolutionized frame building techniques. What contributed to their innovative approach was the fact that bikes were built in the same factory where guns were made. The tubing was bored out lengthwise using a round steel rod, which means that the inside of the tube is rifled like a gun barrel. Awesome right?

Koga-Miyata was established in the Netherlands in the city of Heerenveen and has always been known as a high-end bicycle manufacturer. Their value promise is that all bikes are handmade in The Netherlands and a single technician is responsible for the full assembly of each bike. Ok, for the technical part they know their stuff, which is a very good start. But how can you reach the next level, how can you become a legendary bicycle brand? The answer is sport heroes, big achievements. Its direct association with racing bikes was a must.

Another Racing Koga-Miyata, this time found in Utrecht

Another Racing Koga-Miyata, this time found in Utrecht

In fact, their first and only product was racing bicycles. From 1980 onwards, they started sponsoring the IJsboerke cycle team. This led to immediate success when the Dutch Peter Winnen won a stage in the Tour de France at the Alpe d’Huez.

From this moment on, the prestige and international recognition of this brand was set out and their association with competition continues. Here are some of their following biggest achievements:

1990: The Koga-sponsored American rider Greg Herbold became the first UCI Downhill Champion.

1991: Koga started sponsoring Adri van der Poel team which later became many times World Champion in cyclo-cross.

2000: Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel won three Gold medals at the Olympic Games in Sydney. Van Moorsel also reached a new world record in the 3 km solo pursuit.

2004: Theo Bos won Olympic Silver in the sprint. This was the first sprint medal for the Netherlands since 1936.

2008: Marianne Vos wins Gold in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

A more recent Koga-Miyata found in Utrecht

A more recent Koga-Miyata found in Utrecht

From the 90’s onwards, the Dutch bicycle market underwent big changes in terms of shareholders and Koga Miyata was not indifferent to that. In 1992, Gaastra sold his company to the Atag Cycle Group, which had already acquired Batavus six years earlier, the company which he left to found Koga-Miyata. Gaastra was retained by Koga as a consultant and continued to influence the designs. Six years later Koga becomes part of the Accell-Holding.

As of May 2010, the original brand name Koga-Miyata stopped and continued under the international brand Koga. They sell all ranges of bikes now, but still have a strong presence in racing and competition. Stay tuned to witness the next achievements of their sponsored teams which include the Dutch National Track Team and the KMC-Mitsubishi-Koga Mountainbike Team.


And I'll let you know a little secret, this is my current bike, a vintage Koga Miyata.

And I’ll let you know a little secret, this is my current bike, a vintage Koga Miyata.


Red Bull Mini Drome Utrecht

Last week, on Saturday 28th March, took place in Utrecht the first edition of the Red Bull Mini Drome. A mini drome is in fact a mini Velodrome, a mini arena for track cycling (OK, I’ll try not to repeat the word mini this often). The aim is to shrink a Velodrome to the smallest possible size while maintaining race worthy dimensions to enable timed races and two person pursuit. A good thing about this concept is that it is very flexible and Red Bull has built mini dromes in churches, nightclubs and concert halls.

The Mini Drome before the action.

The Mini Drome before the action.

Originally created by Red Bull in New Zealand, the purpose built track is a product of Velotrack, a german company who built, for example, the velodromes for the Atlanta Olympics. The track distance is of 25M long with a width of 1,8m. That’s right, the perfect equation for a number of accidents to also happen, which quickly puts this sport on the extreme sports section, a sweet spot for Red Bull.

Accidents really happen, and a handful of them

Accidents really happen, and a handful of them

But this is not everything. They also added the radical side of bikes to the game: Red Bull Mini Drome is an all-day racing competition for single-speed, or fixed gear cyclists. This means cool bikes, hipster riders, tattoos and bike crews from all over the world. The racers with the quickest time across 10 laps will progress through the competition to the finals which will be a single pursuit race format.

Addison Zawada, a fixie rider coming from the States

Addison Zawada, a fixie rider coming from the States

After New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo, the Red Bull Mini Drome came to Utrecht. It was setup at Utrecht’s most famous concert hall, Tivoli, and the entrance was free. Although Red Bull claims that it was a full house, in fact it was half full, mainly because that night was the Dutch national football team match against Turkey. Nevertheless, for an event which had almost no publicity, there was a nice relaxed crowd and the races were fun.

The atmosphere in Tivoli and a rider practicing before the race

The atmosphere in Tivoli and a rider practicing before his race

I might just also tell that one thing that everyone had on their mind was that they would also get free Red Bull, but that did not happen. On the other hand, they were selling all these different Red Bull flavors. I have to say the Limited Summer edition was my favorite. With everyone from the organization having Red Bull, including the two presenters while they were, well, presenting, I developed a quick urge to have Red Bull.

The maximum speed reached during the night was 28.69 km per hour and plenty of accidents occurred which kept the crowd going. In the Fixed Gear category the winner was Tom Alsberg from Latvia and the fastest in the singlespeed category was Mathijs Kuipers from Netherlands.

The podium of the fixed gear category with Toms Alsbergs celebrating

The podium of the fixed gear category with Toms Alsbergs celebrating

Although you may think that you do not require that much preparation for such a small track, the fixie winner, Tom Alsberg, trained at a mini drome built in his home town, Riga. This guy got the 1st place in Warsaw, Glasgow and Manchester. In Paris he only reached 2nd because Ricky Crompton won.

Ricky was also there, but this time he suffered an accident, although he was a crowd favorite. This may be related to the fact that he was wearing a pajama with skulls. It may seem surprising, but then again, we are talking about fixie riders, considered by some as the rock-n-roll side of cycling. The other crowd favorite was Steff Gutovska, the only girl on the top 16. She was beaten by Ricky before reaching the quarter-finals.

Ricky and Steff race

Ricky and Steff race

More on Ricky Crompton style

More on Ricky Crompton style

As Le Tour starts this year in Utrecht, Red Bull decided to have the competition here. Unfortunately, I believe this was the last time a fixie and singlespeed race occurred in Utrecht. The fixie movement is not big in The Netherlands, to my knowledge only a crew came from Rotterdam and another from Amsterdam. Maybe this event can hopefully inspire the creation of a fixed gear crew in Utrecht.

Riders Charlie O'Conord (2nd Place Fixie) and Valentin Juan

Riders Charlie O’Conord (2nd place Fixie) and Valentin Juan


Rider Helmuts Petersons, also from Lithuania, reached 4th place in the Fixie category

Rider Helmuts Petersons, also from Latvia, reached 4th place in the Fixie category