Why beautiful Dutch Ladies Bikes should come with a health warning

A bicycle is an experience good. A lot like a bottle of wine or a book, it’s hard to determine the quality of it before you consume it, so you can easily fall into the trap of buying the wrong one.

It is an easy mistake to make for anyone, but I’d like to focus on women tempted into buying “Dutch bikes.”

Source: Cyclestyle.com.au

I’ve ridden the men’s version of the above, and it was a pig of a thing. 0/10, would not ride again.

People buy Dutch bikes because in the shop, the sitting position seems very important – you seem to be choosing between “hunched over the handlebars” or “sitting up comfortably,” between “sporty” and “relaxed.” 

I once went with my mum to buy a bike. She bought a heavy, upright bike and it is almost never used. She still rides though – it is just more likely to be on an old mountain bike.

In the real world, the discomfort of bicycling is – for a healthy person – much less about your body position, and far more about the effort expended. 

This is extra relevant if you imagine doing some cycling for transport, not just leisure.

If you are sitting up comfortably on a 20kg bike, you will be going more slowly in almost all circumstances. If riding to work will take 5 minutes longer than the train, it’s unlikely to be your go-to choice when you are stressed in the morning.

You are also exerting yourself for longer. You will be exposed to a higher chance of getting caught in the rain, more tired and more likely to be drenched in sweat when you arrive.

Exertion and time are the real costs of cycling and the real reason bikes get left in the shed while their owners drive. Yet people who imagine themselves as “not sporty” are the most likely to buy heavy, hard-to-ride bikes!

Dutch bikes are slower because of extra weight (this “lifestyle transport bike for ladies” weighs 21.4kg), and the upright sitting position.

The unfit will be likely to be in the steep and tricky part of this graph at moderate power wattages
The unfit could be in the steep and tricky part of this graph at quite moderate wattages

Extra weight becomes important on an uphill. Up a 7 per cent gradient, an extra 2.5kg will mean travelling about 2.5 per cent slower. Alternatively, trying to keep up requires more power output, and power output becomes exponentially harder to maintain (see graph).

The effect of sitting up straight is to create drag. Drag increases with speed, so a more aerodynamic position is more important when you would like to go fast. Not so important when idling along the shops or a busy off-road bikepath, but relevant on a long straight road, or when other cyclists are going fast.

Melbourne is not Amsterdam. It is undulating, in places downright hilly, and the other cyclists are not meandering along. If you find yourself pushing your bike uphill and getting overtaken, of course you will give up riding it.

I know women who cycle a lot for transport, and they have this in common – no Dutch bikes. Even this enthusiast sold hers after complaining about the weight.

If we observe actual women cycling, in the wild, we see what kind of bikes actually get used

DSC_0094 actual women cycling

What we (mainly) see is this: flat bars, baskets and aluminium tubing. Bikes that weigh perhaps 12kg, not 20kg. Bikes that won’t make it into a shop’s window display but should be celebrated and promoted.

Other experience goods often have independent quality ratings that provide some sort of indication of what you’re getting. You might look for a Booker Prize shortlisted book, or a wine that has won a lot of medals.

So I’d like to contribute an endorsement for light and practical women’s bikes. What Dutch bikes need is an equal but opposite thing. A big red sticker on them that says: “Warning. Will gather dust.”

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

6 thoughts on “Why beautiful Dutch Ladies Bikes should come with a health warning”

  1. Just for interest, I thought I’d copy over some of the comments that have shown up about this post on Reddit:

    [–]mattswoon 10 points 13 hours ago
    That Lovely Bicycle post the author links to while saying “Even this enthusiast sold hers after complaining about the weight” mustn’t have read the post very well. What she didn’t like about the weight was lugging the bike up the stairs to her apartment, in fact, she even clarifies that “[t]he bike’s weight … does not pose a problem when the Gazelle is in motion”.
    It seems like the author is just another victim of the mindset that if it looks pretty it must be a shit bike, and that there’s some proper way to ride bikes (which just so happens to be the way they like to ride their bikes). They don’t even mention any health impacts to justify their claim such bikes should come with a health warning! The whole post just smacks of “I don’t like and you shouldn’t either!”

    [–]PImpathinor2007 Specialized 4 points 13 hours ago
    I didn’t get that vibe from this post; to me it seemed like he was mainly saying that you should use a bike suited to what you’ll be riding. In particular he was talking about how bikes well-suited to Amsterdam are not ideal for riding in Melbourne, where it is much hillier. The title was a bit much, I agree, but the message was accurate: getting a bike ill-suited to the local terrain will not be conducive to riding more often. He’s not saying that those bikes are inherently shitty, just that they’re sub-optimal for the local terrain (the blog doesn’t seem to be aimed at a global audience).
    As for the link, it does say that “Uphill is of course a different story” with regards to weight.

    [–]JamesB54462012 Cinelli Experience 5 points 12 hours ago
    TIL Bikes built for short, every day trips are not great for performance cycling.

    [–]PImpathinor2007 Specialized 3 points 13 hours ago
    I agree with this. Cruiser bikes are great for short rides and/or when time is a non-issue, but they’re very slow and inefficient for rides of more than a few minutes. Even at relatively low intensity cycling is a dynamic activity, and the upright position that seems comfortable when you’re not moving feels awkward and inefficient once you start riding for a while. The “old mountain bike” referenced at the start the article has always been the go-to bike for myself and everyone I know when it comes to commuting: they’re easy to control, pretty comfortable to sit on, reasonably efficient, handle well in bad weather, and are geared so that you can make it up almost any hill. IMO they make a better casual commuter bike than any crusier/Dutch ladies bike.

    [–]theactualTRex 2 points 13 hours ago

    Now now, there are cruiser bikes and then there are good quality single speed bikes with an upright but not sitting on a sofa riding position. And the saddle is also important.
    Most of these “dutch” bikes come with a wide shitty seats which will weld your ass cheeks together faster than you can get off your drive way. And the good ones come with brooks.
    But I feel there is an important difference with the shitty ye olde and the good ye olde. The good with the brooks saddle and lugged butted steel frame will make you lean over just a bit. Not much, just a little bit and that little bit is essential for power transfer. Add that with a saddle which properly allows for good leg movement and ass comfort and you have yourself a neat every day bicycle.
    Take this one for example. Not too heavy, one gear, brooks etc. If I had the money I would buy that in a heartbeat even though I currently have a very aggressive road bike and a very aggressive XC bike. Sometimes something more chill is warranted.

    [–]VividLotusCustom Elite T-Class 1 point an hour ago
    Great point. My commuter bike (not a mixte/slope top tube style, but also a heavy steel bike with upright geometry) had a sole problem with its stock setup: a seat so wide that I could have sat two of myself on it. It made for uncomfortable riding, and a hard time staying in a good position. A quick seat swap later, and this bike is fantastic for commuting.

    [–]mmakalic 2 points 9 hours ago

    Melbourne is really not that hilly. Anyway, these sorts of bikes are good for your once a month picnic bike ride with your girlfriend. Nothing wrong with that. I find them heaps of fun to ride even though I own a race bike. For commuting they’re a bad choice though. But so is a mountain bike. Better off with a flatbar road bike with no suspension.

    [–]zedmartinezFelt Verza City 2, Simcoe Roadster, Rebuilt Schwinn Le Tour III 2 points 9 hours ago
    I use the male equivalent, a 3 speed steel roadster with almost true upright posture, as one of my commuting bikes. It’s fine, absolutely lovely for a 9 mile commute. You go slower, don’t work up a sweat, and never have to worry about your pants getting chain grease. If I need to wear good clothes straight to the office, or am just out for a pleasant spin, I have no problem with a heavy, steel, upright bike as a distance commuter. The trick is to stop thinking that speed is everything, bikes like this reward more in letting you enjoy the ride (and being able to hold a mug of coffee way more easily). What they probably aren’t is a good choice for someone who’s not already used to bike commuting regularly and already committed.

    [–]mmakalic 1 point 9 hours ago
    I agree with you in terms of just trying to enjoy the ride. I just think after a while the commute switches from being fun to a necessity. Then you just want to get somewhere as quickly as possible. A 9 mile commute is pretty short, any functioning bike will do the trick!

    [–]firelikedis 2 points 2 hours ago
    This article is obnoxious mansplaining that fails to recognize why women choose bikes for reasons beyond performance.

    [–]VividLotusCustom Elite T-Class 1 point an hour ago
    Well, not just women. I work at a company where many people bike commute; I happen to be female, but most of my coworkers are male. There are a couple of people who for some reason commute on stuff like TT/tri bikes, but the vast majority of us have either an upright steel “commuter” style bike, or a vintage road bike with a touring style setup. We’re not trying to win a race or be super aero when we commute.

    [–]SloeMoeSimoncini 2 points 6 minutes ago
    Not sure about ladies (because I’m not one), but this article rings true for me. Several times I’ve gotten excited about having an old-school upright commuter bike, and every time the first few sedate miles are pleasant, but by the end of the ride I’m super tired, uncomfortable and craving a plain old road bike.

    [–]PFULMTL 1 point 11 hours ago
    just put some thinner tires on it.

    [–]VividLotusCustom Elite T-Class 1 point an hour ago
    Pretty much none of the points in your post make sense. If the problem is that a heavy bike will “gather dust”, then why do you also freak out about the fact that riding a heavier, slower bike might make you “exert yourself” for a longer period of time? Can’t have it both ways.
    While 21 kg (46 lb) is indeed quite heavy, there are tons of upright commuter/cruiser style bikes that I personally see being used every day– including my own. I am a petite woman and I commute every single day on a steel bike that weighs 34 lb, not counting gear. I like to commute on this bike because it has a relaxing geometry which puts me in a good upright position for looking at traffic, and because it’s an inexpensive bike that I’m not concerned about keeping very clean. It’s extremely heavy compared to the other bike I ride most often– it weighs more than twice as much as my TT bike, in fact– but that just means I get a different kind of workout.
    The sole point on which I’d agree with you is that people who will be riding through very hilly areas should consider a bike with a weight and geometry more suited for climbing– but even then, that’s up to the individual. Some people who enjoy climbing actually like the challenge of doing it on a heavier bike. Some people who have one big hill in their daily ride or commute just walk their bike up it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    [–]ferulebezelElectra Townie 8i -5 points 14 hours ago
    My “hybrid” was the one that never got ridden. And it was the being bent over and need to get off the seat at every light. Yes, I’m slower than the spandex clad Tour de France winner wannabes. I’m not out to win races or to look like super jock man. I like not having he seat up my ass or my dick numb after a short ride. And if one reason you’re riding is to get in or stay in shape, shaving weight and wind resistance only defeats that purpose. You don’t see guys in the gym putting paper mache weights on hollow aluminum poles.

    [–]bob1000bob 5 points 13 hours ago
    spandex clad Tour de France winner wannabes super jock man, seat up my ass or my dick numb after a short ride
    You don’t need to denigrate on group of cyclists to support your own choice of bike.
    shaving weight and wind resistance only defeats that purpose
    No it really doesn’t.

    [–]PImpathinor2007 Specialized 4 points 13 hours ago
    I like not having he seat up my ass or my dick numb after a short ride.
    If that’s happening then you need to adjust your bike geometry; in the right position narrow seats are still quite comfortable and actually allow you to pedal more comfortably. As far as weight and wind resistance go I’d rather get my commute done with as quickly as possible, and if you’re biking for fitness it doesn’t matter: “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”

    [–]jochem_m2014 Sensa Umbria 3 points 10 hours ago
    In fact, my (actual) dutch bike is much less comfortable than my road bike, especially when I wear proper clothing. Even without padding, it’s still nicer to ride.

    [–]chewmacheck 4 points 13 hours ago
    If you ride your bike everyday despite the extra weight and wind/rolling resistance, then yes there is no point getting something lighter and faster for training. But if your bike stays in the garage because you feel a bit tired or your short route is a bit boring, then a faster bike will open options, make it more enjoyable and more likely to get you out.


  2. chewmacheck – you summed it up PERFECTLY:) I ride a Blue Bobbin Birdie – I admit it was a lot heavier than they advertised – (who the hell can carry a 14kg bike up a flight of stairs???!) but oh well…

    I’m getting a great workout and look forward to commuting everyday! I can load tons of grocery, etc. stuff on her and I’m nice and clean during those rainy days. Can I ride effortlessly on steep hills or ride continueslly for more than an hour – it’s a stretch but I don’t care! I get to enjoy my surroundings while people wave at me and say “nice bike!” :)) *Life is good*


  3. If there’s a need to ride slow such as transporting heavy loads, it makes more sense having an upright position because it won’t affect air drag too much. It’s also possible that the trips in Amsterdam tend to be shorter.


  4. I love my Gazelle! Her name is Gladys, and it brings joy to my heart to ride her, so much so that others smile at me all the time when I ride by. The weight adds to the inertia needed to go up a hill, as long as you maintain your sitting position and have the bike set up correctly for your height.

    As for the speed, yes she goes a very consistent 15 kms per hour, but I think this world is spinning way too fast anyway. We need to slow down. I’ll be riding her across Canada this summer, and am excitedly looking forward to it.


    1. Is Gladys an electric version or not. I’m thinking of buying one to commute carrying my dog in front and wanting to ride some of the rail trails. Do I need it to have a battery


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