You may remember that the Batavus Urban Bike (BUB) was one of the new designs that really caught my attention at Interbike. Soon after the show, I was lucky enough to get the chance to try out one of the prototypes for a few weeks. Before I get into my thoughts about the time I spent with the bike, I will remind you of the BUB background information that I posted by Eric Kamphof, the General manager at Fourth Floor Distribution. You can also read more about the BUB at the Renaissance Bikes website. Renaissance Bikes was the place where I picked up my loaner BUB, and I can tell you that they have some other interesting bikes as well. While I am throwing out links, I will also mention that Arleigh, AKA Bike Shop Girl, also had a BUB prototype to review at the same time I did. See what she had to say about it at her site, Commute By Bike. Finally, you can see the rest of my pictures in my Batavus BUB photoset on Flickr.
As mentioned, the bike I tried was a prototype. The production models will be available Spring of this year. Retail for the BUB will be $550 with a 3 speed Shimano drivetrain and a coaster brake (the prototype I had was a singlespeed). The front and rear racks and lights that can be seen on the bike I tested are all optional. Pricing is still TBD for the racks, but it is estimated that they will be about $50 each. Two frame styles, step through or standard, will be available in gloss or matte black, battleship grey, raw silver, red (matte), or white with white tires (like my test bike). You can see some of the different colors and styles in my photos from the Batavus booth at Interbike.
Before I get into my experiences with the bike, I will reiterate something that many of you already know. As much as I like urban or city bikes from a design standpoint, those are not the types of bikes that I ride on a daily basis. I have mentioned before that my commuter bikes have what many people would consider fairly aggressive positioning, with the seat way above the handlebars. When I first received the BUB, I resisted the temptation to lower the stem as much as possible. Instead, I wanted to get used to that bolt upright “omafiets” position. On the first few rides, I tended to instinctively bend my elbows and lean forward, as I always tend to do on bikes like this. A few times, I even found myself gripping the middle of the handlebars right next to the stem, as if I was trying to ease down into some sort of Graeme Obree like position on a bike that was clearly not designed to be ridden that way. I know that the completely upright position has its benefits; increased comfort for shorter rides and a better view of the road. Still, the position that I am accustomed to from many, many years of racing and road cycling is second nature, so it was not easy to resist that tendency to lean forward a bit. I felt a little strange with my back completely perpendicular to the ground the first few rides, but by the end of the 3 weeks that I had the bike, I was able to cruise around comfortably upright. I wouldn’t want to ride 40 miles like that, but that is not the point of a bike like this. For people who are not interested in cycling as a sport or recreational activity, but want to replace short trips, especially in an urban environment, the BUB’s riding position is ideal.
Unlike the riding position, the lack of hand brakes was something that I never really did get used to. The coaster brake did work great and I imagine would be maintenance free, but for slowly modulating speed I much prefer a hand-operated brake of some sort. In a fairly flat place like Holland, coaster brakes are fine (I guess the same could be said for NYC and many other urban areas where a bike like this would be used). I have ridden Dutch bikes with only a coaster brake many miles on flat terrain with no concerns at all. Here it was a little different though. At one point, I felt a little uncomfortable flying down a very steep hill next to parked cars without a brake lever under my finger. I think the addition of a hand brake might make the bike better for the US market, at least for places where the terrain tends to be hilly.
Speaking of features I would like to see added to the BUB, a set of water bottle braze-ons would also be nice. I realize that the bike is not intended for long distance riding, but even for a 2-5 mile commute or shopping trip, it is nice to have a place for water. Sure you could store a bottle in a front basket or something, but I think water bottle braze-ons would be a nice (and inexpensive) addition to this bike for the US market.
I never rode the BUB to work. My commute involves riding on a couple of busy stretches of suburban two-lane road and that is not really what this bike is designed for. On those sections, I prefer to get down in the drops and ride fairly fast. For casually riding around town though, I really enjoyed the BUB. The bike is very comfortable (thanks in part to those fat Schwalbe Big Apple tires) and overall it had a very sturdy feel. The bike, even with its aluminum frame, is definitely not a lightweight. I like the fact that it feels a bit overbuilt…it is nice to know that can take whatever the rider and the urban environment can dish out. For a short urban commute, shopping, running errands, riding to the coffee shop, etc., I think a bike like the BUB would be a great choice. Of course, that is no big revelation considering the fact that city bikes like this are common in places where short trips by bike are the norm.
Aesthics are subjective, but I think the BUB looks great. I wasn’t the only one though. It turned a few heads and a couple of people asked about it when I rode it downtown. Personally, I like the bent “paperclip” design element where the top tube and down tube meet the head tube. It is primarily an aesthetic detail, but to me it is what gives the bike its personality. As I said in my Interbike recap, the BUB has several nice design details, especially when you consider the retail price. I was a little disappointed that my test model was missing its “mood meter”, a little red plastic dial that fits into a hole in the frame. The “mood meter” may be more of a conversation piece than anything else, but I think it adds to the bikes personality. There is certainly nothing wrong with a fun little design detail like that to set the bike apart.
Though the BUB looks a bit different from the typical omafiets, it has a lot in common with the traditional bikes that are in use in Holland, as well as other parts of Europe. I already mentioned the overall sturdy feel and the geometry, but many of the features are the same as well. The BUB includes nice stout fenders (not the flimsy kind that are likely to bend out of shape and rub against the tire) and a chainguard that pretty well encloses the entire front of the drivetrain. The original design included a full chain enclosure like most other Batavus models. That would have been nice, but it turned out to be cost prohibitive for a bike at the BUB’s price point. Another included feature is an integrated rear wheel lock. The lock immobilizes the rear wheel to serve as a deterrent against thieves looking for an easy target. Wheel locks like this are not very common in the U.S., but you do see them on utilitarian bikes in Holland and other parts of Europe. It doesn’t replace a U lock or chain if you plan to leave the bike unattended, but it is a nice feature if you ride to a café or shop where the bike is in view.
The front and rear racks (to be sold as accessories) are very sturdy and look great on the bike. Arleigh mentioned in her review that the oversized tubing on the racks was too big for the clips on a few different panniers that she tried, but I had no problem attaching my Specialized panniers or my rear rack cargo net.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the BUB prototype and I truly do think it is something that the US market needs. It is a basic and functional transportation-oriented bike, but styled in a way that I think will appeal to a different segment of the market than more traditional upright bikes. Time will tell, but I expect the BUB to do pretty well…I certainly hope it does.
Note: I am no lawyer, but in the interest of complying with the FTC’s new blogger disclosure rules I will mention that Batavus and Renaissance Bikes provided the BUB to me to try out for a few weeks with no strings attached. No money, schwag, or free vacations to Holland were exchanged in the process. I just used the bike, returned it, and I’m telling you all what I think about it.