Batavus BUB review

Commuter, Review, Utility 24 123

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.

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24 Comments

  1. Ron January 23, 2010 at 11:00 am -  Reply

    James : Good review, but better was the honesty shown by you in the final paragraphs. I think that should set an example to some bloggers who have basically become product movers for companies, and take a good load of schwag in the process too, for basically yapping about how well it rides. Good call from the FTC.

  2. Astroluc January 23, 2010 at 11:19 am -  Reply

    really cool… nice review of the BUB. I tend to fall in the same category as you with regard to liking a more road/race oriented bike; but it is important to stay abreast of other aspects of cycling since I do primarily ride for transport!

    All of your points about the BUB are balanced and reasonable… a bike without waterbottle braze-ons? that's just madness!

    Love the design of the BUB, as well.

  3. Seahome January 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm -  Reply

    It looks as heavy as an angry mother in law. As far as I know, you never mention weight in your reviews. I admit, however, that I seldom read the reviews, I just skim them.

    In my experience of 48 years of commuting a light bike makes a great deal of difference. I have also noticed that many people who buy heavy bikes as their first bike very often give up biking soon after.

    What is you take on this?

  4. Renaissance Bicycles January 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm -  Reply

    Well done as always, James. Thanks for your words, photos, and opinions.

  5. James T. January 24, 2010 at 7:31 am -  Reply

    Yeah Ron, that FTC disclosure should go without saying. I agree that it was probably a good call.

    Seahome, My main commuter bike right now is an older Litespeed road bike, so I tend to agree that lighter bikes are better, at least for the type of commute that I have. It really depends a lot on the length of the commute and the type of roads that you ride on though. For short urban trips (2 miles or so) I think durability and comfort are more important than weight. That is why I would make a distinction between a "commuter bike" and a "city bike" like this one. The BUB is lighter than the average "omafiets" style bike, but still considerably heavier than a skinny tire road bike. If someone bought it to do very long rides, then yeah, they might give up on cycling. For short trips though, I don't think the weight is a problem. The bikes that are common in Amsterdam or Copenhagen are heavy utilitarian (and maintenance free)designs, and certainly those places have enviable rates of bicycle use for daily transportation. The key is choosing the right bike for the task, and it is good that we are seeing more options in the U.S. market.

  6. scorcher January 24, 2010 at 8:18 am -  Reply

    I guess it's a good thing that Bridgestone no longer sells bikes in the U.S., as they had a model called the BUB (Bridgestone Urban Bike).

    The bike looks sturdy and fairly attractive, although the all white version you have looks too much like the "ghost" bikes often put up as a memorial to cyclists hit by cars.

    A waterbottle braze-on seems extraneous on a city bike. I have a lugged Trek 730 hybrid set up as a go-getter with upright bars, shopping panniers, basket, fenders, lights. It has brazeons for waterbottles, but I don't use them, ever. You're either going to a cafe, or your trip is too short to worry about drinking H20 out of a nasty plastic bottle.

    I see this bike as a product that belongs in, say, Target, with it's emphasis on design for design's sake. Although it has some references for "cyclists" such as "colorways" and Fat Franks, it must ultimately appeal to the non-cycling masses to be successful, as very few experienced riders will choose this as their get-around bicycle.

  7. Anonymous January 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm -  Reply

    It looks like there are holes in the dropouts to hook a standard pannier strap through, but is this configured so that the hook doesn't interfere with the drivetrain on the drive side?

  8. Bike Shop Girl January 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm -  Reply

    Kudos on the review and thanks, as always, for the links back to Commute By Bike.

  9. wvcycling January 24, 2010 at 4:48 pm -  Reply

    This bike seems to hit a lot of checks on my list of wants for a city bike for the pricepoint.

    Even an extra $100 for the well built fenders is not a turn off.

  10. sheril January 27, 2010 at 10:15 am -  Reply

    Where do you find that many number of bikes

  11. wvcycling January 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm -  Reply

    P.S. – how much does it weigh?

  12. Richard Masoner March 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm -  Reply

    James, what’s the diameter of those Big Apple tires on this bike?

    • James T March 5, 2010 at 5:52 pm -  Reply

      Richard, I believe the tires were 26” x 2.15” and the rim was 559c

  13. Michael Hamiel March 13, 2010 at 3:32 am -  Reply

    So, I’m ready to see a BUB XC in person, anyplace on the West Coast?
    Mike

    • James T March 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm -  Reply

      I think it will April before the bike is available.

    • Dacia May 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm -  Reply

      Wheelworks in Santa Barbara may have ‘em. Give a call.

  14. Dacia May 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm -  Reply

    Wondering if I could tow a trailer with my kid in it…I love that this bike can take abuse as I’m not the ‘friendliest’ bike owner, but I fear for safety on the hilly terrain where I live with regard mostly to the brake system (which I’m glad you went into in your review). I’m no competitive rider (my last bike was a pre WWII cruiser, which I navigated my college years in Providence, RI on), but I want something I can safely tow my kid and/or get from A to B without killing myself withOUT my kid.

  15. spiderleggreen June 10, 2010 at 11:55 am -  Reply

    Nice review! Very through.

    But you gotta get out of the bike racer box when riding these types of bikes. My water bottle solution on my Dutch bike is a PDW Bar-ista cup holder on the handle bars. It’s great! It’s right there in front of you. No reaching down, fumbling for it. That would be silly. And get rid of the water bottle all together. I have several travel mugs that fit nicely in the cup holder. I bet you it would work well with “to go” cups, too.

    As for riding to work on these Dutch style bikes, I have a 25 mile round trip commute can’t say there are any road conditions that I wouldn’t ride mine on. One thing that the upright position offers is greater visibility. I’ve noticed the difference compared to my other bikes. I see more and people seem to notice me more.

    Thanks again for the review!

  16. Ask P March 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm -  Reply

    A few comments from a resident of Copenhagen, Denmark.
    As is mentioned we see a lot of people using the “granny” type bike for getting around town. We have a well renowned system of bicycle paths crossing the city.
    Where the BUB differs to these bikes is the quality of the frame, and parts.
    In Denmark it comes with a handoperated v-brake in front to go with the coasterbrake in the back. It is law in denmark to have two independent brakes on a bicycle.
    And allthough we have a lot of paths for bicycles, they are pretty worn and it is not unusual to hit potholes whilst riding. The tires on the BUB are almost an inch wider than the most common tires on citybikes, and the frame is also only 49 centimeters in height, compared to 54 for womens bikes in Denmark.
    The lower standover and riding height, together with the stable steering and comfortable tires makes it a superior bike if you are of smaller build. My 10 year old, 150 centimeter tall, daughter rides hers with great ease and confidence.

  17. Rene December 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm -  Reply

    Aloha All,

    I recently purchased a matte black Bub and love it. I am looking to buy the racks and the frame lock. Could anyone provide me with any information for this? I’m in NYC.

    • John B December 9, 2013 at 11:34 pm -  Reply

      Pretty sure these bikes are out of production, as are the racks. I know the NA distributor stopped carrying them soon after they appeared. But there is a chance they have some racks in the basement. The distributor is Fourth Floor in Toronto, and their retail outlet (where the racks might be) is called Curbside. Good folk.
      I love my BUB because it is the only step-thru ive ever found strong enough to support my size and weight (6’4″, 210 lb). In fact it’s the stiffest frame ive ever ridden. But as for hills — no. It’s really only suited for flat, compact cities.

  18. Rene December 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm -  Reply

    Thanks, John, I just sent them an email.

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