Summary: Order yourself a Gazelle bike now. Stop letting what others will think of you from enjoying cycling to work. (And of course, leave your car at home). If you’re conscious of the price, go for the cheaper Gazelle Classic instead of the Gazelle Tour Populair.
One morning, I cycled to work on my wife’s bike instead of mine, because mine was out of order. It had a kid’s seat on the back. It was an upright ladies bike, but nothing very Dutch about it. I had already made a decision of cycle at my own speed, instead of trying to cycle at the speed of drivers in the city. It was a mentality shift, and that morning commute helped me decide. It was a relaxed commute. I wasn’t racing anyone. If another person had to slow down to my speed because they were bringing their big metal box into Limerick city, then so be it.
So I started my search for “upright” bikes, but I didn’t know yet what I was after. Was it a touring bike I wanted? How did the bike companies even market this type of thing, I didn’t even know. Mixed with all this was the decision about whether to buy an electric bike (which I decided against, that’s for another day).
My search brought me to finding out what kind of bikes are used in the Netherlands. I went so far as to going on Flickr, looking up Dutch cycling photos (of which there are many!) and noting down what brands people were cycling. It turned out Gazelle are a big Dutch manufacturer of bikes, and the seem to be popular enough in the Netherlands.
I settled on the fancy Gazelle Tour Populair. It’s a real pleasure to cycle. My friend (who laughed at me before for having a salad and wine at a dinner) tried it out and said to me: “Eoin, why do we cycle anything else?!”. You don’t even realise that the contemporary bikes that are all being bought and sold in Ireland are these sports-inspired bikes that possibly help you go fast, but at a real cost of comfort.
First Impressions of Gazelle Tour Populair
Your interaction with the handlebar is completely different
On my old bike, I’d have to lean forward to the handlebar. They were taking my weight. When you have an upright bike, the weight of your body is going down through your back and onto the saddle. Now you’re guiding the handlebars to keep you going in the right direction, but you’re not leaning on them.
This bike feels like a Californian cruiser, compared to my old Giant hybrid commuting bike. Indeed, upright bikes are more like walking (I had been primed by that blog post to get a Dutch bike, for sure).
You might need to do maintenance yourself
I don’t know, but I’m guessing your standard Irish bike shop will not be up for maintaining this bike. The reason is, the parts are different to standard. It’s got roller brakes, which means the brakes are kept internally in the wheel instead of rubber being pushed against the side of your wheel. The drivechain (what’s connected to your pedals to move your bike forward) is different to a standard bike.
The mechanics are special
The bike came with the chain being loose, scraping off its casing. I realise the bike has a bolt that you turn with a spanner, to tighten the chain. What a marvelous idea! On my old bike, you needed a special chain tool to help you size the chain correctly, and there was no leeway. On this bike, you just keep tightening (or untighten) to your needs.
The gears are also marvelous! It’s got an indicator to help you tighten the gears just right, instead of having to tune them “by ear”. The manual says that such an indicator is available at the top of the bike, but the only one I’ve found is under the bike, so I have to turn this heavy bike upside down. But then all you need is a spanner to tighten a bold, until two yellow indicator lines are lined up.
There’s a wheel lock on the back wheel. The key is left in by default, and when you want to make the bike immobile you lock it and take the key with you. That’s not enough for stopping the bike from being lifted away, obviously. It’s also a little source of worry – if I forget to lock this lock, even when I’m using my other bigger U-lock, I’m worried that someone will see the lock, turn it, and take the key with them! At least I’ve a backup key at home, but it’s a little hassle to the mind.
You probably need to buy from an online shop
For looking for where to buy one, not every shop will stock Gazelles. I ordered mine from dutchbikeshop.ie who delivered straight to Limerick. The shop that I was dealing with just didn’t have this type of Dutch bikes.
I later realised The Bike Shop in Limerick sell them and service them. Limerick people, buy there! A full list of Irish dealers seems to be here.
Buy a Gazelle Classic, it’s cheaper
My wife got the lower specced Gazelle Classic (stepthrough ladies frame). It doesn’t have the leather saddle. It doesn’t have the white tyres. And that’s a good thing. It still has roller brakes. It doesn’t have a big splash guard on the front tyre. It still is an upright bike. This particular one only had three gears, as opposed to my eight. We were worried at first that this would be an issue, but it cycles so nicely that it wasn’t a problem (and we live on a hill).
It’s good for rain, except the fancy saddle
The Tour Populair is a functional bike, but the trouble is they made this export version too fancy. The leather saddle looks cool, but I had to keep a saddle cover stocked on the bike, in case I’m leaving the bike outside. For me, this saddle is a step too far, since these bikes are meant to be workhorses, being able to leave them out when needed.
The front wheel has a big splashguard, and oversided one. I’ve tested it in torrential rain (on my way home one day) and it worked a treat. The idea in the end is that you wear your daily workclothes, instead of dressing up in “protective” gear so that drivers “see you” (don’t have an excuse “not to see” you).
It is heavy
Look, it’s heavier that your specced up light bike. It’s made of steel. This thing is a workhorse. If you need to carry it up steps, you will struggle a bit. But this in no way takes away from the cycling experience. The bike is a real pleasure to cycle.
Bike trailer attachment
A note for you hippies out there who have a bike trailer. It is possible to hook up a bike trailer to this one, but you’ll need to get a special extra attachment for your hitch. The part is a “Thule Internal Hub Hitch Adapter for Shimano”. It’s just an expensive extra bolt, to give your bike attachments enough length to fit on the trailer hitch.
Lights: One dynamo, one battery
Gazelle complicated on this one, in my opinion. The rear light is battery rather than dynamo. Perhaps this is for safety, so you don’t disappear at traffic lights! The front light is run by a dynamo. In fact, my front light had a dodgy connection. It was not always lighting. There are connections you need to check at the light itself, and down at the wheel. The light has now stopped working for me completely. I don’t know if it’s the bulb, although the filament in the bulb looks unbroken. I’m getting a multimeter to measure if the dynamo is providing current to the light. When it does work, it works well in any case.
Buy your Gazelle. Buy your upright bike. Down with forward-leaning bikes! Join the urban cycling revolution (it is, by the way). Enjoy your way to work. Marvel in 100-year old technology, with added new fancy technology. If you’ve more questions I can help you with, please leave a comment or get in touch.