Beautiful Bicycles: De Fietsfabriek Bakfiets

Look what I found! An amazing cargo bike from De Fietsfabriek, a Dutch bike shop that I ride by every day during my commute. I got to borrow the Bakfiets overnight for an ambitious Costco bulk food shopping trip, 9 miles total riding distance.

This beast means business. The De Fietsfabriek Bakfiets is the Dutch company’s biggest cargo bike (except the Stretch Limo?). I recommend the Bakfiets for those who regularly haul a lot of cargo or a troop of children, or who want to use the Bakfiets to promote their business in some way (that’s my way of saying that at times I felt like the Good Humor Ice Cream man).

The main attraction, of course, is the wooden box. Look at it – humongous! I can say with confidence that it’s even bigger than it appears. I filled up a huge Costco cart with bulk food products and everything fit with plenty of room. A gaggle of children could fit in there easily, and ride in comfort with optional custom padded benches. Sweet!

The steel frame is super high-quality and makes for a luxurious ride. Like any proper Dutch creature, it comes with all the bells and whistles: a chain guard to keep your clothes clean and protected, a rear wheel lock for added security, an integrated rear rack, full fenders, LED battery lights, non-slip pedals and SRAM 5-speed internal hub gearing. I don’t know how long an LED battery lasts, but I would prefer generator lights. In addition, there are a couple of clever features: steps on top of the front wheels to help little ones boost into the box and a cylindrical chain lock holder on the side.

The front drum brake acts as a secure parking brake. I engaged it while loading and unloading or while stopped at a light on an incline. Coaster brakes do the major work of stopping the bike. I thought coaster brakes would be a negative for me, but by the end of our time together, I was in love with them. The bike is heavy, but I had no problem stopping, especially at my slow and steady pace. Plus, no hands!

My one gripe is the placement of the gear shift under the saddle, a design weakness in my opinion. The reason for the placement is to use less cable. This is too clever for its own good. In theory it works, but in practice I could not easily switch gears as I started and gained speed. I had to get going, then coast and reach down between my legs to grasp for and awkwardly turn the shift. A more ladylike way of doing this probably exists, but I can’t worry about stuff like that in Chicago traffic. Maybe shifting would become second nature with practice? I’m not sure.

Generally, the handling of the bike is smooth and easy. If you’ve ridden a quality bakfiets before, you understand how it can feel magically light. If you haven’t, convincing you of this engineering feat may be hard. Somehow, the Bakfiets manages to roll along with startlingly little effort. Even fully loaded, the ride is easy if you use a forgiving gear. Likewise, turning was pretty simple. The front wheels are stationary, but the box turns separately from the rear, which sort of pitches to the side. The mechanism is hard for me to describe, but very cool. A good hint for turning is to put both hands together on the side of the bar you’re turning to distribute your weight. You can see I’m doing in one of the pictures below. Maneuvering the Bakfiets is easy if you dismount and lift/swing around the rear to turn the front.

Remember I said handling is “generally” smooth and easy? Starting the bike from a complete stop is a bear. I caught myself mumbling, “Don’t make me stop; don’t make me stop,” as I slowly rolled up to red lights. I finally got a hang of it at the end: lean forward on the bars and use your back foot to push off from the pavement while your front foot pushes the pedal down. This process proved simple and effective. Unless you’re stopped on the bottom of a steep hill – then you’re screwed.

In addition to analyzing this particular Bakfiets, I have to put it in context – trikes always feel weird to me and I am more comfortable on two wheels than three. The whole affair can feel topsy turvey over potholes, slopes and other wacky surfaces – any time the two front wheels are not even. On my short ride home from Costco in the dark, rolling down a surface-of-the-moon type of side street that is so characteristic of Chicago, I was feeling stressed and negative about the Bakfiets, at least in relation to its usefulness for my circumstances. However, on my ride today to return the Bakfiets – along my usual commute route – I loved the Bakfiets. Loved. I adjusted to the topsy turvy feel, realized that I was not in any danger of tipping and soaked in the awesomeness of my mode of transportation.

Some parting thoughts: Be prepared for some major positive attention. I took up the entire bike lane and sometimes the entire lane, period. No one honked or expressed any annoyance. I hear Bakfiets can be a source of annoyance in Amsterdam for taking up the whole cycle path, but it’s pure novelty in Chicago. Cars deferred to me like never before, moving all the way into the other lane to pass and slowing at the same time. This is a surprising reaction from Chicago drivers, who are generally crusty and hardened against cyclists.

Partly due to the visibility and corresponding reaction from drivers and partly due to the solid build, I would feel safe riding with a child in the box, even on the main routes I take to work. My preference for two-wheeled bakfiets remains – I’m impressed by their speed and maneuverability – but when the day comes for me to buy my own bakfiets, I’ll have to test this one out again to be sure. Very impressive.

In the U.S. the sole distributor is De Fietsfabriek in Chicago. For other countries, check out the main company website. De Fietsfabriek also makes many other cargo bikes and regular Dutch city bikes.

Here’s a quick video I made that shows a bit more of the bike, if you can suffer through the odd green tint and constant umming.

{As always, we at LGRAB receive nothing for our reviews except the joy of spreading beautiful bike love. And, in this case, indulging car-free bulk shopping sprees ;)}

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40 thoughts on “Beautiful Bicycles: De Fietsfabriek Bakfiets

  1. Miss Sarah says:

    Two wheels is one of the reasons I got the Madsen, though if a nihola weren’t so expensive to import here, I’d gladly have settled for three:) Isn’t riding a huge cargo bike like what you would imagine driving a semi-truck is like?

    10-4, good buddy!

  2. alice says:

    Great review! I’d love to get something like this should I ever have kids.

  3. Clare Carter says:

    In a perverse way that bike makes me want to have small children again.Love the colour but did you feel you needed to wear a truckies outfit : )) ? Love your reviews-very detailed.
    Thanks

  4. Sox says:

    A very cool trike!

  5. Dottie says:

    @Miss Sarah – A good comparison, I did feel like a semi-truck out there compared to the other bikes!

    @alice – That’s what I’m thinking. I would want something like this if I had a kid. I know I could get a simple kid’s seat for my Oma, but that thought makes me nervous, considering the traffic in Chicago.

    @Clare – The blue is lovely, plus I think you can get the frame in about 30 different colors! “Truckie” must be a cute Australian slang, but I think I know what you mean – like a button down shirt with my name sewed on a patch. Maybe some UPS browns.

    @Sox – Yes, very cool. I imagine any young kid would feel like the coolest thing in the world riding in there.

  6. Trisha says:

    Love the video! You’re such a pro. Wish we could have seen the bike all loaded up with Costco goodies, but you probably had other things on your mind than taking pics at that point. :) I think I’d prefer a trike to a two-wheeled Bakfiets, too.

  7. Steven Vance says:

    Like Trisha, I would also like to see the fully loaded trike at Costco. If you didn’t take any, then you should borrow it again!

    About the video, I wonder if your camera’s white balance was set to something *other than* auto or outdoors/sunlight.

  8. Chris says:

    De Fietsfabriek also has two wheel models. I have the 995 and can carry two kids and a day’s supply to the beach easily. Great bikes!

  9. neighbourtease says:

    Great review, Dottie! Super cool bike. I am always thinking about which one of these things I want if/when we have a second baby.

    It makes sense to me that the cars were more polite to you and not only because of the adorable juxtaposition of cute skirt and lots of cargo. My experience is that drivers are more rude when they feel like they might have a chance to go around you if you’d just move a little bit. When they have to fully surrender to the cyclist they actually behave far better.

  10. Melanie says:

    Wow… that is amazing! What’s the steering like without a traditional handle bar?

  11. Kara says:

    Oh, I am a sucker for blue and chocolate brown. I agree with Alice, if I ever have kids, I am going to have to pick myself up one of these.

  12. Dave says:

    I actually love a coaster brake on a normal city bike for the simple reason that it makes it much easier to ride with one hand (holding an umbrella or coffee or camera), because you don’t need both hands for brakes.

    That looks kind of similar to the Christiania trike from Denmark, though the box is shaped a bit differently, and the construction looks a little heavier. I’ve always been interested to try riding a trike like that, just to see how it feels.

    Maybe I can convince Clever Cycles to let me take one of these for a spin (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hollyandpatrick/2526377905/) – fixed gear! and check out the drum brake on the rear wheel :) Definitely not a bike for hills.

    All in all, I don’t think I would use a bakfiets enough to own one, but I’ve thought of a number of uses for them that would make renting one a great option – costco trip would be a good one :)

    Thanks for the review!

  13. Scott says:

    How did Chicago come to have so many Dutch bike options? When I got the Oma in 2007, we had nothing. It’s like a dream come true.

    It is inevitable that I will want to get one of these cargo bikes some day. A concern is that, unless you have an empty garage spot, it might be hard to find a place to store something this large.

    I have seen a guy riding one in Logan Sq with his kids. Anyone know who he is?

  14. Cool bike! I want one.

    I concur on the “respect” effect from bikes like this on the streets. I’ve noticed it on my Workcycle, especially when I have the big saddle bags on the back. I’ve had a lot less bad behavior from roadsters compared to when I ride my tiny bikes. I think Neighbourteese is also right that you’re better off taking the lane, instead of riding the off the edge. People don’t like making decisions.

    And instead of apologizing about the green tint on the video, you should have just copped to a tardy St. Patty’s Day tribute.

  15. [...] lanes, and an animated look at wheel sucking and totally cool bike commuting. Now that’s what I call a cargo bike. Idaho’s proposed three-foot passing and anti-harassment laws are done for this year. A 17-year [...]

  16. Dave says:

    One of the main issues people in the U.S. have with Dutch bikes (cargo or city bikes) is that parking issue, as they often lug them up stairs or whatever – what people don’t realize is that in the Netherlands, the bikes never go indoors, they are parked outside 24/7, so there is no lugging or carrying them or finding space for them in your house/apartment.

    The problem here, of course, is there is often nothing to lock them to outside, particularly in residential areas. This issue is starting to get some airtime in Portland, though we are pretty much just starting to even realize it exists on an official level. I don’t think it will be too long though, before parking corrals start popping up in residential areas here, as well as on main streets by shops and restaurants.

    The other issue, is that many of the bikes ridden in the U.S. were not built with the intention of being stored outside in rain and snow, though I suppose that is starting to change somewhat.

  17. welshcyclist says:

    Fantastic bike, I’d love to have and use one, but I’ve got to be honest, it was a while before I even noticed the bike next to you.
    Cheers, go ride that bike.

  18. Mmm I like how the light blue frame looks with the brown cargo box. As far as cargo trikes go, this looks like one of the nicer ones. I agree with you about the gear shifting though!

  19. dukiebiddle says:

    I guessing the gear shifter location is an unfortunate necessity with that sort of steering mechanism. Maybe a shifting cable could be run all the way up the frame to the turning axle and then back up the box, but that sounds like 8 or 9 feet of cable to me. Otherwise you’d have a shifting cable unsecured right by your feet.

  20. Vee says:

    Oh I can never get enough of cargo bikes esp trikes. I lurve them.

    You review is spot on as a rear turning cargo trike rider. The whole start to stop from a hill can kill me, but otherwise it’s smooth. ( and the whole going uphill can kill my legs but even then it does surprisingly well just requires some slow leg strength. It does take a day to get used to the topsy turvy feel- but I find it so much more stable in some ways. I’m slow and steady whereas I am fast and nimble on two wheels.

  21. Vee says:

    oh re coaster brakes- I miss them when I ride my two wheeler. It’s such a nice way to slow down while being relaxed. I find myself back pedaling by instinct.

  22. Vee says:

    I agree with neighbortease too- I get more polite people with the Sorte then the two wheeler. I think they realize I have no where to go whereas on the two wheeler there is a good deal of pot holed curb hell to the right of me and I am sure cars wonder why I tow the line in the lane and they zoom past me closely.

  23. Anne Hawley says:

    Wonderful review, Dottie! Your description contains all that a real potential user would want to know, and it’s fun to read.

    I have to say, too, that such a great looking gal in such a great looking outfit makes that cargo bike look totally classy, too.

  24. Elisa M says:

    Oh it’s beautiful!

  25. E A says:

    Too bad I couldn’t join you for the CostCo expedition… We could have tested it with you driving me around in that front box, too. ;-)

  26. Before I re-read the article I thought that that cylindrical thing was an umbrella holder. Or for flowers meant as a gift?

    Regarding the shifting, curious how this would work with a longer skirt or dress (if I was a not a gentleman I would say “but of course we don’t want you to wear a longer skirt”), and how it is done on other low step over three-wheelers.

    This is totally anti-K.I.S.S.*, but wonder if some kind of handlebar-mounted, Bluetooth-based wireless shifter powered by a hub-generator would be useful.

    * Keep it Simple, Stupid.

  27. dukiebiddle says:

    ” but wonder if some kind of handlebar-mounted, Bluetooth-based wireless shifter powered by a hub-generator would be useful.”

    Yes! I like it, but wouldn’t it be more convenient to have a bluetooth enabled microchip implanted in your brain so you could just *think* the bike into the proper gear? I prefer an uncluttered cockpit.
    ;)

  28. Frits B says:

    This is actually the most simple version of a bakfiets. The gears are an afterthought, normally these beasts have no gears at all (and if you consider the weight that’s obvious) which explains the strange location of the shifter. The Fietsfabriek also has bakfietsen with steering front wheels and more or less normal handlebars, with gears on the handlebars. These cost quite a bit more, however. The Nihola principle at Nihola prices.
    The factory is in Turkey, by the way. Fietsfabriek’s owner is of Turkish origin and he has his products made in the village he came from.

  29. SarahC says:

    This is a lot like a tripped out version of my Haley Trike which I was able to purchase used a few years ago. The one you rode is actually how I would set mine up if I had the time, money, etc. It does take some time to get used to how they ride – one of the things I noticed early on because of three wheels is that our roads are not really flat. When you ride on a trike near the curb you tend to notice the slope towards the gutter.

    They are a lot of fun to ride and you can haul a lot in them. I have hauled my two kids, a weeks worth of groceries, other bikes – all kinds of things. Even after a few years, I still get stopped on my normal routes.

    One thing about the shifter placement. Mine is more on the handlebars and while it is more convenient, it has a set of problems. To say it is not very responsive would be an understatement. This is mainly because of all of the twisting and turns the cable needs to make to get to that location. The trike you rode most likely has it on the seat post to avoid some of this and make the shifting work a lot better.

    I live in Portland and do need the gears for some hills. In all honesty, there are places I don’t take the trike because of the hills and if I lived someplace flat it would be a dream ride. I grew up in central Ohio and with the flatness there I could have easily have rode my trike all over town.

    Parking is also an issue even in bike friendly Portland. A lot of our bike parking is not set up for larger and cargo style bikes. We are getting more bike corrals and while wonderful they tend not to work for a ride like this. I still have to search for one of the old stand alone staples on the sidewalk or attach it to a sign. I am actually addressing the issue with my health care provider. They have wonderful covered parking – even lockers – but if you have a heavy bike or one designed more for child hauling, the parking is hard to use.

  30. sara says:

    I am so darn in love with our bakfiets that while I think this trike is super handsome, I go back to the two wheels over the three. To be fair, I’ve never ridden a trike and likely would have gone for one if I had seen them first. However, I can’t explain to folks enough how easy I find riding our two-wheeled bakfiets. “O” magazine features a story by a trike-riding woman in London (with photo) discussing frugality. Riding her kids to school by cargo bike is one of the ways her family saves money.

  31. Doohickie says:

    Interestingly, I’ve seen that style of bike on the local CL for less than $200. They are used by ice cream vendors around here.

  32. Dottie says:

    @Doochickie – lol, yeah, those ice cream trucks probably don’t go very fast or far :)

  33. Jeremy says:

    I’ve often wondered whether bike sharing in U.S. towns and cities makes a whole lot of sense, given our consumption and living location patterns. However, cargo bikes like this would seem to make perfect sense for larger towns and cities. Most folks don’t need to bike these around that often, but they look like a great help indeed when doing big errands, or helping friends move, etc.

  34. Wim Tensen says:

    Too bad our kids are in there 20’s! Too bad that our married daughter moved to Door County, WI, & that our first potential grand children will live so far away! Too bad I don’t have more money & a more well behaved dog which would stay in the box without being tied down! Too bad, too bad, too bad!!!

    Wim Tensen
    Burbank, CA

  35. [...] Rezension von Bakfiets Beautiful Bicycles: De Fietsfabriek Bakfiets [...]

  36. Rogier says:

    Check out the new Dutch 2 wheel bakfiets from Babboe (www.babboe.com). Ever seen a box like that on a bike?

  37. Love your site..great content and resources. Keep up the good work.

  38. Amyrondal says:

    Hi Great article, check out the guys from doubledutchbikes.com for 2 wheel cargo bicycles.

  39. updated blog post…

    [...]Beautiful Bicycles: De Fietsfabriek Bakfiets « Let's Go Ride a Bike – life on two wheels: simple. stylish. fun.[...]…

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