Amsterdam Diaries Part 8- Workcycles Visit

Thursday December 15, 2016 Continued

After a fruitful morning with Bicicapace, I had some breathing room in my schedule before an afternoon visit with the guys at Workcycles. The hectic pace of the previous three days’ train travel had worn me out. Having a day without boarding any trains and being able to ride my bike around Amsterdam was just what I needed. Following my nose around town, I popped into a few bike shops, had lunch at one of my favorite spots and visited some old haunts.

With my trip down memory lane complete, I continued on to the business at hand.

2016-12-15 14.27.07The mothership. Workcycles headquaters, located in the quintessentially Amsterdam neighborhood, the Jordaan. A familiar place that I arrived at on a familiar bike. That bike (pictured above) was one of the first ones I ever sold back in 2008. My friend JL, who I introduced you to in Part 1, bought it second hand from the original owner when he lived in Chicago a few years ago. When JL moved back to Amsterdam, the bike was repatriated back to the country where it came from.

We are grateful that Workcycles exists, a bike company that is uncompromising in making bikes that are purely utilitarian. The thing that makes Workcycles different from so many others is they don’t try to beat well marketed ideas with better marketing of their own. They try to beat well marketed ideas with better ideas.

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We have been a Workcycles dealer going on five years now. Each year they have reinforced their status as the core brand we sell here at J.C. Lind Bike Co. Therefore, it goes without saying, I prioritize spending as much time with them as I can during these trips across the ocean.

If you’ve been following my posts about this trip, you know that earlier in the week I visited both of the factories, Nijland and Azor, where Workcycles bikes are made. My primary purpose of visiting their showroom, which I did both today and the following day (Friday), was to catch up with the Workcycles crew including founder Henry Cutler.

On these trips, I aim to get a glimpse of their day-to-day operations and find out the inside scoop on their plans for the immediate and distant futures. It’s also key for me, as I’ve stated before, to get to know the people behind the brands of bikes we sell.

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The Fr8/Gr8/Kr8 bikes can be personalized with a custom nameplate

One of the cool things I learned is we will have more choices of fonts going forward on the CNC nameplate.

Another thing I picked up on this trip is that we have the option to order Fr8’s in a special configuration designed to handle even more weight than the venerable Fr8. We refer to it as the Heavy Duty package and it includes tires with a higher weight capacity, even beefier rims, an 8mm thick saddle rail and a double seat tube clamp. It’s commendable of Workcycles to continue pushing the envelope of what their bikes are capable of.

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Workcycles Fr8 in Vermilion RAL2002

The Workcycles Fr8 is hands down our best selling bike model from any manufacturer. We always keep a healthy inventory of this bike in the neutral black and matte grey colors, but, every once in a while we try to bring in a few Fr8’s in funky seasonal colors. One of my favorite things to do on these trips is to get inspiration for color ideas. Our Workcycles shipment that just arrived last week has Fr8’s in both Vermilion RAL2002 (see picture above) and Patina Green RAL6000 (see picture below), which were both influenced from seeing these bikes during my visit.

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Patina Green RAL6000

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Another first for me on this trip was getting to test ride the e-assist Fr8 (shown above) and Kr8 (below). Electric assist is a hot topic these days and only seems to be getting hotter. For years now I’ve been pretty staunchly anti-e-bike and as of the writing of this post it is still not something we offer or do any service on at J.C. Lind Bike Co.

That said, this visit to Amsterdam and my test rides of the e-assist Fr8 and Kr8 along with my read on our industry and the more frequent conversations I’m having with existing and potential cargo bike customers, I’m starting to come around and see some of the value and legitimacy of e-assist for certain situations. Long story short, with so many pros and cons, it’s a complicated topic which is better left to its own blog post.

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I got a kick out of playing ‘I spy’ with Workcycles bikes on this trip. Here is a photo gallery of the #workcyclesofamsterdam bikes I came across.

Workcycles is never idle. If they aren’t working on a new project, they are busy selling, servicing and improving their existing line of bikes. Per one of Henry’s recent blog posts, it appears some big changes are afoot. It was great chatting with him and learning more about their future plans. Thank you very much to Henry, Richard and the rest of the team for taking time out of your busy schedule to indulge my curiosity. And finally, thank you for making such great bikes.

With all of my vendor visits behind me, I had a few more days left to enjoy Amsterdam and a few more interesting meetings still to come…

-Jon

Amsterdam Diaries Part 7- Bicicapace Visit

Thursday December 15, 2016

After three days of exhausting travel by train and bike throughout most of the country, it was nice to sleep in a little and only have a 10 minute bike ride to the next bullet on my itinerary. That bullet being a meet up with Bicicapace, a young cargo bike brand out of Milan Italy with whom we’d been in touch for about a year.

Once I had booked my trip to Amsterdam, I reached out to Stefano from Bicicapace to see if it would be possible to test ride their bikes during my visit. As luck would have it, our schedules aligned and they were going to be passing through town on dealer visits around the same time.

I was thrilled to finally be getting a chance to see and ride their bikes after a long period of looking at pictures and reading about them online. Bicicapace makes three models, the Classic, JustLong and Sport. I was able to try out both the Sport and the JustLong.

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Bicicapace JustLong with Sport model and my Brompton in background

Right out of the gate the JustLong fits seamlessly with what we offer at The Shop. It is a dedicated family truckster cargo bike, capable of transporting two kids on the long rear rack with Yepp seats or on a cushion for older kids. When I rode it, it handled really well and I was pleasantly surprised with how stable it felt even with a full size adult passenger on the back. The 20 inch wheels keep the center of gravity nice and low, and the low step through frame make it a great option for a wide range of rider sizes.

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The JustLong rear armature ring is a kiddie retention system that also doubles as a basket for other cargo as seen in the picture below.

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When riding on the back it’s good to have a place to put your feet.

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The JustLong rear rack is compatible with one or two Yepp Maxi Easyfit seats.

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The JustLong comes with Option A- Folding Flatbed front rack (above). Or Option B- 80 liter PVC/Cordura front mounted bag (below).

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The Sport model, as the name implies, is sportier and less upright than most of the bikes we sell. The handling of the Sport was responsive, making it an agile bike, perhaps better suited for messengers or somebody who wants to carry cargo without siting bolt upright.

So you’re probably wondering whether you will be able to see these in Chicago anytime soon? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. We have a shipment from Bicicapace arriving imminently. Stay tuned to our website and social media channels for news of their arrival.

But wait, that’s not all! Stefano and Claudia also introduced me to Velo-ce, a brand of stylish Italian city bikes. High on looks without sacrificing on smart practical features. This spring we will be bringing in the Classic Draisina. Dyno powered lights, roller brakes, internal gearing, 2 leg center stand with fork spring, chain case and Brooks saddle. These are all of the types of things we are into here at J.C. Lind Bike Co. These also happen to be the things which unfortunately are hard to find in most bikes.

 

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The Velo-ce Draisina Classic in Verde Pastello

It felt great knowing I’d be returning home having successfully scouted out some new blood for the shop. This is one of the big reasons why I make these trips. Discovering bike brands I never knew existed before and getting some valuable hands on experience with new product.

Thank you very much Stefano and Claudia for making the trip to Amsterdam, next time I think I’ll have to come and see you in Milan.

My morning visit with Bicicapace complete, I had the whole day ahead of me to explore Amsterdam on my bike and drop in on the guys at Workcycles. Check back for the next installment as my trip keeps rolling on.

-Jon

Amsterdam Diaries Part 6- Gazelle Visit

Wednesday December 14, 2016 Continued 

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After an enjoyable morning visit with Ronald Onderwater in Bruekelen, I was back on the train on may way to the town of Dieren to visit the Gazelle Rijwielfabriek (‘Rijwiel’ being the old fashioned Dutch term for bicycle and ‘Fabriek’ factory). It’s funny, when I originally scheduled all these visits I didn’t make the connection that I was starting my day at what is essentially a one man bike company and ending it at the largest bike factory in the country.

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We’ve been a Gazelle dealer for six years, making them one of the longest running brands we’ve ever carried at The Shop. Lucky for us, there has always been a US distributor for Gazelle. This is something we don’t take for granted, as it saves us a lot of heavy lifting compared to having to import them ourselves from Europe.

The factory is only a block or so from the Dieren train station. Approaching it by bicycle from the station, it was a cool, almost cinematic experience as I rounded the corner and the whole campus came into view. To see how well-maintained the original brick facade is and the original sign, was a rare and special sight; it would be as if Schwinn was still around, still making bikes, and had a historic and well-maintained facility in the city of Chicago. I recommend playing around with the google street view above to get a good glimpse of the outside. Be sure to scroll left to check out the newer parts of the factory as well.

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Image from Gazelle website (https://goo.gl/images/ebdlJI)

The original facade is incredibly well preserved and what was once a factory behind those walls is now their office spaces with most of the factory now set up in new annexes to the original building.

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Some of the beautiful tiles that greet you as you enter the front door of the factory.

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This is the reception area right as you enter. It’s just amazing how much of the original building they preserved and incorporated into the new functional space.

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Nice to see a Tour Populair proudly on display next to the reception desk. That is the employee cafeteria in the background.

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Image from Gazelle website (https://goo.gl/images/Isvu1w)

Here’s a birds eye view of the brand new assembly lines. For more of a complete inside tour of the factory, check out the videos here on the Gazelle website.

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Love this conveyor belt they have.

Here’s a brief look at the genesis of Gazelle from this Sheldon Brown-esque website about Dutch Bikes, Rijwiel.net, created by Herbert Kuner.

1892: Willem Kölling, working as a post office agent in the Dutch village of Dieren, resigns and starts a bicycle trade by ordering one bike in England. His trade expands prosperously. Kölling starts a co-operation with the hardware and stove retailer Rudolf Arentzen from Dieren.

1902: Arentzen and Kölling buy new premises at the site of the present factory, and start the production of bicycles. In the same year, the first complete, Gazelle branded bicycle is sold.

Fast forward to 2011; Gazelle was purchased by Pon Holdings BV, who invested heavily in updating, expanding and improving the factory. The ‘new’ factory was officially unveiled in 2015.

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Gazelle is a large scale manufacturer with a dizzying array of bicycle models. We, by comparison, are an independent bike shop that is all about Genuine Dutch Transport. The Tour Populair is the Original Dutch Transport. Much like the preserved facade of the factory, the Tour Populair is what makes Gazelle an iconic Dutch brand. They are both examples of Gazelle building off of its past, not tearing it down.

At the time of writing, we have a healthy inventory of frame sizes in both the step through and step over Tour Populair.

Thank you to Ewoud who gave me a complete tour of the entire place. After finishing up at Gazelle, it was back to the train station and from there back to Amsterdam. During the first transfer in Arnhem I could sort of make out the announcement in Dutch that the train would not be going anywhere. This was confirmed by the frustrated faces on all the passengers as they got up and exited the train. Long story short, my perfect unblemished record of train travel the past three days was over.

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Biking in Amsterdam during rush hour. If it’s not on your bucket list it should be.

My train being cancelled turned out to have a silver lining. Because of it, I ended up re-routing my trip to Amstelstation instead of Amsterdam RAI. This meant I had about a 2 mile bike ride in the thick of Amsterdam rush hour. I was exhilarated by the energy of being a member of this steady stream of bikes and people, seemingly without end, both in front and behind me.

Next up on the tour I will meet with somebody whose bikes I’ve only been able to admire online until now. Stay tuned to find out who.

-Jon

 

 

One Earth Film Festival Kicks- REPOST

We are taking a day off of our Amsterdam Diaries posts to shift our focus to the One Earth Film Festival.

Please note the shop will be closing today at 6pm instead of our usual 7pm.

Who hasn’t gotten sucked into binge-watching documentaries on Netflix? Imagine if your binge-watching happened at locations all over Chicago like a scavenger hunt and connected you with people in your community–well that’s basically the One Earth Film Festival.

Prioritizing accordingly, the shop will be closing an hour early at 6pm on Wednesday March 8th instead of our normal 7. We’ll be heading down to Hyde Park for the One Earth Film Festival screening of Power To The Pedals which starts at 7pm.

Please consider this an open invite to ride along with us. We will meet at The Shop and depart promptly at 6pm. Not that we had to tell you, but we’ll be riding at a slow and relaxed pace (it builds up an appetite for movie watching).

One Earth Film Festival’s been running for six years, gracing Chicago roughly every spring with a series of movies- usually documentaries-of an environmentally conscious nature. There’s usually a bike-related movie or two on the schedule, gotta love that. More generally, OEFF just happens to combine three things we’re big nerds about: bikes, environmental issues, and Chicago!

Tickets are free with a suggested donation of $4. I’d advise booking a ticket in advance as it could sell out. They will also be screening Food Frontiers on March 8th. Each film is roughly 30 minutes long and there will be a discussion with the filmmakers and producers afterwards.

If you can’t make it on the 8th, I highly recommend checking out the other screenings which are all over the city and nearby burbs. The One Earth Film Festival runs from March 3rd through the 12th.

Amsterdam Diaries Part 5- Onderwater Visit

Wednesday December 14, 2016 

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Next stop on the tour was a breeze with a half hour train trip followed by a ten minute bike ride along the large canal shown above. My destination this morning was just outside of Bruekelen to meet with Ronald Onderwater. Ronald is the founder/creator of, you guessed it, Onderwater Tandems.

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A little side note- Brooklyn NYC is named after this Bruekelen similar to how New York City used to be called New Amsterdam before it was New York. And there is a Haarlem in the Netherlands that the Harlem of NYC is named after. There’s even more in case you are interested.

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From one of our great customers who also happens to be a great photographer

The first two of these amazing head turning thingamajigs we sold were special orders that were stowaways on our early Workcycles containers. Then when we switched over to LTL pallet shipments with Workcycles this arrangement was no longer possible. So in early 2016 we decided it was time to order direct from Onderwater and it was also time to bring in some inventory in addition to special orders.

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That’s me on the left and Ronald on the right

Ronald is an extremely friendly and enthusiastic guy and he has a long history in the Dutch family/cargo biking scene. Let’s put it this way, if there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to this scene, in my opinion he has earned a spot on it. He is a maker and someone who prefers to work with his hands to design and create.

His workspace just outside of Bruekelen is in a cool industrial park. I say cool because it actually didn’t look like a dirty drab lifeless industrial park like I would normally expect. It was nice and clean with a modern and inviting vibe to it.

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It has a large garage space with an overhead door and on the second floor there is an office space with a kitchen.

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His desk has a great view of the canal and a train line. It was quiet and peaceful and I could see how someone who loves to design and tinker could get a lot done here. It is a dream setup for an independent entrepreneur/craftsmen/engineer.

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We had some coffee and a slice of pie and got acquainted with one another. I once again can’t stress enough how meaningful it is for me to meet the people behind the bikes we sell. Beyond that even, to get along so well with them on a personal level makes me enjoy what I do that much more.

I was struck with two feelings while sitting there enjoying our chat. One was ‘why did it take me so damn long to figure out that these visits would be awesome and that I should make them happen’ and the other was ‘man I kinda wished I’d booked a whole day here’. As it was I scheduled another aggressive two-a-day so I only had about three hours to spend with Ronald before traveling off to my next destination.

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A majority of Onderwater Tandems are sold to rental agencies which makes perfect sense as they are kind of a sleeker version of those beastly 4 wheel Surrey bikes you see every now and then on Chicago’s lakefront path in the summertime. The Onderwater Tandem is indestructible and ideal for active cycling families on vacation. So long story short, if I decided someday to open a rental shop in a touristy coastal town, you could count on me having a strong fleet of Ronald’s bikes.

 

One thing Ronald mentioned that stuck out to me was about the general profile of his individual (non-rental company) customers and that was that they are mostly people with an above average level of enthusiasm for biking. And their Onderwater Tandem is not their first or second or even third bike. I thought that was pretty cool and totally jives with the customers we have sold them to.

Although I was visiting the Onderwater ‘headquarters’ where Ronald handles the ongoing R&D, stocks small parts and runs the sales/admin side of his company; the manufacturing and assemblies are done elsewhere in the Netherlands. As it turns out I had already visited both of the factories Ronald contracts with for this just the day before as Azor and Nijland are both involved with the production of his bikes.

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Here is an Onderwater Tandem that I saw being assembled during yesterdays visit to Nijland. That vibrant Red/Orange RAL2002 color is sizzlin’ hot!

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And here’s some more bold color Onderwater Tandems being assembled at Nijland. Ronald emailed this photo to me just the other day as a nice progress report on our pending order. The yellow one on the right is an XL model that will be available for sale at The Shop this spring and the teal green one next to it already has a home waiting for it here in Chicago.

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The first bike Ronald ever made was a Filibus style cargo bike (not the exact bike pictured above but a very similar front loader cargo bike with linkage steering). He saw one that he really liked and thought it was expensive and that he could make one himself. So he did. He still has that first one he ever made. And he still rides one of his early Filibus renditions to schlep his kite surfing gear to the waterfront.

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What do you do when nobody makes a single speed rear hub that is both roller brake compatible and beefy enough for one of your bikes? Well you make one. At least that’s how Ronald rolls.

We headed into Bruekelen for a quick and satisfying lunch at Loetje. Then Ronald dropped me off at the train station and I was off to my afternoon visit where I was about to see a factory that has been churning out bikes for more than 100 years.

Thank you very much Ronald. It was really great getting to know you and your bikes better and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

-Jon

Amsterdam Diaries Part 4- Azor Visit

Tuesday December 13, 2016 Continued

After my morning visit at Nijland, I made my way to the town of Hoogeveen to visit with Azor Bike. Azor is where all of the Workcycles classic city bikes we sell are made. They are also the home of the original Bakfiets.nl cargobike we used to sell from Workcycles in the pre-Kr8 days. Lastly, Azor is where some of the Onderwater Tandem bikes we sell are produced.

It was a pretty aggressive move on my part to schedule visits to both Nijland (in Heeten) and Azor (in Hoogeveen) on the same day. Lucky for me the trains all ran flawlessly on time and I didn’t get a flat tire.  2016-12-13-14-16-34

This is probably as good a time as any to give my ringing endorsement of the Dutch train system and the NS Reisplanner Xtra app for scheduling and fares. My memories of train travel from back when I lived in Amsterdam 10 years ago were always riddled with anxiety and uncertainty. I boarded the wrong train more than once back in those days despite being someone who is more than happy to ask around to conductors and other passengers if I was on the right train. Thanks to this handy dandy app, the days of missing transfers and waiting in the info kiosk line to find out which platform I should go to were over.

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Above is an image of my itinerary to get from Raalte to Hoogeveen with easy to follow platform instructions. Below is a map of the route.

2017-02-27-19-20-58Ok, back to Azor.

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Curious where the name Azor comes from? Azor founder, Jan Rijkeboer, wanted to have a cool logo with a silhouette of a bird of prey. After researching names he came across Azor and liked it and thought a short and easy to remember name was a good idea. BTW- Azor is Spanish for Goshawk.

First stop on the factory tour was the wheel building station. This being a factory and not a bicycle shop, building wheels the old fashioned way without a machine won’t cut it. So, somewhere along the line someone invented this cool piece of equipment specifically to speed up the wheel building process.

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Space. Having enough of it for building these large bikes is a serious demand. This is something we can relate to being a small bike shop that sells large bikes. In the above photo a Bakfiets frame is suspended upside down mid-assembly. Note the amount of space the factory has given to this station. You can tell that they recognize the workers’ efficiency is dependent on having enough space.

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Azor takes the quality and durability of their bikes very seriously. They continually test everything to ensure it can take a licking and keep on ticking. Aside from the usual beating with a hammer and drop testing, they put all parts in a salt spray chamber designed to mimic years worth of living outside in the Dutch elements to make sure they will not succumb to rust easily.

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Some colorful combinations in the queue of the Azor assembly line.

Here’s a photo gallery with more…

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Thank you Jan for taking the time and giving me such a thorough tour. And thank you kindly for this cool embossed metal Bakfiets.nl sign. It hangs proudly on our wall at The Shop.

The know your commodity chain tour is just getting going. Stay tuned for the next installment when I once again test the reliability of the Dutch train system with two visits on the same day.

-Jon

 

 

Amsterdam Diaries Part 3- Nijland Visit

Tuesday December 13, 2016 

Next stop on the know your commodity chain tour was Nijland (pronounced “Nih-LAHND”). The name Nijland most likely doesn’t ring a bell. That’s because we don’t sell a brand of bikes called Nijland, but we do sell a brand I’m sure you are familiar with called Workcycles. Nijland happens to be where all of the Workcycles F/K/G r8 family of bikes are produced and they are located in the town of Heeten.

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In addition to Workcycles, Nijland is a contract manufacturer for other similar small scale bike brands such as Onderwater, the classic Bakfiets, Brik and a brand we used to know well- De Fietsfabriek. Nijland also designs and produces their own line of adaptive bikes for riders with disabilities. According to the Nijland website, they have 13 employees, I have a feeling based on what I saw that this number has grown some.

The day started when I woke up to my alarm clock having overslept. This resulted in a mad dash to the train station through a steady rain in the pitch black morning before sunrise. I had to catch a train from Leiden to Amsterdam to meet Richard (from Workcycles) to then get on another train headed to Deventer. I narrowly made the train and then connected with Richard at Central Station-Amsterdam and we were off.

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This photo of the Workcycles crew was taken at their headquarters in Amsterdam on my trip back in summer of 2015. Richard is on the right there. Great guy and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him. He’s the right hand man of Workcycles founder Henry Cutler and my main point of contact on all of our dealings with them. It is fantastic having someone I can depend on to reply to my emails and help get our bike orders produced and shipped out in a timely fashion.

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After we arrived in Deventer, we had about a 40 minute bike ride through the countryside to get to Nijland. I had a great time between the train ride and the bike ride to the factory chewing the fat with Richard and learning more about how Workcycles operates. There is a ton of R&D, testing, moving parts and suppliers involved to take one of their bikes from concept to finished product. It was enlightening for me to peel back some of the layers of that onion and gives me a greater appreciation for their awesome bikes.

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The factory bosses boss bike.

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There is a dedicated team of three Nijland employees who perform all the Workcycles F/K/G r8 bike assemblies right here in this section of the factory. It was a pleasure meeting them and shaking their hands. I sometimes forget how much of a role the human element plays in the products we sell. This is what getting to know your commodity chain is all about, after all, and sadly, it’s something we’ve strayed from as economies have gotten less and less localized. Therefore, being here and meeting the folks who do this was kind of mind blowing. This is high quality attention to detail small scale manufacturing and it was really neat to see it first hand.

The other interesting thing to see is how the industry has become specialized in such a way that, if you want to make bikes, you don’t front the overhead for a factory to build them. This is because in such a huge economy, your business is busy enough dealing with designing and marketing the bikes. So, you contract a factory to build the bikes, and if that factory is successful, they’ll be good enough to build bikes for a variety of companies, all of whom might even be rivals in the market. This is basically what Nijland has done.

Here is a gallery of images giving you an inside look at this part of the factory.

A peak at the upper floor where painted frames and parts are stored

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An oldie but a goodie. Early days Workcycles Fr8 with a Massive Rack that is used as a factory transport bike at Nijland.

The highlight for me was definitely the painting shop. Nijland used to outsource their paint work so everything had to be transported back and forth to the powder coater. This was costly, time consuming and also left more chance of scuffs and dings during transport. So Nijland decided to invest in their own state of the art painting facility and we were given a thorough tour which was just amazing.

Here’s a step-by-step of how the magic happens…

STEP 1 – Degrease, wash and pretreat

STEP 2 – Primer coat

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STEP 3 – Pick your RAL number (30% is Matte, 70% is Semi-Gloss)

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STEP 4 – Powder coat

STEP 5 – Bake in the oven

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STEP 6 – Don’t touch the oven!

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Then marvel at the beautiful powder coating

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Thank you Richard for making the trip to Nijland with me and giving me the grand tour. It was a real eye opening experience.

After lunch, Richard and I parted ways and I raced off to the Raalte train station. Here’s a little video of my ride, if I sound a little winded, I was in a rush to catch that train.

Where was I heading that afternoon? Well you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

-Jon