Amsterdam Diaries Part 10- TwoTone Amsterdam Visit

Friday December 16, 2016 Continued

One of the first appointments I locked down for this trip was to meet up with Jon Woodroof. Jon is the founder of TwoTone Amsterdam, a consulting/PR agency that does work with innovative start ups including many companies in the cycling industry. They also happen to have a really entertaining newsletter that I always find to be a worthy read. For a quick intro to Jon, check out this recent interview of him from Amsterdam based startup Headroom.

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A peek inside the Twotone Amsterdam space

Flashback to September 2010…

I first met Jon back in 2010 when he was visiting Chicago from Atlanta with his wife and their son and they rented a Bakfiets from us (disclaimer- we no longer offer rentals at The Shop). It was really great meeting them and Jon was super into what we were doing importing Dutch bikes to the U.S. as he had previously ran a bike shop of his own in Atlanta.

Chicago Trip, write up coming soon

photo credit – Jon Woodroof

Chicago Trip, write up coming soon

photo credit – Jon Woodroof

For more sweet pics of their time in Chicago including some early days shots of The Shop, check out Jon’s flickr photo album.

We stayed in contact for a while through social media and I remember seeing pictures online of his wife’s bike; a first generation Civia Loring (a bike we used to sell and one that deserves it’s own post on our blog as it was such a beautifully crafted city bike).

Fast forward to September 2015…

While on another one of my trips visiting Amsterdam and what do I see in the service shop at Workcycles… a Civia Loring.

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The Civia Loring all Dutchified with Clarijs panniers, child back rest and a Bobike mini child seat mount.

Seeing a U.S. bike brand like Civia in Holland certainly got my attention but that alone wasn’t enough to make the connection it was Jon’s wife’s bike. Then later that same day while getting a quick demo of Workcycles’ point of sale software, I noticed the name Woodroof in their work order queue and quickly put two and two together.

I was excited to learn that Jon and his family had made the move from the US to Amsterdam. I then joined Jon’s TwoTone Amsterdam newsletter and made a mental note to try and connect with him on a future trip. Which brings me to my visit today with Jon.

Fast forward to now (December 2016)… 

After spending some of my afternoon with Henry Cutler at Workcycles, I made the hop skip and a jump bike ride over to TwoTone’s work space.

I booked my meet up with Jon for Friday afternoon with the intention we could have a beer together heading into the weekend. But we were both completely zapped from a long week so the happy hour idea never got off the ground.

It was a really nice time catching up and hearing how he is pulling off the dream of settling down in Amsterdam with his wife and raising their kids. As someone who loves bikes as much as Jon does, he sure has found himself in no better place on earth to live out his cycling passions on a daily basis both professionally and personally. I often think about pulling up stakes and making Amsterdam home again someday and it’s super encouraging to hear from people who make it happen.

It was also cool sharing with Jon what The Shop has been up to lately and what I have in mind for the years ahead. If I could draw one parallel between us, aside from both being no ‘h’er Jon’s, I would say it’s the passion we put into what we do and how much of that is derived from the partners (in his case clients, in our case suppliers) we choose to support and represent.

Speaking of, we will be representing TwoTone Amsterdam here at The Shop with a nice supply of their sweet TwoTone Amsterdam x VERA bike caps.

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We have a small shipment of these fresh lids on order. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on their imminent arrival.

Thank you Jon for taking the time to meet up. We will leave that beer for next time!

Well that’s all folks! I appreciate you taking the time to join me on this ride. This was undoubtedly my most productive trip back to Holland. It was fantastic to learn more about this little corner of the bike industry that we are a part of and see for my own eyes how many of our suppliers do what they do. I am heading home to Chicago with my passion for everything Dutch bikes fully stoked and more excited than ever for the future of The Shop.

Until next time Amsterdam.

-Jon

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.

 

Velo-ce Draisina Classic Green

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 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

 

 

Amsterdam Diaries Part 2- Clarijs Visit

Monday December 12, 2016 

The first visit on my agenda was with Clarijs (pronounced “Claire-ICE”). They are the makers of the colorful cargo bike rain canopies and bike bags that brighten up our shop and keep our customers’ kids dry and toasty inside their cargo bikes. We’ve been a Clarijs dealer for several years, originally via Workcycles, another Dutch brand. But eventually, we became such big fans of their work and were ordering such large quantities we decided to order from Clarijs directly. We love how you can take one of their bright panniers or Bakfiets rain canopies and instantly give a black or grey bike a dynamite splash of color and personality.

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The trip to see Clarijs took me to the southwestern corner of the Netherlands to the region known as Zeeland. Clarijs is located in the small village Serooskerke which is near Middelburg. I’d never been to this part of the Netherlands before, but even in a country this small, it’s exciting to be en route to a totally new area.

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I stayed with my good friend Joost in Leiden the night before my visit to Clarijs. He was nice enough to offer use of his car for the trip. I was definitely tempted as it would’ve saved me a lot of time vs the train. Ultimately I opted for the train because it’s way more relaxing to see the countryside and you can actually do something with your time. I get stressed the rare times I drive in Chicago when I know where I’m going. Driving directionless in a foreign country? No thanks.

Besides, my main justification for bringing my fancy new folding bike on this trip was for it’s magical multi modal capabilities for just this type of A to B travel. Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out the last time I drove Joost’s car, I got a speeding ticket in Germany on our way back from Eurobike so that made the decision an even easier one!

2016-12-12-08-10-38Rise and shine from Leiden.

One of my favorite videos I took on the entire trip was on the train ride from Leiden to Middelburg. This is the bike parking at the Bergen op Zoom train station. Yep, that’s the town’s name and yep, that’s how much bike parking is required for this town with a population of 65k! I can’t wait for the day when this sort of infrastructure is common stateside. A guy can dream can’t he? 🙂

Upon arriving in Middelburg, Diana (one of the Clarijs owners) was nice enough to come pick me up at the train station. I got a chance to meet Diana’s husband Frank in the summer of 2015 when we met up at Eurobike, but this was my first time after countless emails getting to put a face with her name.

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Me and Frank at Eurobike 2015

Clarijs was founded in 1948 by Diana’s grandfather and granduncle and originally made leather saddles and then when demand for that slowed down they started making boat sails. They still do some business repairing boat sails and boat covers. Diana and Frank have been involved for many years with running the business and officially took over complete ownership just a few years ago.

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The company is part retail camping (or to be more accurate glamping) store and part bike bags & cargo bike accessories factory. The bike stuff goes down in the back room of the store. The camping shop is closed in the winter which is when they can focus all their attention on the bike business.

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A view of the workshop from the second floor.

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Monique showing me how it’s done.

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A large order of custom branded bike bags for one of their clients.

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Here’s a prototype of a high ceiling rain canopy which they’re messing around with.

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Here is the punch they use to install those giant anti-theft grommets on the top of the bike panniers. Clarijs acquired it via old school bartering with a client of theirs who saw they had a need for such a tool and gave it to them in exchange for some product.

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Stenciling out the back section of a Bakfiets/Kr8 rain canopy.

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As a small, small business owner, I found it fascinating to see how Clarijs (itself a small business) has done everything they can do to make their bag construction as streamlined and convenient as possible. As such, the bag assemblies are done in steps, very much in assembly line fashion. Near the top you see the front/back sides of their panniers with the stripes of reflective material and in the foreground you’ll see the flaps that help to keep the rain from getting in. On the Clarijs cutting room floor, even the flaps have flaps.

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More pre-assembled bag parts in various colors.

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It’s surreal and fun (in a Willy Wonka sort of way) to see huge spools of fabric you find familiar but it’s out of the context you normally see it in, i.e. a bicycle pannier bag.

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Meet the fine folks from Clarijs. Clockwise from back left (Toni, Leo, Twan, Ozzie, Frank, Kees, Diana, Sammy and Monique). This is where the real value of making this sort of trip lies, in knowing the people behind the products.

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Checking out some of the patterns on the recycled bags they had in stock. Clarijs purchases these recycled materials, mostly from old truck tarps and large advertising banners, which they then clean and make bags and covers from them. We haven’t stocked these up until now but I really dig some of them and am now planning to bring some to The Shop.

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Enjoying some oliebollen, a Christmastime Dutch treat of fried dough goodness. Thank you Frank & Diana for your hospitality!

One interesting side note. Clarijs is close to the Oosterscheldekering sea defense wall, which is where they host the Headwind Championships.

I remembered coming across this video in my twitter feed shortly before my trip and then Frank mentioned it while I was there. Isn’t it hilarious just how small the world has become?

Ok, I’ll close on that. Stay tuned for the next part of my journey where I finally get to see where our most popular bike, the Workcycles Fr8, is made.

-Jon