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 9- Coffee With Pete Jordan

Friday December 16, 2016   

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Back when I was making out the schedule for this trip, my strategy was to get the supplier visits locked down first and then leave some open room for meeting other relevant, interesting people. High on my list of people I wanted to meet was Pete Jordan.

Pete Jordan is an American who has lived in Amsterdam since 2002. He is also the author of the book ‘In The City Of Bikes: The Story Of The Amsterdam Cyclist’. This book first came to my attention from a customer’s recommendation a few years ago. It is hands down the most entertaining and informative book I’ve ever read about Dutch bikes and the history of biking in Amsterdam. If you are into Dutch bikes, this is must read stuff here.

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I’ve read Pete’s book cover to cover twice now and I often go back to reference specific sections like Chapter 6 where he highlights the key factors that have lead to the Dutch obsession with bikes and how it contrasts with the United States’ obsession with cars. I dwell on this section of the book a lot as someone who dreams of cities like Chicago someday resembling Amsterdam with a constant stream of bikes up and down every street. This chapter is a bit of a double edged sword; it’s inspiring for me to read about the Dutch biking culture but equally depressing reading about how historically ingrained the car culture is in the US.

When I first finished his book, I was inspired to meet Pete someday. I really wanted to meet this fellow American expat who moved to Amsterdam and was as nuts about Dutch bikes as I was. Our lives followed similar trajectories up until a point; that point being when I decided to move back and sell Dutch bikes. Pete on the other hand decided to stay and make Amsterdam his permanent home.

I reached out to Pete a few months before my trip to try and arrange a meet up. I was really excited when I heard back that he was available and up for it. After I got to Holland we settled on a place and time and met for a coffee at de Wasserette (Dutch for The Laundry) in De Pijp neighborhood of Amsterdam.

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This cafe provided the backdrop of our conversation

We hung out for about an hour and had some great conversation. It was really cool and kind of strange, having read his book I felt like I knew him already and was catching up with an old friend. Pete is an easygoing and friendly guy, it certainly helped that we have such a strong commonality in our passion for all things Dutch bikes.

In addition to being an accomplished author, Pete also happens to be a talented photographer. I picked Pete’s brain about how to capture and share the experience of Dutch biking. When I come to Amsterdam on these trips this is something that I always try to do but can be really difficult. I want to make this experience available in the virtual sense to the J.C. Lind family, where they feel like they are a part of the action. I mentioned to Pete how it can be frustrating when you either can’t get your camera ready fast enough to capture a Mom biking by with 5 kids on her bike, or, right after you put your camera down the action you’ve been patiently waiting for rolls right past you. Pete made a good suggestion which is to narrow the focus of what you want to capture. So you tune your radar, turn it into a fun challenging game and only pull your camera out for that preordained theme you’ve chosen to capture; ie. people transporting their Christmas trees on their bike. For a prime example of his strategy in action, check out this post from the Workcycles blog (Beldoppen: Why Only Some People Can Be Artists) about a really cool photography project of Pete’s.

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De Lairessestraat – a highly trafficked street in the Oud-Zuid (Old South) neighborhood of Amsterdam

I took the above photo the day after I met with Pete as this particular street came up during our chat. This is De Lairessestraat, a long straight street that runs the entire length of the linear Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s iconic city park). It is an arterial street, highly trafficked by many modes of transport as you can see. It also happens to be a street that has what in Dutch terms is inferior bicycle infrastructure. Cyclists have no protections from motorized traffic and have to share a narrow space with parked cars to their right and trams/cars/buses to their left. Pete mentioned that Amsterdam’s city hall is currently discussing potential improvements to make this street safer for cyclists. Just like here in the states, they have the same NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) folks who object because they don’t want to lose their parking spots. However, Pete pointed out very casually that this being Amsterdam the city council ultimately will side with the cyclists.

It was encouraging and refreshing to hear such places exist where the local government prioritizes cycling. It hasn’t always been this way in Holland. One of the key takeaways from Pete’s book for me was that the Dutch biking culture is not something that just came naturally or without any resistance or effort, the Dutch have had to fight long and hard for it.

I recommend checking out the above YouTube of Pete’s appearance on David Letterman while he was promoting his first book ‘Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All 50 States’. Not only is the video hilarious but it will also give you a great introduction to Pete. I haven’t read ‘Dishwasher’ yet but I just ordered a copy and it is next up in my reading list.

We have ‘In The City Of Bikes’ in stock at The Shop and I gotta say, I get almost as much joy from selling a copy of Pete’s book as I do from selling a bike. Thank you kindly Pete for taking the time to meet with me, I hope to see you again the next time around.

The sun is starting to set on this trip, stay tuned for my final entry where I’ll wrap things up.

-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

Amsterdam Diaries Part 1- Planes, Trains & Bromptons

This past December I took a 9 day trip back to my home away from home, Amsterdam. My normal modus operandi on recent trips has been to spend time with friends, revisit old haunts, keep a casual eye out for any new potential products, and if any business related ventures were to take place, it would be checking in with our key suppliers, like Workcycles. I would always return from these trips feeling re-energized, having had my passion for Dutch biking batteries recharged. But, I would also be left feeling like I could’ve done more if I was more pro-active in my pre-trip planning.

This go-around, I decided it was time to change up the rhythm. On this trip, I wanted to visit with as many of our existing (and new) suppliers as I could. I also wanted to take it a step further and see the factories where most of the products we sell are made. So after booking my flight, I went to work planning and scheduling what I would be doing each day so that all my little duckies were in a row before I arrived. I won’t lie, it was time consuming work to line up all the moving parts, logistics, and people’s schedules. But, well worth it for the peace of mind knowing I had a direction and goals to fulfill on this trip.

This plan of mine to make this a real ‘business trip’ was part of the reason my girl Molly Rose didn’t come along. Although I’m sure she would’ve been fine entertaining herself, ultimately the few affordable airfare dates I could find didn’t work out scheduling wise. Sorry babes, next time!

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All packed and ready to go. It’s pretty easy to spot the bike nerd by the luggage they use 🙂

This past fall, after a few years of wanting one, I bought a Brompton folding bike. I still can’t help but scratch my head and laugh at the absurdity of bringing a bike to Holland. After all, my thing is importing bikes from Holland. Not to mention there are more bikes there than people, talk about bringing sand to the beach 😉

I got a chance to test out traveling with my Brompton on a flight to Denver and was surprised with how easy it was. Packed up in the B-bag shown above it fits within the size and weight limits of standard luggage so you can check it without much hassle. I’m hooked and gotta say it’s a pretty damn empowering feeling sitting on the plane knowing you’ll have a bike with you when you get to your destination.

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Getting ready to touch down at Schiphol Airport. Winters can be quite bleak in Holland so you never know how much sun you’re going to get, if any. This time it turned out I was really lucky  with almost no rain, temps in the upper 30’s and mid 40’s (F) and even a few days of sun.

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Schiphol Airport. In my experience the cleanest and coolest airport there is, almost worth the transatlantic flight alone. Walking off the plane and seeing familiar sights even as mundane as the yellow directional signs gives me a good feeling of being back in Amsterdam. I get pretty bad jet lag, too, so all the stimuli of this airport really helps to fight off the grogginess.

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They made a section of the floor at Schiphol transparent so you can watch the baggage going down the conveyor belt as it makes it’s way to the baggage claim. Totally unnecessary but also an awesome design feature.

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More radness at Schiphol: a two way phone similar to what they have in prisons. But in this case so you can chat with your loved ones while they are waiting for their luggage to arrive.

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The only bad mark I could give on my airport experience was the long line to purchase train tickets. The wait was longer than the actual train ride to get into town. You can use credit cards at these automated machines (something I don’t remember being able to do in past trips) and they also had live tellers which is where I ended up going. The extra fee for using the teller is nominal and worth it as there’s nothing slower than a bunch of tourists trying to figure out how to use the automated machines for the first time.

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All aboard the train from Schiphol headed to the RAI station. Not even in Amsterdam yet and already seeing two bikes on my train ride. That’s how you know you’ve come to the right place, my friends.

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I took this (admittedly crappy photo) as I walked out from the RAI station in Amsterdam. If you look closely, both of those riders have little kids in front handlebar mounted Yepp Mini baby seats. It’s a sight that would blow my mind and make my day if it was anywhere in the states. But in bike-happy Amsterdam, this is no big deal. (Also notice how the bicyclers aren’t wearing helmets, and furthermore, not being corrected or criticized for this behavior by a bystander or a motorist, because the helmet-less bicyclists are actually the majority here).

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A nourishing breakfast made by my good friend JL. They call this Uitsmijter (pronounced “OUTS-my-ter”). We call it toast with eggs, bacon and cheese, served open face and consumed with a fork and knife.

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It’s not what it looks like! First order of business was to return these empties. That’s JL there, he hosted a holiday party a few days before my arrival which is where all the empty Freddies (a homage to Alfred Heineken) came from.

I love that they have an effective system where the bottles get returned and then reused. I think it works out to a 20 euro cent deposit per bottle so you get about 5 euro per case upon return.

Initially I was annoyed that the first thing we would be doing after arriving in Amsterdam was an errand in a car. But then I got to do one of my favorite things which is grocery shop in a foreign country; something (for me) that can rival even Schiphol Airport in anti-jet lag stimuli.

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You scan all your items on your phone as you are shopping and relay that from your phone at the self check out! It’s almost like we’re 5 years behind in the U.S. and going to Amsterdam is like going to the future.

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The cool Dutch design wasn’t over with yet. I couldn’t help but notice how well lit and visibly marked this pedestrian walkway was in the parking garage. Then as we exited the garage all we did was pull up and the gates opened without having to deal with a ticket. JL explained that they scan your license plate on the way in and if you are there for less than 90 minutes it just lets you out free of charge. Nifty, even if it is something that makes driving cars more convenient.

Ok, time to get into what I really came for. Hanging with my Dutch friends is a huge bonus, but this was a business trip after all. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I visit with Clarijs, makers of the awesome bike panniers and cargo bike rain covers that we sell at The Shop.

-Jon