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

 

 

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

 

California Living

Freshly back from an extended weekend in Northern California to see some of my family and my girlfriend’s friends. Figured I’d share some thoughts from the trip. We were there for 6 days and 5 nights and we stayed in a sweet airbnb which was a converted Airstream trailer in the host’s backyard in Berkeley. Berkeley is on the East Bay just north of Oakland. Here’s a map for good measure.

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Bay Area Map (1) – Note the size of San Francisco is just about 7 miles x 7 miles

Before going further, a few thoughts on Berkeley. I loved it. The pace was perfect, the people friendly, lots of energy from the college campus, bike boulevards throughout and plenty of people getting around on bike. The weather was warm in the high 40’s to low 60’s (OK, warm for a Chicagoan in January). Some rain but seeing as they’ve been in a drought of biblical proportions we were happy to see rain was finally falling. I didn’t see any strip malls and noticed a good number of independent mom and pop shops all over town.

We spent the majority of our time in Berkeley but also got a full day of exploring San Francisco (important to note here that it’s OK to say San Francisco or simply refer to it as ‘the city’. It however is not kosher to use abbreviations like San Fran, Frisco or even the nice and clean SF). We also spent the better part of a day checking out Oakland and had an afternoon up in Marin County in Tiburon.

People were getting around on two wheels just about everywhere we went. In Berkeley there is a complete network of bike boulevards and in San Francisco there were brightly painted green bike lanes on a lot of the streets. Some fully protected and some just designated bike lanes with the green paint. Something I can imagine actually works well all four seasons since the streets are never covered in snow or salt and winter grime.

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Nice wide bike lane on Market Street in San Francisco

Now back to my impressions…

Berkeley Bowl ‘Experience’

It’s a thing here. Aside from the inevitable discussion with locals about the crazy high cost of rent, the topic of grocery shopping at the infamous Berkeley Bowl was a close second. They have an east and a west location. The original location was in a converted bowling alley which is where the name comes from. We were closer to the west one so that’s where we went.

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Only picture I took – Didn’t realize I would be writing about this place or I would’ve taken more…

Great store, they are independent and have a solid selection- especially the bread we had. Best way to describe it would be the size of a Jewels (one of our larger grocers in Chicago) with the vibe of a food coop and organic/natural products of a whole foods. They are able to attract a faithful following by putting out great products at competitive prices. Duh.

When we told our friend we were heading there she was excited for us and couldn’t wait to get our impressions on the ‘experience’. My interest was peaked, how can shopping at this store be such a big deal? I was also interested because I worked for a smaller family run grocery store growing up.

It was relatively calm and uneventful but we were there on a weekday early afternoon. While walking around the store you got a sense that the customers were sort of in their own little world there. But, I think you can say that about customers in a lot of stores, grocery or otherwise.

While I was checking out I overheard a comment from the customer in front of me to the cashier about how strange it was that it is was so calm. This was my first clue that the Berkeley Bowl ‘experience’ existed.

In the ensuing conversations with locals about Berkeley Bowl we heard varying thoughts about what this cultural phenomenon was all about. The general consensus was that the majority of shoppers who go there can be stand-offish, anti-social and in their own little bubble. Very little eye contact or friendly ‘excuse me’. Some told stories of people ramming your cart with theirs to get yours out of the way or pushing their cart into your ankles and not apologizing for it. All very civilized behavior…

I did a little internet search to dig deeper and came across this LA Times article which I think explains things a little better. Next time we are in Berkeley we will be sure to shop on a weekend to get the real Berkeley Bowl ‘experience’.

Bikes on the BART

The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the local commuter train that connects the east bay with the city. It’s fast and it’s clean but it’s not cheap. Our ride from SFO airport to Berkeley was $10 (fare is based on distance traveled). Which is a lot compared to the flat fare of $2.25 on the CTA (although I did just discover that it’s $5 to take the CTA blue line from O’Hare. It’s still the normal $2.25 from Midway though, not that I needed another reason to prefer Midway over O’Hare).

During that first BART ride, I noticed at least 10 bikes on the platform or on the train cars. There are no restrictions on when you can or can’t bring a bike on the BART. This is a big point of contention with the folks who commute by train since the bikes take up a lot of space and people will bring them on even when it is packed like sardines.

I’m about as pro-bike as they come but I can certainly sympathize with this frustration. Getting on and off of a packed train is not fun and it’s just not practical or considerate for someone to have their bike on it. One way to squash this beef is getting a folding bike. Another, and one that clearly is utilized, is going multi-modal and riding your bike and locking it up at the station. The North Berkeley BART station was loaded with bike parking and from what I could see it was almost completely full.

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Bike Racks at North Berkeley BART station

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Bike boxes at the North Berkeley BART station

Bike shops

I always try to visit as many shops as I can whenever I travel. Here is a list of the shops we checked out on this trip:

Huckleberry Bicycles – San Francisco

Linus Bikes – San Francisco

Missing Link Bike Coop – Berkeley

Blue Heron Bikes (they were closed Sunday so we just peaked in window) – Berkeley

Bay Area Bikes Forefront Storefront – Oakland

People actually care about sustainable living

California was the first state to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in 1995. That’s 3 years before it was banned federally on commercial flights and nearly 13 years ahead of when Illinois woke up and passed a ban.

There is a strong connection to the planet here which makes sense since they are surrounded by incredible nature in every direction. In Berkeley, everywhere you turned people were composting and recycling.

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Vik’s Chaat House in Berkeley. Delicious Indian food. Composting & recycling was like this at every restaurant we went to in Berkeley.

I guess my point here is seeing as California was ahead of the curve on the smoking ban, my hope is we will follow their lead on composting before too long in Chicago and other parts of the country.

Composting is not easy for vast majority of city dwellers. However, there are now local businesses all over the country who are helping make it possible. These guys, Healthy Soil Compost, here in Chicago will even bike to your home to pick up your compost. I haven’t used them but am planning to start up a subscription this spring.

Pedal People, in Northampton Mass, takes it a step further and even does curbside trash pickup by bike.

Sandwiches and Rental Bikes

We feasted on some of the best sandwiches you’ll find anywhere at Lunchpad in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. They have a unique concept in that they are a daily pop-up lunch spot who leases out the kitchen and dining space of a wine bar that operates in the space in the evenings.

It also happens to be owned and run by one of my cousins. Yeah I’m biased here no doubt, but I honestly would put their sandwiches up against any others anywhere. They do catering so anybody in the area who wants to impress their co-workers or clients with these fantastic sammies, you won’t be disappointed.

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The Turkey Drizzle- roast turkey, habanero candied bacon, Swiss, cashew pesto, caramelized onions, giardiniera, greens, tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. It’s all that and a bag a chips! Plus you get some of our Grandpa’s famous pickles on the side.

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We rented a few bikes from CityRide Bike Rentals in one of these aforementioned shipping containers. Extremely friendly staff here, they took the time to talk through optional routes for our three hour journey to check out the sights of the city. The bikes were well maintained and had plenty of the needed gears for mashing up hills. There were a few times though that I was wishing I had my Brooks saddle, next time I’ll BYOB.

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CityRide Bike Rentals in Hayes Valley

I’m happy to say my life is firmly planted in Chicago with no intentions of moving anywhere anytime soon. However, if I was looking to move, Berkeley and the bay area would be tops on my list. If only the rent wasn’t so damn high!

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