Monday, October 4, 2010

omafiets

So you want a comfortable bike to take you around town nimbly balanced on two wheels?  Forget recumbents.  Omafiets, Dutch for "grandmother's bike" are the gold standard for comfort.  According to Mark Sanders, bicycle designer, a bolt upright riding posture is better than one leaning over to reach the handlebars.  Though not news to me, his accompanying photo was interesting because one of my big aspirations is to go on a cross country road trip by bike.  (And even if that never happens, I am still taking a lot of local bike trips.)  In his article Sanders was only considering upright bikes, but omafiets seem to come out on top even against recumbents.  The best recumbents I have ridden (and only recently does that statement carry any weight- see my report on Angletech) are the short wheel base "stick recumbents".  These bikes, like the Challenge Mistral or the Bacchetta Giro, are beautiful.  But while comfortable for short rides, exercising while in a very recumbent position can lead to minor numbness in one's feet, and to keep a relatively low seat height these bikes have 20 inch front wheels.  An omafiets has large 28 inch wheels that better smooth out irregularities in rough terrain.  But so can "crank forward" bikes, particularly those made by RANS.  However after reading about omafiets, RANS crank forward bikes seem to be a more expensive solution to a problem that doesn't exist, or if it does it is only because omafiets aren't widely enough known by or available to American riders.  Everything about omafiets are utilitarian, and they don't have more gears than you really need. 

I am about as far away from the Netherlands as one can get, so what are my options?  Probably the easiest thing I could do is try to assemble my own omafiets from different parts, beginning with the right size and shape of frame, handlebars, seat and wheels.  (According to some people, omafiets are similar to cruiser/comfort/leisure bikes, but there are often differences in frame geometry.)  I can also stay abreast of information from Velovision, prodigious bloggers like The Lazy Randonneur, and read Peter Eland's book "Practical Bike Buyer's Guide".  So will an omafiets make a good cross country bike?  I think so, they can easily be fitted with front and rear racks for carrying gear, so it looks like a good fit all around!  I wonder how many miles in the saddle I can log in one year?  BTW, if you look at other countries besides the Netherlands where bikes are a primary form of transportation you see the same general form.  For example, Japanese "mamachari" bikes are similar if not identical to many omafiets.


If you want to delve any further into the minutiae of Dutch bikes, there are also "opafiets" (grandpa bikes), the picture above is a bike of this variety.  At the linked page is an image showing the shape of the handlebars, an important feature of any oma or opafiets.

1 comment:

olivia john said...

I like drop bars because they help me to get out of headwinds, and they offer a range of different positions (useful on long rides, which correlates with touring).OmaFietsen 28 Inch