July 6, 2007

Bakfietsen: Dutch Work Bikes

If you take bicycles seriously as transport infrastructure, you begin to ask what you could do with one besides ride it. The Dutch have an answer to that question, or rather a LOT of answers. They build bakfietsen.

The dictionary calls it a "carrier bike," but translated literally "bakfiets" means "barge bike" -- a very natural metaphor here in Waterland. One of my American friends called them "wheelbarrow bikes," and the most popular version does look something like a wooden wheelbarrow stuck onto the front of a bike. The ones in the top photo here have three wheels, but the wheelbarrow style usually just has two, as in the second photo, where you can also see the kickstand.

Carrying two or three kids is easy in a bakfiets. This guy has one kid on the back, two in the front, and full saddlebags as well. And here is my friend Fiona with her luxury bakfiets, standing outside my son's school. (By the way, in 7 months of taking my son to school here, I have not seen a single child arrive in a car.) Naturally people use them for all kinds of things: shopping, moving house, work of all sorts.

Here's a bike with another way to carry children: multiple baby seats. (The Dutch would not call these bakfietsen, but they're still work bikes.) This one has seats for three kids, plus the adult rider. Yesterday I saw a guy riding an ordinary bike with a baby on the handlebars, a young girl sitting right behind him on the rack, and another girl standing on the rack behind the first girl, holding onto the rider's shoulders. (You try to get pictures of these things, but it's just not possible.)

Finally, here's a bicycle taxi, with room for two people. Costs about the same as a regular taxi for short runs, and though it's slower it can do things a taxi can't, such as ride you right up onto the sidewalk to get close to a door in a rainstorm, as we did the other day.