Visit to a Dutch bicycle shop

Bicycle shops in the Netherlands are different from the rest of the world, in the same way Dutch cycling is different. The upright bicycle to get from A to B safely and conveniently not only dominates the streets, but also the shops. That makes that a bicycle shop in the Netherlands does not look like a shop for sports equipment, but much more like a place where you get what you need for a means of transport. A place where you are also welcome when you are over 40 and in ordinary clothes.

shop interior
The all new shop interiour of “Kemps Bike Totaal” in ’s-Hertogenbosch

Like most of the Dutch I visit one and the same shop for all my bicycle related wishes. Ever since I came to live in ’s-Hertogenbosch 18 years ago, I went to a nearby shop that suits me. I recently went there to buy a new bicycle, something I didn’t need to do in all those years. The time has come to say goodbye to my “English” bike. Even though it is not even half the age of the Dutch bike I also own. This foreign bike has to give in to the consequences of ordinary Dutch daily use for so many years. Something the Dutch bike endures without problems.

Video showing the interview I had with Rick Kemps in his (and his wife’s) bicycle shop.

Rick and Mignonne Kemps are the current owners of the shop I frequent: “Kemps bike totaal“. A shop that was founded on this location by Rick’s father Jan in 1960. But there were two generations before them, who had shops in this region as well. Gerrit Kemps had opened a shop in Hintham in 1925 and Willem Kemps was the first to open a bicycle shop in Gemonde around 1911. There will be a 5th generation too. Rick and Mignonne’s son Tommy Kemps already works in the shop on Saturdays and in school holidays. He has shown great interest to continue the family tradition that already lasts over a century. On some days you can find Tommy side by side with his grand-dad, who hasn’t really left the shop yet. Sure, he is at the age of retirement, but his life wouldn’t be complete without bicycles!

Typical Dutch upright bicycles in the expanded workshop for repair and maintenance.

As a real city bicycle shop Kemps sells mainly what the Dutch call ‘city bikes’. The upright every day bicycles which are so typical for the Netherlands, that the Germans even call them “Hollandrad” (Dutch bicycle). Of course they also sell everything you could need as a sports cyclist, whether you are a mountain biker or a ‘wheel runner‘ (racer), but these two categories only make up close to 3% of the sales each. Almost 95% of the turnover is made by selling the upright bikes and everything related to it. Like classy panniers, baskets, children’s seats and rain gear. E-bikes were 15% of the sales in numbers in the last two years, but these sales account for 40% of the turnover. The workshop also brings in a lot of the income. With the current recession people rather have their old bike repaired and revised than that they buy a new one. Reason for a recent conversion of the shop. In March 2013, the workshop, previously hidden in the back and only reachable via a narrow and long corridor, was brought to the front and became open and visible to all. The beautiful historic basement was opened for the sale of second-hand bicycles and a part was designated as storage room. The refurbishment of the shop floor completes the make-over that gives the family company a solid basis to continue trade even in these times.

Selling bicycles as sports equipment may only form a small proportion of their work, but when I ask Rick if they enjoy selling racing bikes and mountain bikes his eyes begin to twinkle. “Sure we do! We are all enthusiastic about cycling ourselves. We ride together with a part of the staff on Mondays (when the shop is closed) on mountain bikes. Two of the staff really do ‘wielrennen‘ (racing). So of course we are keen to advise others about their equipment. That is really great fun!”

Unlike an increasing number of other shops nowadays, there is a whole array of different children’s bicycles on offer at Kemps Bike Totaal.

And the love for the trade is also shown by the fact that a whole range of bicycles for children in different sizes for different age groups can be found in the shop. This is something you see less and less even in the Netherlands, as many revert to the internet – forced or by choice – for their children’s bikes. Rick is clear: “It takes just as much effort to sell a children’s bike as it does to sell an electric bike. But the children’s bike sells for about 200 to 400 euro and an e-bike sells for up to 10 times as much. That is a reason why some of my colleagues have stopped selling them. But we feel that our shop wouldn’t be complete without them, so we choose to go that extra mile for our customers.”

The range of brands Kemps sells is a bit at the upper end of the market. “Koga is a very good Dutch brand that we sell a lot, but of course we also sell Gazelle, Sparta and Batavus, the more mainstream but good Dutch bike brands. Some bikes that come from abroad are of an acceptable quality, mainly if the manufacturers were advised by Dutch or other European designers. But bicycles that were completely designed and constructed abroad are not up to the vigorous way the Dutch use them day in day out in all types of weather. You won’t find them here. We want to sell good quality products, with a professional advice, service level and guarantees, that’s simply it.”

And this is the bicycle I ordered.

Since cycling is so widespread in the Netherlands, the bicycle shops are widespread as well. According to the telephone directory, the municipality of ’s-Hertogenbosch has 24 locations where you can buy bicycles or have them repaired. Not bad for a municipality with a population of 143,000.

The 24 bicycle shops in ’s-Hertogenbosch are spread out over the city. Every borough has at least one shop and there is a higher concentration in the city centre.

39 thoughts on “Visit to a Dutch bicycle shop

  1. I am Dutch but my view is that Dutch bikes are typically not the best commuter bikes. The typical Dutch brands are for me too much “fashion” brands and I better like often German “hybride” bikes.

    What I like about the Gazelle Eclipse, is the Nexus-8 hub and the protected chain but I do not like the relative cheap suspension fork and seatpost and have my doubts with roller brakes.

    Relative cheap suspension forks and seatposts do not really add comfort (spring versus damper) while they add cost and are the components needing service the first. A much better alternative is, like Vicor5 is writing, fat tires and, if more comfort is wanted, parallel suspension seatposts from Cane Creek, Suntour, Contec, Schulz, Cirres etc.

    Roller brackes are nice in a sense that the have low maintenance but the brake performance is intermediate and you always have some drag.

  2. estoy interesado en la adquisición de varios cuadriciclos.
    Tienen este producto?, Cual seria su precio?

  3. Hello
    I have tried to zoom in to the actual image but I lose the resolution and can’t read! Can anyone tell me the manufacture of the bicycle in the ‘photo (Typical Dutch upright bicycles in the expanded workshop for repair and maintenance).
    I LOVE this bicycle!!
    Thank you so much in advance.

  4. Well, come now. My 45-year-old Italian racing bike fitted with fixed-wheel, rack, fenders, and lights has seen 45,000 miles (not km) of hard use in all weathers except snow on the shattered streets of Los Angeles. Carrying goods too. I don’t think it can be described as fragile. Recently a truck mashed it while it was locked to a pole; the wheel bent, but the fame, despite a small dent, rides on while I wait for a new wheel with a dyno hub (I am using the old wheel, which saw only 42000 miles, not km, of service until I became tired of dealing with batteries).

    Dutch bikes are okay for short distances–yes I have ridden several, including a Gazelle bakfiets for an extended road test of several hundred miles–but they would be less than useful in a city where long distances are the norm such as Los Angeles. Prejudice cuts both ways. Ride before you deride.

    1. Yes, 45 years ago they still built them from steel in Italy! Nowadays, it’s carbon fiber, which you can throw out with the hard rubbish as soon as it has a scratch.

  5. The shop I go to here in Boston (Hub Bicycle in Cambridge) actually does not even sell bikes, it is repair only. She has a small selection of items, racks, bags, bells, lights, helmets, no clothes but income comes from repairs mostly. As such they are adapt at fixing 3 speed British cruisers, dutch uprights, as well as mountain and sport cycles. It is the only place I can take my 8 speed internal hub Breezer city bike and actually get it repaired or repacked. All the other shops look at me funny, or say yes we can do that and then they end up braking something (or like whoa I have not seen a roller brake before). Boston is missing a nice shop selling Dutch and cargo models, usually the ones here (and there are more and more) come up from a shop in NYC. Thanks for a great post!

    1. It’s months later and you may have heard, but there is now a shop near the Cambridge-Somerville line that sells cargo bikes and some city bikes. They’re on short hours now, what with holidays, winter, and the proprietor is a new mom as of (I think) last week, but they’re there, she’s selling cargo bikes and accessories.
      See .

  6. A thumbs up for ‘The Dutch Bike Shop’ in Littlehampton UK where I purchased my Batavus Lento some two years ago!

  7. You might want to add to the information that in NL the average margin of such regular bicycle shops is below -1%, which means that the mainstream urban bicycle market is more than saturated and lacks innovation. In most cities such, often family operated, business wil cease to exist in a couple of years from now. Devastating for the support of everyday cycling.

    1. As Mark notes in his post, they make money repairing bicycles.
      Also bike repair profits from being able to charge the low VAT rate.
      But still, lots of those small shops will disappear, it’s a pity.

  8. How did you decide which bike to buy? Did you test ride any bikes? Did you consider buying an e-bike?

  9. It’s not a bike I’d choose nowadays, but I have a Trek-made Gary Fisher Wingra, which is really a simple hybrid. And although it’s been through more consumables than I imagine a Dutch bike would under similar use, I feel I should defend its robustness and continuing function after almost daily use over a number of years.

  10. Good post!!, I´m from Spain and here it´s so difficult to buy a Dutch branded bike like Gazelle, Batavus, Sparta… Most of bike shops in Netherlands don´t deliver for foreign countries. I´ve asked directly to Gazelle´s customer service and they answered me to ask a family member, friend or business relation to take a bike with them when they come to visit you becouse. It´s sad to have to buy a Dutch bike in UK, where there are some bike shops that deliver abroad.

  11. I’m very impressed with the value at my local Amsterdam bike shop. They’ll service my bike for 20 euros, compared to the $78 (around 60 euros) I’ve paid for the same job in Australia.

    Consequently, my Dutch bikes get very professionally serviced. My Australian one gets a squirt of chain oil in my front yard every now and then.

  12. There are some bike shops outside of The Netherlands that specialise in city bikes. Where I live there is Curbside Cycle, where I bought my Pashley Roadster Sovereign. In addition to Pashley, they also sell Bobbin, Gazelle, Batavus and other city bikes and recently designed their own city bike, the “Montreal.” See:

    Another example is Downtown Bike Hounds, which sells Pashley, Bobbin and Gazelle bikes. See:

  13. My son has the same bike. He uses it to bike to school: 40 km/day and it’s the first bike that didn’t fall apart after a year. Good choice.

  14. Dear Mark,

    I’m a short person (think the Queen, though I’m a long generation younger). Would I have to ride a child’s bike in the Netherlands or are there adult, “women’s” bicycles short enough for me?

    1. If you are really short, then yes you might have to ride a children’s bike. From time to time I see short mainly East-Asian women ride a pink girls bike.

    2. Not necessarily. Most manufacturers offer a wide range of frame sizes, with corresponding wheel sizes. Adult women’s bikes from Batavus for instance start at 48cm frame height. Koga’s Tourer bikes are even lower, 47 cm (
      The Queen is 1.63m or 5’3″. Most Dutch girls tend to outgrow her by the age of 14.

    3. I think you can ride an adult bike from a height of about 1.50m with a small frame size.

      My mother is 1.57m and has a ‘normal’ Gazelle Orange, I think at 49cm.

      The only adults I see driving children’s bikes are Asian girls and honestly I don’t understand why. Probably there are too few small adult bikes in the 2nd hand market..

  15. That is one sexy bike you ordered. I love how the blue detail carries into the tyre.
    Also thanks for sharing that great interview. I loved it! One day we’ll have a bike shop like that here in town… one day.

  16. It is interesting that the proportion of sports bikes sold is only around 3% with the remainder being ‘everyday’ transport bikes. On the background of 90% of the population riding a bike for transport this is important.

    In Australia only about 3% of the population rides a bicycle regularly, almost none for transport (our modal share is 1.2% at best), and they are almost ALL sports bikes (mostly road bikes and the rest mountain bikes).

    Few bike shops here sell *real* European city bikes. There are plenty of cheap knockoffs but they are truly awful to ride (and use for carrying things – the loads wobble the racks). These cheap bikes sadly put people off the ‘style’ in future and then they go back to the ‘trusted’ but entirely unsuitable road or mountain bikes – which the bike shops prefer to sell. We do have Gazelle here but that is the only brand and bike shops groan about having to deal with hub/rollerbrakes or hub gearboxes & chain cases. They’ve been too used to sports bikes and many mechanics lack the skills to deal with a proper city bike.

    Bike shops know there is a demand for decent city bikes (with guards, lights, etc) but they only stock the cheap rubbish and sell the ‘extras’ with a hefty markup, which is how they make money. Even the better brands (Lekker) are not very good. Sit on their rear racks and they’ll fold in half.

    I’d love to open a bike shop here but my other work gets in the way!



    1. I was also surprised about those figures. But to be absolutely clear: it is almost 3% for mountain bikes and also almost 3% for racing bikes. The rest, almost 95% is related to the everyday upright bicycle (and that includes again the electric bikes).

      1. That still correlates well with our figures where only a small percentage of the population rides *at all* and they bikes they ride are almost exclusively road or mountain bikes.

      2. Agreed, Paul. But remember Australia is incredibly sprawled, with one of the the lowest population densities. Cycling and walking rates fair better in inner-city areas (but still not impressive) – an interesting site I found was this –

        City of Yarra in Melbourne (where I live) has cycling at 8.5% of work trips, and walking at 11.4%. Some of the Yarra suburbs have cycling-to-work rates over 10%. Also, people cycling farther distances (not quite inner-city) tend to don the lycra and make a workout of their commute. (Most Melbourne office buildings seem to have shower facilities) Australian conditions play a factor as well. My Gazelle Primeur is a wonderful bike, but not easy to get up steep hills 🙂 But city bikes are becoming very popular in Melbourne, with more people riding in regular (or even fancy) attire, but yes, many of them are nasty cheap ones (don’t want to name and shame, but R**d I’m looking at you.) Notable retailers I’ve found are Human Powered Cycles, BikeLife (sell many Gazelle e-bikes) and Commuter Cycles. Abbotsford Cycles are wizard mechanics. The hipster-fixie-fad featured prominantly here, which bolstered cycling rates, as is the new Melbourne bike share scheme. I’ve used this a couple of times, and I think it’s great (not to speak of the helment issue)

        Living in Melbourne is the first time I’ve started commuting in my work clothes. It could also just be I’m getting old 🙂 From personal experience living in Australia, the U.S. and Canada, I believe that car attitudes flow into cycling attitudes. That is, your bike makes a statement about you, people try to go as fast as possible, overtaking, buzzing people, often a ‘get out of my way’ atttitude, hey I own the road here! Sharing mentality is lacking.

        1. Actually the population in Australia isn’t as sprawled as people think and the densities, while lower than NL, are not as low as people make them out to be. You can’t simply divide the population by the country’s land area, that’s a nonsensical comparison – most of Australia is, and will remain, uninhabitable desert!

          The densities of Australian *urban* areas are not too different and the data on trips speaks for itself: 50% of ALL car trips here are less than 5km; 75% less than 10km. The ‘sprawl’ argument is just an excuse. If we had the environment to make cycling pleasant people, more people would ride…

          We also need to get out of this mindset of ‘commuting’ as the most important journey for someone to consider using a bicycle for. Of all trips, ‘commuting’ (by whatever means) only makes up about 15% of all trips taken in a day. Quoting wonderful modal share figures for commuting simply makes it look like cycling is better than it really is. That’s not good for anyone… except Government wonks…

      1. The blue highlights look fantastic – even on the tyres and the lever for the AXA Defender RL! 😀

        1. The wheel lock you mean? You guys have looked at it even better than I did. 😉 I just rode a trial ride and was instantly in love with how smooth it rides with 8 speeds. 😉

        2. I own one of those locks now. You will not find them here in Western Canada. David Hembrow had to sell me one and mail it here. I am getting a dynamo system, a saddle and a chain-lock that works into the wheel lock from the same man. I was going to get a partial chainguad but my bike has crankset gears which I didnèt know weren’t compatible. I also got some coat guards too from his Dutchbikebits shop.

      2. You should explain your new bike. How you picked it, what standards you had for buying one, and whether any of the cost was covered by tax credits or whatever company or employer covers. I know that some businesses do that. And of course, what features it has. And the endless debate, whether you got an E bike or not and why.

        1. I moved to Utrecht city in september 2015. My first Dutch bike was not what I had expected of it (Spart Pick Up 7 gear hub). The shock absorption was not good enough for me. Cause; 37 mm thin tires. Also breaking power was not good enough. Cause; rims of the roller brakes were too small. Also the steering was heavy, because of the heavy plastic crate, attached to the handle bars.
          So I corrected these 3 mistakes by buying a Cortina U5 transport bike, model 2014. Big fat tires 50 mm, good brakes and I attached a fabric fold up basket up front = light steering. Great for light, but bulky cargo like bread, cookies, kitchen/ toilet paper and clothing. I also use 40 liter/ 10,5 gallon panniers with a rack extender. So the panniers won’t fold in against the rear tire. Added bonus, my rear light is protected from vandalism, by the rack extenders (hard to kick off). I also use a saddle cover, to keep the saddle dry when parked in the rain.
          I use this bike for: work 4,8 km round trip, groceries 4,0 km r.t., center of Utrecht 14 km r.t. Speed 15 – 20 km/h. The Sparta Pick Up I have sold for 200 Euro to a couple with 2 children. So I did a good deed by keeping these parents cycling, yes the man and the woman use the same bike.

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