Tag Archives: Dutch bikes

Wooden bicycles by Jan Gunneweg

1 Jul

Jan Gunneweg was 3 years old when he started woodworking. Growing up on a typical Dutch house boat in the north of the Netherlands, Jan joined his father at repairing the boat in the summer. It was his first contact with wood; and it set the course for the rest of his life.

At the age of 10, Jan had built an armada of wooden model boats. Each time Jan finished a new boat, he would hold it up to his mother and say he wanted to go to the Woodwork Academy, to learn how to build a real boats. And indeed, years later, Jan did go to that same academy. But he did not end up building boats; he started building bikes instead.

At the Academy, Jan lost interest in boats. Jan – who had been a semi professional ice skater until an injury forced him to quit – had been gripped by road racing like a boa constrictor grips its victim, and he poured his passion into his profession. For his graduating masterpiece, Jan set out to build a wooden race bike. To demonstrate wood can rival steel and carbon, Jan participated in national races – where he easily kept up with competitors.

His hobby and passion evolved into his business. Jan creates wooden bikes, wooden sunglasses, wooden poker tables. Students work in his workshop, eager to learn from Jan’s mastery of the trade. Jan shows them what to look at: grains in the wood must be straight as an arrow, blurry grains deliver blurry products; cherry wood and walnut are best for stiff, rigid racing bikes; ash is better for flexible road bikes.

Currently, Jan and his team only make bikes to order, and consequently prices start at EUR 6000,–. But they are working on a line of bikes to be produced on a larger scale, and at a lower price. Jan expects those bikes will be a success: the bikes are easy to ship, and easy to assemble – ‘somewhat like IKEA’, says Jan.

Then he smiles, and turns back to his work bench. He brushes away wood shavings, picks up his scraper, and continues smoothing the surface of a cherry wood bike frame.

IKEA is still a long way to go – and we’re glad it is.

Biking Babe Barbara

26 Jun

Barbara Smit is the producer of a Dutch television travel show for kids. She lives and works in Nicaragua and she travels by bike; on the very same Dutch bicycle she used in the streets of Amsterdam.

Barbara has been working in Nicaragua for over two years. Together with director Stef Biemans, she first worked on a series for children called ‘Letters from Nicaragua’. That series showed what it’s like to live in a foreign culture and raise a child (Stef’s wife is from Nicaragua, and their son Camilo was born there).

In their current production, Barbara and Stef travel the world to meet special kids in special places (preview of the new show below). So far, Stef has met a fisherman’s son from Ghana who wants to become a famous boxer, a snake charmer child from India, and a young priest in Rome who has fallen madly in love. As producer, Barbara was responsible for locating each one of those characters.


Barbara lives in Nicaragua’s capital: Managua. Managua’s infrastructure is designed exclusively for motorists, so even a seasoned cyclist like Barbara doesn’t cycle there. But, on a brighter note, a small group of local cyclists recently did protest against the poor cycling infrastructure. For an hour, they rode their bikes in countless rounds on the same roundabout; stopping all traffic in an attempt to get interest for their cycling cause. Barbara was in India at the time, otherwise she would have joined in.

Barbara works in Masaya, where – unlike in Managua – cycling is part of everyday life. Masayan parents will have children sitting on their bike’s crossbar or steering wheel, while their pannier bags will be packed with papaya’s, chicken or cassava. It is here, amongst the Nicaraguan city bikes, bike taxi’s and donkey carts, that Barbara keeps her Dutch bike stalled. She uses it for getting to meetings, for shopping, or for teaching colleagues how to cycle.

Occasionally, she will take her Dutch bike and cycle to the petrol station on the town’s border – the only place selling decent chocolate. On the way back to the office, Barbara will hardly notice the looks local men give her. The speed of her bike takes her past them before they can make a comment.

Besides, Barbara is too absorbed in her chocolate anyway.