When it came time to buy a new bike, Phillip Bicknell knew he wanted something strong, reliable, low maintenance and capable of carrying loads. This is Phillip’s review of the bike he chose, the Batavus Blockbuster Plus, after twelve months of riding it in the hills of Surrey.
The hunt for the right bike
A couple of years ago, I described my ideal practical bicycle – front and rear racks, mudguards, dynamo lights, chaincase, hub gears and hub brakes. It was only then that I realised my next bike would probably be Dutch.
I did give my independent local bike shop a chance, asking how close they could get to my specification. But as the prices of hybrids go up, off come the racks and mudguards, and in come pretensions of speed, while hub gears and hub brakes remain a pipe-dream.
So I set about finding UK retailers of proper Dutch bikes. In the end, my choice was a no-brainer: a Dutch national doing a PhD at Surrey University while running a shop selling Gazelle, Batavus and Cortina bikes. I browsed his website and emailed a few questions to narrow-down the models available, before going for a test ride.
Me and my cycling
I am 6’4” (1.94m) tall and very uncomfortably over the nominal 100kg rider limit to which most manufacturers work. So I chose the largest (62cm) frame and no suspension components.
This bike is for my five-mile commute, food shopping, and other utility journeys, and I make sedate progress, averaging 10mph. My intention is to arrive a bit out of breath, but not sweaty – although until I shift some of my excess weight, I’m resigned to arriving somewhat sweaty.
A well specified bike, almost
As one expects with a Dutch bike, most things are included. There is a dynamo hub for a front LED light, which is bright enough to illuminate unlit roads. The front lamp sits beneath the front rack which is made of steel tubing and turns with the handlebar. The bike has a separate rear LED with large reflector. The Blockbuster also comes fitted with a bipod kick-stand, steering lock and rear wheel lock. Brakes are roller brakes, the standard drum brake for Dutch bicycles, while the seven gears are enclosed in the rear hub. There’s a small pump under the rear rack.
I’ve added a few things: flashing LED lights front and rear, as the dynamo light goes off when the wheel is not turning; a strap-on bottle cage, as the bike has no frame bosses at all; and a bigger bell, even though the original was pretty good, because I prefer a low-pitched ‘ding-dong’.
The ride – good, once you get going
In low-speed manoeuvres my knees can catch the swept-back handlebars because I think I’ve got them set a bit low. I guess that’s the Dutch equivalent of toe overlap. But once out on the road, the bike is a great ride. I sit almost upright on the generous saddle, with my hands and arms at a comfortable angle, which I prefer to leaning forward. I experience none of the aches I used to get after long rides on my Raleigh hybrid.
Most other cyclists respond with a cheery wave or nod, even if they can’t work out what I’m riding. I certainly enjoy my ride, able to easily look around me and wearing normal clothes.
The braking performance
I walk part of the hill that leads to my house – I’m sure the brakes would easily stop a lighter rider, but they only just stop me. (That hill is the steepest and longest in Guildford. I see plenty of cyclists using it, as it is NCN Route 22. On the way up, most are out of the saddle; on the way down they are braking heavily.) On shallower hills, the brakes work well, giving good ‘feel’, even when I need to stop unexpectedly. In comparison, the cantilever brakes on my old hybrid were slightly more effective (when properly adjusted), although their performance dropped off markedly when the wheel rims got wet.
The gear range
The gears are too high for me currently; maybe once I’m lighter, I’ll get into sixth and seventh. But another reason for choosing this model was it’s over-size chain-case that will allow me to fit a larger rear sprocket, thereby lowering the gear range from its current 37 – 91 gear-inches. By contrast, my previous bike had a triple chainring which gave a low gear in the mid-20s, and that’s what I miss on the Surrey hills.
Chain and gears enclosed
Cleaning the bike is a doddle, because all the greasy bits are covered.
The rear wheel has a chain-tension adjuster and an inspection cover in the chain-case for gear-change tuning, plus brake cable adjusters. Yes, a puncture would be a pain, but I’ve not had one yet, and I didn’t get many on my last bike with reinforced tyres inflated to maximum pressure.
The pedals are basic, and the reflectors keep partially popping out, although I’ve not had one come out completely. The upgrade plan is SPDs, although I’ll insist on pedal reflectors.
The Blockbuster is a solid machine, with a rear rack that can take 25kg of cargo and a front rack rated at 10kg.
In order to use the Karrimor panniers which I’ve had for over twenty years, I had to adapt them. The original hooks were sized for slim rails, not the large tubing on this bike’s rack, so I’ve replaced them with Ortlieb QL1 hooks. It took some patient work with a craft knife, but now I can hook my small panniers front or rear, and my large ones on the rear.
When I wanted to carry a long strip of metal home from the DIY shop, I strapped it to the top tube with the end poking out the back over the rack.
I would like a removable basket for the front, though it would have to match the bike’s black colour scheme – wicker would just be wrong!
The kick-stand and steering lock – essential with a front rack
The kick-stand is a bipod because the front rack when laden could otherwise tip the bike over. The steering lock is necessary because a load on the rear rack forces the front wheel to rise off the ground when the stand is down, so it needs to be set every time the bike is parked. It’s operated via a twist barrel at the top of the head tube and feels like it has set notches that it locks into. It can be fiddly at times, needing a bit of wiggling both to set and release it, which can be nerve-racking when I’m rushing to get the bike on or off a train.
It’s only when getting it in and out of a train that I notice the bike’s weight.
There are only a few scuff marks on the bike after a year of use. The kick-stand helps with that – it means I don’t need to lean the bike against anything.
The spoking is distinctive and modern-looking – groups of four spokes an inch apart separated by five inch gaps. It’s particularly easy to put the wheel-lock and an extension cable through the gaps. At first, I was worried that the wheels wouldn’t be durable enough, but after 1000 miles, there has been no spoke breakage.
Although the 47mm tyres would easily cope with made-trails, I rarely venture off-road. The tyre tread is definitely intended for paved surfaces, and the jumbo size gives a good ride on the road. I run them at maximum pressure (65psi) because of my weight, and am used to “rocking” over bumps by slightly rising from the saddle with the pedals fore-and-aft.
…But no bottle bosses
I was gob-smacked when I realised there were no bosses for a bottle cage, but it was easy to fit a strap-on adaptor (made by Elite). The cage is less sturdy that it would be on bosses, but I fitted it near a cable stop to prevent it slipping.
They say a happy cyclist has flies in his teeth. Well, I don’t go that fast, but I do smile when I’m riding. No bike will be perfect, and we all customise our rides to a greater or lesser extent, but this bike is close to perfect for me.
Phillip Bicknell, January 2016
The full specification of the Batavus Blockbuster Plus (2015 model) is:
|Gears:||Shimano Nexus 7, SG-C3000-7R|
|Front Brake:||Shimano roller-brake, BR-IM45-F|
|Rear Brake:||Shimano roller-brake, Inter-M Multi Condition|
|Brake Levers:||Batavus TKSR TL10|
|Handlebars:||Steel, matt black coating|
|Stem:||Alloy, polished black|
|Grips:||Batavus, padded vinyl|
|Front Hub:||Shimano dynamo-hub DH-C6000-2R-H|
|Rear Hub:||Integral to Shimano hub gears|
|Spokes:||Front 14G, rear 13G, black steel|
|Tyres:||CST Metropolitan Antonov, 47-622 (28×1.75×2), 310-450kPa (45-65psi)|
|Saddle:||Selle-Royal Viaggio, with anti-scuff side panels|
|Front light:||Lumotec Lyt LED BN, with on/off switch and reflector|
|Rear light:||Move Wing LED, 2 x AAA batteries, with double reflector|
|Accessories included:||steel mudguards; Axa Defender wheel-lock with two keys and socket for cable extension; bell; steel front rack; alloy rear rack; mini tyre pump; bipod kick-stand|
|Frame sizes:||50, 56, 62cm|
Phillip bought his Batavus Blockbuster Plus from Be Dutch of Guildford for £650 (plus delivery and cable lock extension) in December 2014.
The current Batavus range can be viewed at the manufacturer’s website. (Text on that site is in Dutch, Belgian, German, or Danish, but not English).
Phillip cycles as his principle means of transport. He previously owned two Raleigh hybrids, both with derailleur gears. The first didn’t last long because it lived outside. The second lived in a shed and lasted fourteen years, until Phillip got fed up of adjusting the cantilever brakes and replacing the chain.