Joanna Long reviews the Gazelle Xanta College city bike which she has owned since 2012.
The Dutch ethos: don’t think, just ride
When I was deciding what kind of bike I wanted for everyday use, I just wanted to be able to get on it and go, without thinking about what I was wearing or what kind of bag I was carrying. It had to be as easy as walking to the bus stop. A Dutch-style bike was the obvious choice and Gazelle was one of the few makes on sale in the UK back in 2012.
The ride quality: like an armchair on wheels
A Gazelle is like an armchair on wheels. From my upright position, I gaze at my surroundings as I go, taking in the changing seasons, observing a pair of collared doves, feeling every single one of the privileges of cycling for transport all at once. I don’t ride to work, I glide.
Being a chunky, steel city bike, the Xanta College is heavy and this can be murder in a headwind. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fast. I’ve raced buses on this thing and won, and I think I overtake others more often than I am overtaken. Get a tailwind and some full panniers and you’ll feel like Marianne Vos.
The fact that I prefer to be upright doesn’t mean I want to look like a schoolteacher from 1945, and part of the Xanta College’s appeal is its modern, clean design with beautifully uncluttered handlebars. The bell is integrated with the handlebar grip in the same fashion as the gear shifter, so with a simple twist of your right hand you can ease up on the pedals, while with a twist of your left hand you can alert the person in front that you’re approaching. Thanks to the adjustable stem and the threaded headset, those handlebars are adjustable by height and by angle, so you can get your riding position exactly how you want it.
The Xanta College has a dynamo front light and a battery-operated rear light built into the rack. Neither are terribly bright but thanks to the uncluttered design there is plenty of room for adding your own illuminations.
Enclosed gears, chain and brakes
I opted for a 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub. I had been getting along fine with three gears on my Raleigh but when you’re loaded up and you hit a hill it’s useful to have a few more in reserve. Add to that the fully enclosed chain, the drum brakes and the factory-fitted mudguards and you have a low-maintenance bicycle that’s suitable for wet weather or dry.
The downside: the support crew
Although it’s good to have regular tune-ups, this bike is designed to be a workhorse so it can go for a long time without needing any attention. In my case it took two years of riding daily in the city before I even needed to change an inner tube. When this did happen though, it brought home to me a disadvantage of having a real Dutch bike in the UK: the lack of knowledgeable mechanics. The puncture in question was on the rear, which wasn’t a DIY job because the back wheel is where the gears are. My local bike shop managed to fix the tube but screwed up the gears in the process. I took it to another place which fixed the gears but charged me for a part I didn’t need because they weren’t familiar with the inner workings of a Shimano Nexus hub. In all it was several weeks of irritation and inconvenience at a time when I had no back-up bike to use for transport instead.
So if you happen live in York or London – the two UK cities with shops that sell Gazelle bikes – you’re fine. If not, talk to your local bike mechanics and find out who knows Dutch bikes. Also make sure you have a replacement bike at the ready in case the repairs take a while. Otherwise you’ll need to make a trip to York or London.
Liberty is a Dutch bike with panniers
The Xanta College is a dream to ride but it’s my panniers that changed my life. They’re made by the Dutch company Clarijs from recycled truck covers which are completely weatherproof. They are very spacious and can take as much shopping as I could physically carry if I was walking. They have a plastic insert that gives them structure so I can just drop my shopping totes in and out easily, meaning I don’t need to give up on fashionable bags. They don’t interfere with the invaluable bungees that come attached to the rear rack, so there’s always space for my D-lock or any shopping overflow.
Despite the faff I experienced in getting a repair, I have found the Gazelle Xanta College to be an incredible bike: it is comfortable, it makes life easy and it is a joy to ride.
Joanna Long, February 2015
Joanna Long bought her Gazelle Xanta College new from Cycle Heaven in York for £500 in 2012. She previously owned a 1979 Raleigh Transit.
The current Gazelle range can be viewed at the manufacturer’s website.