Imagine you’re wandering down auto-alley to buy a new car. After deliberating on the size of the vehicle, your driving habits, the colour, the style and your budget, finally you choose the car that feels right. Imagine then that the car dealer looks at you and asks “so would you like to get some lights and a lock to go with your new car?” This statement would be absurd for any car buyer and yet this is exactly what we ask new bicycle owners every day. How many drivers would fell compelled to attach their car lights on and off every time they parked their car? How many drivers would tie their vehicle to a street pole? A sturdy kick stand, securely mounted lights, fenders, racks and integrated locking mechanisms were once a common feature on new bikes. However, as our society has come to see bicycles mostly for sport and leisure, such design functions have been removed and are now mere accessories. Modern bicycle lights may be infinitely lighter and more powerful than their predecessors but how many of them have been designed to attach to anything more substantial than cheap plastic handlebar mount. Accessorising a bicycle can be a lot of fun, but like tiresome home renovations, such ventures can be expensive requiring a lot special tools, time and knowledge. Not everyone wants to be a gadget geek. More often than not, the best bicycles are designed from first principles up with a view to the total functionality of the machine.
I was recently given the opportunity to testride
one such bicycle that came from an older tradition of building complete bicycles for everyday mobility. This bicycle was the 2008 Gazelle ‘Fuente Plus’
. Gazelle Bicycle
is one of the largest bicycle manufactures in the Netherlands and has produced over 11 million bicycles since it was founded in 1892. Unlike many better know sporting manufacturers, Gazelle bicycles are built exclusively for everyday/utility cycling. The Netherlands is no small bicycle market – it is the country in which cycling is part of its national identity. 25% of all journeys in the Netherlands
are taken by bike each day compared with 1% in Australia . Given this unique heritage, I was interested to see what kind of bikes people would ride in a country in which ‘bike culture’ was a normal part of everyday life.
The basic set-up of the bike the Fuente Plus is not that dissimilar to many mid-range hybrids. It has a 24 speed Shimano Acera/Alivio groupset with V-brakes. The frame is made from 6061 Aluminium and is not particularly light but very study. The Fuente Plus comes with the options of uni-sex step though frame and a traditional diamond frame with a horizontal top-tube. The wheels are well built with double walled alloy rims, 32 spokes laced in a unique 8 x 4 pattern as well as good quality Vredestein tyres.
Looking at the basic specifications of the bike: its weight, the frame materials, and the groupset, there is nothing especially remarkable about it, however this is where comparisons end.
Firstly, unlike most hybrid bicycles, one rides a Gazelle in an incredibly upright position on the bike . “So, you mean ones doesn’t have to hunch over when I ride a bike?”. Being a modest 5 foot 10, I felt like I was almost 7 foot when siting with a straight back on the Fuente Plus. I also felt more visible in traffic and like I was riding with some different leg muscles engaged. The handlebars are positioned high on the frame in a ‘Euro’ style touring shape allowing for multiple hand positions.
The stem can be adjusted without the need of multi-tool. It is made from high quality stainless steal and does not flex when put under pressure. The Selle Royal RVL gel saddle was wide and flat placing me squarely on my sit-bones. The Fuente Plus also comes with a tough plastic chainguard protecting the chaindrive from rain and road grit as well as your clothes.
The bike also features quality front and rear fenders as a standard. The rear rack has the excellent addition of built-in elastic straps that allow you to secure items to the rack without need of panniers. The advantage of elastic straps is they are always there giving you the freedom to carry things on unexpected occasions.
I carried a small box and a rug home with no problem. The Fuente Plus also comes with excellent front and rear lights. The futuristic front light is bright enough to illuminate unlit streets. It is mounted to a bracket on the crown of the fork leaving the handlebars free from clutter.
The rear light attached to the rack projects a non-flashing red light and is incorporated with large red reflectors for extra visibility. My absolute favourite feature of the Fuente Plus is the rear wheel locking mechanism. Coming with its own special key (a bit like a fancy car), the Fuente Plus allows you to effectively deadlock the rear wheel making the bike unrideable.
This is perfect for all those occasions when you need to pop into a shop for one minute but don’t want the hassle of finding a bike rack or pole to lock your bike to. This feature is handy when you're in a rush and don’t want to look around for bike lock, you just jump on a go. The locking mechanism also comes with connecting chain for more secure long-term bike parking. The top quality kickstand means that the bike is completely stable and is never in danger of falling over. Another addition to the bike is a pump is designed to fit on its own mount under the rear rack. Again, the visual clutter of attaching the pump to the down tube is removed through sensible design. Simple things like the brakes and gear cables have been covered up and routed through the frame in a way that makes the bike look far more attractive.
There are however some problems with the Fuente Plus. Firstly there is the unnecessary front fork suspension adding an extra 1kg of weight to an already heavy 18kg bike. The suspension did little for comfort but significantly detracted from performance when riding up hills. Thankfully the 2009 model
of the Fuente Plus comes with a straight fork. Another concern with the Fuente Plus is the absence of a bidon cage or mounts on the frame. This feature is found on the diamond frame model but is strangely missing on the step through frame. Why? Another disappointing feature of the Gazelle is that it comes with a “Dunlop” or “Woods” valve. The rims will fit a Presta valve with no problem but this should be standard. The final concern with the Fuente Plus is the price. Costing $1,759 rrp in Australia, the Gazelle is probably far cheaper in Europe where there is a much larger bicycle market as well as a 14% import duty on all non-EU bikes
. So how many Australian consumers are ready to spend that much on an everyday bike when most people are used to spending only $500 on a hybrid from China or Tawain? More intrepid cyclists would be far more likely to buy a fully kitted touring bike for this price. However, the Fuente Plus is worth it in many respects when you add up all the extras and the quality of ride that it gives you. At the lower end of the market the Fuente Plus has far cheaper competitors with bikes like the Gofa 1.0 and 2.0
. At the more fashionable retro-chic end of the bicycle market, there is the Danish Velorbis
or Swedish Skeppshult
bicycles. The Gazelle Fuente Plus is placed nicely somewhere between these ends of the everyday utility bike market and is a welcomed addition. It places a serious challenge to other bicycle manufacturers to design more functional and practical bicycles for everyday life.