18 June, 2016

A Gazelle By Any Other Name

Juncker by the Pond

One of the great things about living in Europe is the myriad of vintage bicycles that can be found-- either locked to a bike rack, abandoned in an alley, or for sale on the local classifieds. In certain Dutch cities, you can even find them at the bottom of a canal, but retrieving them is best left to the city workers. Nevertheless, I can usually temper my enthusiasm towards owning these bicycles by admiring them and moving along, content in my understanding of their significance or lack thereof. Every so often, however, one will come along that I’ve never heard of, and then begins my journey into the murky world of now-defunct bicycle manufacturers. From Puch and Peugeot to Kettler and Kalkhoff*, there are dozens of brands that were manufactured before, between, and after the Wars, yet haven’t survived the 21st century.

One in particular caught my eye, firstly because of it’s design and secondly because of it’s name. In regards to the former, I’ve been wanting a “proper Dutch bike” since we moved here, and hadn’t got around to finding one that suited my taste. Sure, it’s socially acceptable for men to ride a step-through here, but in my mind, I wouldn’t be able to reconcile that with the fact that they are called omafiets to differentiate them from the horizontal top tube of an opafiets, that is, a bicycle for distinguished grandpas. Also, black is the most common color of Dutch bikes, with Day-Glo orange, polka-dot, and Grimace purple coming in at a close second, so to find an understated silvery grey was a bit exhilarating. As to the name, well, my English-speaking brain found it amusing.


Pronounced “yoon-kerr”, like the current President of the European Commission (as if that helps anyone reading this), Juncker was established in 1898 in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn, which is also home to another bicycle manufacturer called Sparta, one of the largest and most well-known bike and moped companies in the Netherlands. In 1968, like several other competing companies, they were bought by Gazelle and brought under as a subsidiary brand.

Juncker Headtube Badge

These subsequent “Gazelle Junckers” were basically Gazelle’s with the Juncker branding, and perhaps, some less premium components. This model, the Tour de France, is more or less identical to the Gazelle Tour de France released in the later half of the 1970s. Also similar is their inherent inability to be used in the actual Tour de France, but let’s assume the name is short for “Wine Tour de France”, which makes a lot more sense.

Juncker profile 2_Fotor

Name aside, the build is solid as any Dutch bike should be, with some very elegant and understated touches. The full chain case is absent in favor of a partial chain case and a 5-speed rear derailleur. Drum brakes are used on both the front and rear hubs, and a bottle dynamo powers both the headlamp and the rear, fender-mounted light. A frame pump sits snugly against the downtube, and the handlebar grips have a very pleasant knurl to them.

Juncker Gazelle Logo

Tiny little gazelles adorn many of the bolts and bits, as is customary for Gazelle bicycles, and the seat tube decal features the Gazelle logo as well. As to whether the Juncker name or the Gazelle branding carried more weight at the time, I don’t really know, but it is very clear that this line was an amalgamation of both brands. There is no date stamped anywhere on the frame, and Gazelle have changed their serial numbering once or twice over the years, but my best estimates put this particular bicycle as being made in 1976.

Juncker Seat Tube

Interestingly, before I had a chance to test ride the bike, I thought to myself, “hmm, I’ll probably replace the saddle with the Brooks B17 or even the sprung B130 I have.” They seemed to agree with the general aesthetics and intended use of this bike. But after the seller allowed me to take it for a spin, I found the stock saddle to actually be pretty comfortable, at least to the degree that I didn’t think it needed to be swapped out. Sure enough, I get off of the bike and find a familiar name embossed on its exterior.

Brooks Mystery Saddle

I’ve found almost no information about this type of Brooks saddle, and only a couple images on the Internet of other bicycles having them. It’s some type of plastic-covered foam, but it still has the signature bag loops on the back and steel support rails underneath. Other than “Made in England”, I’ve yet to find anything indicating it’s manufacture date, so I don’t know whether it is original to the bike or not. Either way, it doesn’t require an application of Proofide and is rather water resistant, so I think I’ll leave it be.

Juncker Shifter

Shifting is performed by a Suntour lever mounted to the stem, non-indexed as changing gears ought to be. Like many Dutch bikes, stability and control are such that one-handed operation is often more than adequate. 

Juncker on the road

So I’ve finally found my Dutch bike, the one that I can ride around town for pleasure or toss on a couple panniers for a grocery run. The one that can throw a soft light ahead of me when it gets dark courtesy of the electricity generated by my spinning wheels. The one that actually blends in with every other bicycle out there instead of attracting unwanted attention (note: bakfiets are great conversation starters!). As I’ve stated elsewhere, if I had to just have one bicycle, this would be it. Not because it excels at everything—far from it, actually. This would be a terrible bike for off-road or touring—but rather, like the Japanese mamachari, it suits the utilitarian, classy, and functional style of riding that I appreciate more than anything else. It may be a Juncker, but it’s my Juncker.

- Bicyclist Abroad


*Kalkhoff still manufactures bicycles in Germany, but they used to, too. Ya dig?


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17 May, 2016

What Might Have Been [Berlin Bicycle Week #3]

sitting on the wall

Having spent the night in our hammocks, I thought that perhaps my knee would have benefitted from being elevated all night long. Standing up the next morning proved me wrong. I gave it a chance and hoped that as I warmed up, the pain would lessen and we could cover some distance. I really didn’t want my knee to be the central focus of our trip, but every pedal stroke was a reminder, forcing me to question whether it was a good idea to keep riding on it, or if I should throw in the towel and buy a ticket on the Deutsche Bahn.

will morning shot

Wolfsburg was just a few kilometers down the road from where we had camped, but we opted to follow the canal again which would bypass some of the more industrial parts. Home to Volkswagen, it is a medium-sized city that is centered around the German auto industry. Notwithstanding, we were still able to find a bike shop so that Will could buy new 29er tubes. Interestingly, the bike shop only sold electric mountain bikes—not something either of us imagined would be very profitable considering it being such a niche product. But then again, I wouldn’t have expected Nordic walking or The Simpsons to be so popular amongst Germans either, so you never really know.

We rode into the centrum so that I could get some Ibuprofen at the drug store and to get some lunch. A small pizzeria caught our interest so we sat there and ate, got some beers, and ruminated over our next move. Ultimately, I decided that I could keep riding if we stayed at the pace we had ridden this morning— it wouldn’t get us to Berlin, but we’d get as far as we could before we had to find a train station to take us the rest of the way.

will east west border

Somewhere along the line we came across one item we were hoping to find—a sign signifying the former border between East and West Germany. “Here, Germany and Europe were split until 6 a.m. on December 23rd, 1989” reads the sign. We also came across two hitch hikers who were, for all we could tell, looking for a ride in the middle of nowhere.

map check

As we rode into what would have been a completely separate country 27 years ago, I wasn’t sure if it really did feel different or if was all in my head. The streets seemed wider, the houses were built a little differently.

We stopped at a small park to check our progress, or rather, Will checked his GPS and I wandered around looking at things and taking photos. There was a World War I memorial with an inscription that I’m well familiar with, though to see it in another language and in the context of another country’s armed conflict, it really put into perspective the tragedy our enemies had endured as well.


“No one has greater love, than he who would lay down his life for his friends.”

We came to the conclusion that we probably had enough daylight to ride to the area we would call camp for the night, and if not, well we’d just set up in the dark. We left the little town we were in and continued east, riding through a couple of smaller villages and roads with little to no traffic. After a while, we stopped to check our progress again in the village of Miesterhorst, and decided that where we were actually looked like a good spot. As a bonus, a sign indicated that the train station was just across the street, so we could catch the train in the morning and be on our way to Berlin.


The skies were clear and it was a crisp night. The limits of my sleeping setup were tested and exceeded- I ended up “going to ground” in the middle of the night, undoing the end of my hammock and laying on the ground to forego comfort in exchange for a little more warmth. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to the morning’s coffee.


After breakfast and we broke camp, we made our way across the road to the train station. Things began to look questionable as we approached a dilapidated brick building with smashed in windows and an overgrown train platform. Clearly no one had worked here in decades, but did the train still stop here? There wasn’t anywhere to purchase tickets, and after some deliberation, we decided it would be best to ride to the next town and catch the train there. My knee didn’t agree, but it was that or wait here for an unknown amount of time, and even then who knew if the train would stop for us.

abandoned station

So we rode on towards the next town of Mieste, about 8 kilometers out. We were relieved to find a ticketing kiosk and other people there. Two people tickets, two bicycle tickets, and we had secured the final leg of our trip.

The weather was beautiful that day, and there was hardly any wind. I couldn’t help but think about what might have been if I didn’t screw up my knee on the very first day of our trip. We would probably be able to ride right into Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate a symbolic finish line worthy of our accomplishments. Instead, we ambled along and I needed to stop with increasing frequency to deal with the pain. Will reassured me that he wasn’t disappointed and was still having a good time, so I decided to adopt the same attitude.


An interesting, yet not unexpected sentiment I kept seeing displayed on stickers, written on walls, and in graffiti was the inclusion of refugees and the shunning of Nazi sympathizers, which is apparently still an issue. That, or those opposing the refugees are being called Nazis. Either way, “Nazis verpisst euch!” above translates roughly to “Nazis f*ck off!”

berlin wall

Arriving at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, we gathered ourselves together for what would be, at least for me, the last ride for quite a while, as I needed to begin the lengthy process of waiting for my knee to heal. Along the way to our accommodations, we were so caught up in the rare Berlin sunshine that we almost passed right by an intact portion of the Berlin Wall. There it stood, a relic from a bygone era, now serving as a memorial to the victims that died trying to escape from it and a reminder of what might have been.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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24 March, 2016

Trails and Canals [Berlin Bicycle Week #2]

DSCF3162edit_Final (BW)

Before we left Sven’s house in the morning, he gave us two pieces of advice. The first was to stock up before we left Hannover, because we’d have problems finding supplies once we were beyond the city limits. That turned out to be mostly untrue, as we passed numerous grocery and convenience stores along the way. The second piece of advice, however, was invaluable; he suggested we follow the Mittelland Canal. We looked at a map and, sure enough, the canal runs through Hannover and nearly all the way to Berlin. This was great news, because now we didn’t have to put any thought into navigating. Stay on the canal, and we would always be on track. So Sven made us a map from his house down to the canal and we were on our way.


The Mittelland Canal stretches over 300 kilometers and is the longest artificial waterway in Germany. And as canals tend to be, largely free of elevation change (except for when we had to cross over bridges to the opposite side.) The towpath we started out on was pretty much dirt double-track that turned to gravel every now and again.  Some of it was really great riding. Other parts… not so much.


We encountered one section in particular that disintegrated into a rocky, jagged path that made for a pretty jarring ride. Thankfully, it was a brief affair, and we were back onto a relatively smooth trail before too long. Then there was another section that was more or less a giant gutter, and I took a spill on some wet leaves but managed to stay out of the canal (almost every time I ride with Will I have a difficult time keeping the rubber side down).


For lunch, we departed the trail and rode into the town of Peine for some baked goods and coffee. Not exactly the barren field or ghost town we had expected, but then again, we hadn’t yet crossed into the former GDR.


A funny thing happened after we got back on the canal after Peine: the sun came out. All of a sudden, we were in good moods and, were it not for my increasingly worsening knee pain, I think we could have covered a pretty substantial distance…


Well, maybe not. There were actually a few other factors working against us. Firstly, the further along we progressed, the more headwind we encountered—the steep embankments on either side of the canal gradually diminished to small mounds that did little to provide a wind break. Then there was the string of consecutive flat tires on Will’s fatbike, all caused by the same branch that neither of us had noticed until he was pulling quarter-inch thorns out of his tires.


He replaced the rear inner tube, only to have it go flat on him again—pinched on the rim during installation. So that one got a patch, and we were good… for a while. The front tube had a slow leak as well. It was deflation city.

We decided that we’d head into the next town and try to find a bike shop for some new tubes, but Calberlah only had a gas station and a cafĂ©, and we had only a couple hours of daylight left. So while Will worked on his bike issues, I grabbed some coffee and slices of cake. Whether it was the craving for carbs and sugar or not, that cake was damn delicious.


We’d have liked to have made it to Wolfsburg, just another 8 kilometers from the town we were in, but we decided to make camp while it was still light out and so we picked up some beers, rode to our campsite, and called it a night. At this rate, there was no way we’d make it to Berlin by Thursday, but we’d see how far we could go before we needed to take the train again.

- Bicyclist Abroad


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