July 14, 2012 Ride: Trying out The Gazelle

After much waiting (okay, just three days), Dutch Bike called to tell me that The Gazelle was ready to pick up. Since I’m actually helping The Handsome Man recover from ACL surgery, I couldn’t go all the way to Ballard, ride the bike near the shop and drive back until he was properly supervised. In other words, once his Girls had arrived to serve as his mini-servants, I was able to leave for the length of time necessary to really test the bike while still near enough to the shop for adjustments.

Ballard is one long haul from my house, through the bad traffic of Seattle and then across the city itself through the crowded streets. When I reached the area at last, there was a giant salmon blocking my way. No really. Ballard was having some sort of salmon festival that involved cordoning the entire downtown area.

Once I’d navigated that, I was certain there would be no parking near Dutch Bike, but I got lucky: the spots reserved during the week for the nearby restaurants and offices were open during the weekend. It appeared no one realized they weren’t off limits. Since every other spot was taken for the festival for blocks in every direction, I was quite releaved.

Inside Dutch Bike, they wheeled out the beautifully finished Gazelle. It looked quite smashing with the new tires. They noted that everything worked perfectly, except for the rear tail light. Though they had switched out the bulb and played around with the wires, nothing happened. It would need to be rewired, which was too expensive for my blood. I figure I’ll just get a blinky.

At any rate, the rest of the bike worked perfectly, including the front dynamo. I left it off, though and after a bit of fiddling with the seat, I took off. Since the seat needs a wrench to adjust the height, I knew that had to be right before I could ride. Once it was, I loaded up my rear basket, and headed for the Burke Gilman trail.

The Gazelle was an immediate pleasure to ride. Smooth, responsive and easy to maneuver. Though I could see that the front end felt “light,” as people often report to be true of Dutch bikes, this seemed to me to make the bike easier to ride. I could easily turn it, and the radius was far tighter than The Raleigh’s, despite The Gazelle’s larger size.

The brakes squeaked terribly, but I figured that was either due to the fact that they were old, or the fact that they were, to some extent, new (as in newly adjusted). I’m hoping this problem disappears with more riding, as it appears and disappears on The Raleigh when I haven’t ridden it in a while. Of course, The Raleigh’s KoolStop pads are a far cry from nearly 40 year-old drum brakes! So we’ll see. Though I think there could be some adjustment done, there are probably limits to what one can do to a drum brake.

Here are some glamour shots, near the ship canal. The only tires Dutch Bike had in stock were creamy “Linus” tires, which are really just rebranded Kenda’s. Not as good as the Schwalbe’s, I’m sure, but they seem just fine in terms of ride and traction and were a: available and b: inexpensive. I’m hoping they hold up reasonably well as there is no way I can ever change them myself.

That last one’s for you, Veloria! I hear you like those Gazelle fork cut-outs…

The bike rode like an absolute dream. The trail was relatively uncrowded, and though the day was hot and muggy, I was soon going fast enough not to mind. That’s right: fast enough.

The Sturmey Archer 3-speed AB hub shifted beautifully smoothly. On The Raleigh, I mostly stay in 2nd gear, and that was true with this bike, too. But oh, that 3rd gear! Like The Raleigh’s 3rd gear before I geared the bike down, it has a real energy that isn’t duplicated in any other gear. But this bike has that sense of being almost self-propelled even more than The Raleigh did: I felt almost like the bike was running an electric motor in the rear!

That said, hills were… not like that. The bike is distinctly heavy going up anything other than a gentle slope. I could feel that rear end dragging as I pumped up even moderate little hills. So this is not going to be the sort of bike I ride from say… Renton to Bellevue, as I did The Raleigh last summer. For that sort of hilly ride, The Raleigh’s lighter rims and adjusted gearing simply smoke this bike. That’s probably to be expected anyway.

But aside from hills, this bike is such a smooth, easy rider! I felt like I was expending very little energy as I rode (unless it was uphill), rather like walking. The bolt-upright posture was more so than The Raleigh or The Viva, but the handlebars were far easier to love than The Viva’s, which never quite felt right to me. Instead of feeling like the upright posture sapped my speed, I actually felt faster than usual!

Here’s a few more shots. Since time was limited, I didn’t do much photography on this 12 mile ride. I just wanted to roll!

But was that sense of speed just an illusion?

Of course, I was being routinely passed by guys in Spandex on their race bikes. That’s not really a shock. But what surprised me was that several times when I slowed down behind a walker or jogger, I heard someone come up behind me… only to discover that once I got going again, I left the other bike in the dust. Seriously. I think, in 3rd gear, I was easily pulling 15-17mph, which is really fast for a bike like this. Yet that speed felt effortless to achieve, whereas with The Raleigh, when I can get it going that fast, I feel like I have to work to keep it there.

All of this really surprised me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was definitely not it. I guess I was expecting the bike to be slow and somewhat dull: a workhorse with no zip or verve. Instead, I got an elegant… oh my god, I was about to write “gazelle,” without even making the connection! But that’s how it felt.

Several folks complimented me on it. One man spotted me in his rear view mirror as I got ready to pass him (or he had weird bike ESP) and shouted as I rode past:

“How do you like your Gazelle?”

I told him that I liked it very much. He then explained that he had bought one for his daughter, who loved it. “Mine was FREE!” I shouted, feeling rather ecstatic. This bike has that effect on me. Even in the parking lot of the local mall, hours later as I picked up my son and put his bike onto my bike rack, the neighboring car driver had to roll down his window and compliment me on the full chain guard. Even my ex-husband seemed to think it was cool. The Gazelle is really hard not to like.

The only complaints I had were the groaning brakes (and the loud “THUD” sound the rear brake makes when I hit a dead stop), a bit of squeaking in the bottom bracket (which Dutch Bike said they’ll adjust next time I bring it in, if it doesn’t disappear with a bit more mileage), and the saddle.

I know, I read Herbert’s comment on my last Gazelle post (and what a useful comment it was: looking up the ’76 model of the Trimsport, I can see that’s exactly the year I have, even if the AB hub didn’t say so). The original saddle is very cool looking. But… it’s not very comfortable. I wouldn’t say it’s painful, exactly, and if I hit just the right spot, it’s even okay. But it takes serious adjustment after every stop to find that sweet spot, and the sweet spot is merely acceptable, not comfortable.

It isn’t like a Brooks at all (so much for my brief impressions). The underside is sprung, and the covering is vinyl. See this shot:

Will I keep it? Yes, for a while. It might, I suppose, require some sort of “breaking in” period, though I can’t see what would¬†actually¬†be broken in. And frankly, I don’t have the money for a Brooks right now. While this bike was “free,” of course I paid to tune it up and put new tires on it. This was still unbelievably cheap, but now I need to save some money before I can do anything more to it. And Brooks saddles are not cheap, as you all know.

Nor, I must say, is my other Brooks all that comfortable either. It’s never really broken in, and though I’ve done some mild proofriding and oiling of it, I don’t want to overdo it and destroy it, so I’ve sort of decided to just live with the fact that my butt won’t stay put on it (it’s just as slippery as when I bought it, and has NO sit bone indentations) and the skirts cut into my thighs.

So I don’t think I’m headed in the Brooks direction here, either. If I do replace this saddle, I’ll try a different brand. I know that my choices for an upright bike are limited, but that’s a discussion for another day anyway. And I’ll keep the original saddle, of course.

Otherwise, the bike is near-perfect. Even the wheel lock works, though my intent is not to use it (as it’s rather old and finicky-looking, and I’d hate to have to deal with it if I lost the key or in some way it froze up. Besides, it looks cool with the original owner’s key and name tag on it, with her maiden name and address in Holland). Over all, I couldn’t be more pleased with this bike, and I will definitely be keeping it.

I’ll send this link over to the original owners and let them know, again, how thrilled I am with their gift.

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11 Responses to July 14, 2012 Ride: Trying out The Gazelle

  1. John h says:

    You didn’t happen to get a pic of the giant salmon did you? That would have been something to see. Congrats on the new old bike. They really make you smile more when you get a nice comment after cleaning them up… if that makes sense. =)

  2. James F. Duncan says:

    Have to say again, this bike is the bees knees. I’m feeling the old envy creeping in:)! Seems to me I recall LovelyBicycle commenting that one of the virtues of these bikes is that you get it up to speed and it wants to just go. Nice, Rideblog! Jim

  3. rideblog says:

    No giant salmon pics, John :). I didn’t get that close. But it was enormous. Took up the whole street!

  4. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Jim. I really love the bike so far! Veloria does have a Gazelle and I remember the same comments. It’s really quite zippy for such a giant bike.

  5. Erin B says:

    I like my VO saddle more than my Brooks, and some of their models are on sale just now.

  6. LuckyChow99 says:

    Nice to see this lovely steed grace your pages. I’d really like to try out the mens version sometime and compare it to the Pashley. I’m also really happy to see more than one blog showcase bikes like these, although the other one (as of late) seems to have been “assimilated by the borg”, LOL. Sorry, cheeky comments are now retracted. I can’t wait to hear more about your experiences.

  7. rideblog says:

    Erin, they’re always on sale when I have no money.

  8. LanzaMarie says:

    That is a GORGEOUS bike! If my husband wasn’t already griping about all my bikes taking up his workshop space in the garage, I’d start hunting for a Gazelle of my own! I love the aesthetics of that frame and would love a “zippy” commuter bike to take on the ups and downs of the Texas Hill Country (although my Raleigh is no slouch). What a wonderful gift to fall into your lap! I’d be dancing in the pedals if I were in your saddle.

    I have a question for you and this is probably going to get some folks giggling at me but I’m going to go ahead and ask it. A lot of bloggers out there have beautiful cream colored tires on their bikes and the tires always look pristine and completely cream-colored. I put cream colored Schwalbes on my Raleigh Sports a few months ago and while the ride on the new tires is great, my tires have blackened and currently look like white walls. Do y’all clean your tires or does this have something to do with the pavement I ride on between work and home?

  9. rideblog says:

    Lanza, I have never cleaned the Schwalbes on my Raleigh, so I don’t know why yours would look like that! Thanks for the comments on the Gazelle. I’m missing it here in Ireland.

  10. Corey Keller says:

    This bike is fully as striking as the Viva was. Good for you!
    May it be a wonderful companion for years to come. Vintage Gazelles are just cool.

    Herself and I were in Seattle two weeks back- We were hoping you’d be around to meet for a peach Snapple and a photo op by the Burke- Gilman trail below the 99 bridge
    (granddaughter Got. To See. The. Troll!), but I read that you were going to be abroad that week. Will let you know next time we’re up there and we may bring the bikes!

  11. rideblog says:

    Absolutely, Corey! Sorry I missed you.

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