Gazelle: a bicycle.

Webster tells us that a gazelle is small, swift and elegantly formed. That, however, is the animal, not the Gazelle we're considering here.

In the Netherlands, a Gazelle (in Dutch, Ga ZEL eh) is a bicycle. The Dutch bicycle brand styles itself "Koninklijke Gazelle," literally kinglike. In English, "Royal Dutch Gazelle." These are the very essence of Dutch bicycles. They are anything but small, swift or elegantly formed. Sturdy and stylish in a Grandma sort of way, complete with kickstand and chain guard, they weigh a ton and cost a fortune. A typical model, and this is before you put the basket and saddlebags on, will weigh over 40 pounds. List prices for new ones start at around $1,000 at current exchange rates and go up from there.

And they last forever.

There is a brisk trade in used Gazelles, most of which have been stolen at some time or other in their lives. (Bike theft is nearly the Dutch national pastime, in spite of hefty and formidable-looking locks.) Most people who live around Amsterdam do not ride Gazelles downtown, reserving cheaper and uglier bikes for that trip, since bicycles are so likely to be stolen in Amsterdam itself.

You will not ride bent over on a Gazelle. You will sit upright in comfort. Since the Dutch almost never wear bike helmets (my daughter's family there, which includes children, does not even own a bike helmet), you can let the breeze blow through your hair. There will almost certainly be a basket on the front and saddlebags on the back, otherwise, how can you go to the grocery store? The last time I was there I saw a flaxen-haired young woman on a Gazelle with one fair-haired child of about four perched on the luggage rack in the back, and another of about three sitting on the handle bars. And the bike had saddlebags, probably full. I had to smile: it was like a tiny train all to itself.

These bicycles are almost never seen in the United States. We usually have hills here, and Gazelles are completely useless anywhere that is not, like Holland, perfectly flat. I find long distance riding on one even in Holland a chore because of the weight of the thing. After a while, it feels like pedaling a small automobile down the street. (Sometimes I can talk myself into the local fiction that if you can only get it going fast enough, the momentum makes it easier....) The Dutch, however, are accustomed to the exercise, which may explain why, in a country where the chief foods seem to be butter, pancakes, cheese and french fries, most adults are the right weight.

Intensely specialized for their specific time and place, elegant in a utilitarian sort of way, exquisitely comfortable to ride on flat ground (if you don't mind just a little bit of hard work), work-horse practical, beautiful if you look at them right, if I lived there I'd certainly buy one myself.

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For pictures, go to their website. Click on the little English flag at the top, and they'll be glad to translate it for you if you don't read Dutch.

Ga*zelle" (?), n. [F. gazelle, OF. also, gazel; cf. Sp. gacela, Pr. gazella, It. gazella; all fr. Ar. ghazl a wild goat.] Zool.

One of several small, swift, elegantly formed species of antelope, of the genus Gazella, esp. G. dorcas; -- called also algazel, corinne, korin, and kevel. The gazelles are celebrated for the luster and soft expression of their eyes.

[Written also gazel.]

<-- subtypes --> The common species of Northern Africa (Gazella dorcas); the Arabian gazelle, or ariel (G. Arabica); the mohr of West Africa (G. mohr); the Indian (G. Bennetti); the ahu or Persian (G. subgutturosa); and the springbok or tsebe (G. euchore) of South Africa, are the best known.

 

© Webster 1913.

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