12 Mar 2010


I had never come across this style of delivery bike until I moved to Denmark. Where they can be seen being ridden effortlessly by all kinds of people. The last example I saw was being ridden by a slender, well dressed, teenage girl right in the thick of heavy rush hour traffic in the middle of Odense. The casual way which she rode the machine made it obvious that she was well used to it's characteristics. One would think they were quite difficult to use in traffic with their great width and incredibly long wheelbase but most I've seen (but not all) are found in busy towns and cities. Often moving quite briskly along.

Here's another shot of my own LongJohn shortly after purchase from an elderly neighbour. It's lugged construction suggests that it is quite old and mostly original apart from the alloy front wheel rim and missing chainguard. The entire metal carrier "basket" can be easily unbolted leaving a very long and skinny bike frame. Setting off is a bit of an art, at first, but then they roll along rather well until one meets an uphill stretch of road.

The steering is via a long, cranked, hollow rod and simple levers brazed to the bottom of the long, vertical steerer tube and another on the front forks. This is more easily seen in the image above and below of other LongJohns. The plain bearings on the steering arm are rather worn on my own machine making the steering a bit loose. Though not dangerously so, thanks to the long and forgiving wheelbase. I have considered bushing the steering arm with brass tube to tighten things up a bit. The ideal would be spherical track rod end bearings because the steering arm movement isn't entirely in one plane. Though such a modernisation would be rather out of character for such an old machine.

I imagine they were used for carriage of many different goods, often up to considerable weights. They would have been ideal for carrying suitcases and trunks from a railway station to a hotel. Or for delivering groceries or other goods to customer's homes from the village co-op. That most of these bikes have only one gear and a back pedal brake despite the bare weight and any added loads. This is testament to the stamina and daring of their riders. I have seen various planks, boxes and baskets made to fit in the open carrier framework. These machines would have been the the original tradesman's "van" prior to the arrival of the affordable motor driven vehicle. Useful for carrying tools, paint or materials out to a job.

They are still manufactured but have been brought more up to date with welded, lugless construction, child carrying facilities etc. I have even seen a couple of them with "covered wagon" style awnings to protect young children in their fitted seats. Others are used as stationary decorative objects for flowers outside restaurants and harbour bars.

The Danish free ads newspapers and their online replacements are always advertising several LongJohns at a time. Prices seem to vary enormously almost independent of condition. They may be found repainted in all sorts of unlikely colours rather than the original black. Dark green or even blue can be rather smart but shocking pink is just a bit too much for my own tastes. :-)