I like bikes. Which is good because they have become a very significant part of my everyday life. Since I shucked training wheels at the age of 6 and upgraded to a sweet, iridescent, purple Huffy, I’ve been into bikes. I mean, I’m no bike fanatic. I never owned one in college or through my early 20s. There was just no need. Most American cities don’t lend themselves to cycling. There are few bike lanes and bike racks, and little to no signage or markings for guidance. To truly ride a bike comfortably most places, I would need to load it up on my car and make for the city limits. And that requires a level of motivation and skill I don’t possess.
Even though NYC often ranks as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US, I never could quite get a handle on it. Maybe it was because I bought a commute-incompetent, heavy, unwieldy, but beautiful 3-speed cruiser. Or maybe it was because drivers in NYC are completely insane. And definitely it was because I saw one too many Ghost Bikes – stark white memorials, a grim reminder of the unsafe road conditions for cyclists.
I knew I would need a bike upon arrival in the Netherlands. In fact, I’m surprised that isn’t requisite for visa approval. In a country of 17,000,000 people, you’ll find over 18,000,000 bikes. One per person, and then some. They have extensive fietspaden (bike paths), abundant signage, bike racks everywhere, even bike garages at train stations.
On my very first day here, my lovely schoonmoeder (mother-in-law*) gave me her own bike as a gift! A sporty, comfortable and very nice Batavus with 7 very practical speeds, it is exactly what I needed. My schoonvader (father-in-law*) also gave me his fietstasjes (saddle bags) and lock. Further proof that the Dutch are so kind and thoughtful. I was ready to go!
But it’s not quite that easy. Because the Dutch use bikes as a main mode of transportation, biking is not viewed as a simple, leisurely activity. It requires confidence, aggressiveness, and a savvy for the rules of the road – and there are a lot of rules. It’s no easy feat, Dutch cycling. But I’m learning! I’ve graduated from Saturday afternoon rides with others to weekday and nighttime solo rides. I’ve even taken the bike to neighboring towns by myself – I’m feeling pretty good about that.
But then of course I come to a confusing intersection or roundabout, and I lose all confidence, get off my bike and pretend to check something until I can figure out what the hell is going on and how to get through in one piece. And then I feel like I might as well be rocking training wheels again. Sigh.
Do any of you have bikes? How often do you ride? Any advice for attaining road warrior status?
*Yeah, according to the Dutch my boyfriend’s parents are my ‘in-laws.’ Can you imagine how many budding American relationships would crumble at the sound of that??