Blogger Dutched Pinay talks about her first shaky encounters with the icon of Dutch culture and how she mastered her two-wheeler to take her place among the cycling hoards.
Of all the peculiarities in Dutch life, it was definitely the bike culture that stood out, like an eye sore, for me.
I saw Dutch guys shopping with their bikes and some even have dogs sitting inside their bike baskets. I thought it was very charming. Then I saw Dutch women pedalling nonchalantly while sandwiched between two kids. I was like, wow... Then there was grandpa and grandma, well into their 70s, still saddled steadfastly on their rickety bikes. Oh my, guffaw!
But the most shocking bike revelation was two years later, when Dutchman and I attended a party. A young couple just arrived on their bikes, a guy from Macedonia and his Dutch wife, who was already in her 9th month of pregnancy with a due date the following week. I couldn't imagine her perched on top of the bike with a bulging tummy that was about to give way at anytime!
Thus on my first few days in Holland, the Dutchman printed out a detailed map of the suburb we used to live in and announced that his homecoming gift for me was (drum roll) a bike. The clear message: he wanted me quickly emancipated, locally and with a bike.
Even though we never use maps back home (we use human maps on the road - we ask), I had no problem with it as I know, of course, how to read a map. But to use a bike as my daily mode of transportation?
I was apprehensive, very apprehensive.
Firstly, I equated cycling with A) a toy [as a kid] and B) a leisure activity [as an adult].
Secondly, I know how to cycle but my experience was limited to my parents' yard and the nearby surroundings. I have never joined traffic on a bike!
Thirdly, since I am used to driving a car, I thought biking was a step backward, too primitive... until the Dutchman explained the following to me: a bike means accessibility and travelling with ease to any point in the city center or in the suburbs; the Dutch pay a high price for gasoline and parking fees; while a bike is environment friendly, it's healthy and it's just how it is here in Holland — biking is a lifestyle.
Hesitantly, I acquiesced.
The next day we went shopping for my bike. And although the Dutchman had already done a preliminary canvass [typical Dutch] via the internet and from the flyers dumped every week in his mailbox, the task still took us a whole day. The reason being that I could not find a bike that fit me.
I wanted a bike that when sitting on it, I could have my two feet planted firmly on the ground. But being a midget size in Holland of 158-centimeters, I realized that my bike wish was far too ambitious. There was another option: a child’s bike, but I don’t like being treated like my nephew and nieces. I knew they would tease me to death.
So, I told the Dutchman, "Laat het maar…" [Let it go] I can always dismount from the bike every time I stop. Eventually, we bought a maroon-coloured women's bike. He adjusted the bar that supports the seat and lowered it. Still, it was too high for little me.
The following were the eye openers when we did the bike road test:
(1) I was dangerous on the road. I wasn't paying attention to the unwritten rules in traffic – on normal roads, the traffic participant approaching from the right has the right of way, and that includes bikers like me.
(2) Additionally, I panicked at intersections. I caused a slight traffic build-up many a time because I was hesitant to cross, and when I did, I was too slow.
(3) I was not in control of myself and the bike. When I gripped the brakes to stop, I scrambled to get off the bike. The act was so fussy that I fell down a couple of times, bruising my knees and hitting my butt.
(4) I was stressed! Why is riding a freaking bike so complicated?
The good news: several months later, I became a bike pro, just like everyone else. I was in control of the bike; I handled myself confidently in the intersections and the best thing was, I knew my bike's traffic rights.
The bad news: a few years later, just as was predicted, I joined the hordes of Dutch culture casualties. The homecoming gift was stolen and I became a statistic. I have officially become a victim of the Netherlands' number 1 crime — bike-napping.
I thought it will never happen to me. How gullible.
Reprinted with permission from Dutched Pinay's full blog.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.