Biking is a way of life in the Netherlands. Much more than it is in the United States anyway, so when I say I’ve rediscovered biking some context might help.
My last bike in America was an old purple mountain bike purchased by my parents when I was in high school. It was alright, but the slippery gears always made shifting difficult. And in Vermont, you need to change gears. I used it to get around, but stopped biking more or less when I got to college. It didn’t seem worth it.
The bike after that was a cheap, 4-month term rental in Galway when I needed a bike to get to my classes in a reasonable amount of time. That bike had no fenders (mud everywhere!) and between frequent rain and a car accident two thirds of the way through my stay, I stopped using it in favor of my feet and the occasional taxi. Not a good experience to say the least. I’ll never ride a fender-less bike again, at the very least. I never biked in college after that and I found Boston unfriendly to bikers even if I’d wanted to get out there.
But moving to the Netherlands has changed my enthusiasm. I won’t say that I love biking as a sport, but I appreciate the bicycle as a real mode of transportation and would seriously miss it if I lot the option.
I think my change of perspective to is due to how natural and normal it seems in the Netherlands. Here I feel perfectly comfortable biking without a helmet for moderate distances on bike paths. Cars and pedestrians know to watch for bikes and they are simply part of the regular traffic. Sure I prefer to walk sometimes, but if I’m in a hurry or need to go somewhere that would take an 45 minutes or so by foot, having the bicycle puts those places within reach without being tied to bus schedules. (Buses, unlike bikes, remain the bane of my public transportation existence.)
Biking has been good for our health too. I’ve noticed that people in the Netherlands are generally in better health than the ones in the US. This is probably partially due to our generally sedentary lifestyle, but surely the frequent biking the Dutch do helps. Dan and I have both lost excess weight and improved our overall condition thanks to biking. He rides to work every day, so he’s seen the most benefit.
Of course it’s not all sunshine and roses. Biking in the rain, cold, and snow is unpleasant and frequently quite dangerous. Carrying things on a bicycle is a talent that probably takes years to master, and I can’t fathom how people ride sidesaddle on the backs. Bakfiets while awesome look really difficult to steer. Plus I know nothing about repairing our two-wheeled vehicles (although I have tried with mixed results). But ultimately the experience has been positive and without major mishap. Knock on wood.
Bike commuting has been such a positive thing for Dan and I that we’re actually concerned if/when we move back to the United States we won’t be able to keep it up. The places we grew up were not bike commuter friendly (although Vermont is sport-biking friendly) and I don’t know if much has changed in this time. Maybe we’ll be fortunate enough to find jobs in places that allow us to maintain this habit.
I do think things are getting better though. When we left Boston they were actually starting to install bike paths in some area. Hopefully biking and city structures that support it will continue to take over in our home country. In the mean time, I’m planning to find a way to keep this habit going. And to find an English bike repair class somewhere, so I can care properly for my primary commuting option. And, who knows, maybe even find decent bike one of these days. After all, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a car.
If you want a laugh, go check out Yehuda Moon & the Kickstand Cyclery. Very funny and the main character reminds me of my father for some reason. I think it’s the beard.