So it feels only right that one of my earliest posts here should be dedicated to something that might be the most Dutch-ish thing in existence: the bicycle. Or to be accurate in my case… bicycles.
There are a few things that made our transition from America to the Netherlands easier than it may be for the average American family. First off, we did not have to downsize our life from a typical suburban-American home to a narrow little Dutch house. Coming from Chicago, we lived in a two bed, one bath condo– and our only outdoor space was a back deck shared with our neighbor. Our front yard was literally a bus stop and a donut shop. So needless to say, moving into a our current four bed, two bath home– with a real garden, AND a storage shed feels like we stepped up into a mansion. Although to be fair, I do sometimes miss the donut shop.
Besides this, and maybe most importantly, we didn’t have to adjust from the normal American car culture. We have not owned a car since 2005, and in fact, I have not driven a car at all in 14 years. My last memory of driving a car was sometime in early 2005, right before we moved from Atlanta to Chicago. I was coming home from work, took a turn a little too quick, and totally blew out a back tire. I somehow managed to pull into a Burger King parking lot and had to call Joey to take a taxi and help me out. We sold our car shortly after, and relied on public transportation in Chicago. I also developed a pretty high tolerance for walking long distances. If it’s somewhere I can get on foot in an hour or less, I’ll often opt to just walk instead of paying for transit. The major bonus of this was I almost immediately dropped 15 pounds and kept it off. Forget no carbs, try the no-car diet! If you want to eat pretty much whatever you want, just get rid of your car!
Of course, we’ve rented a car or moving van a few times since, but I am never the one to drive. My aversion to cars is pretty much ingrained in my personality now. If I ever have to live in a city without good transit I hope self-driving cars are a real and affordable thing.
So, from 2005-2018 I lived in places where I took buses, trains, my feet, or the occasional Uber to get around. Moving here last June, I knew cycling was the preferred method of transportation, and luckily I had some practice with a mom bike (bike+kid seat) back in Chicago. We would often ride around in the parks or lake path, but never on the main city streets. I was feeling pretty confident in my cycling abilities because of this, and so I went out and bought a fully loaded mama fiets complete with a kid seat in the back, and a big basket in the front. I was so pleased with my purchase I gave her a name I once considered for Joe had he been a girl: Louisa May.
This was all fine and dandy, until a few days after I purchased her. I went to the supermarket alone, and loaded up with two bags of groceries: one bag in the big front basket, and one bag strapped into the kid seat. I pedaled out into the bike lane, felt the front of my bike tilt to the side, and despite my best efforts, was unable to stop from totally crashing into a dumpster. A very nice lady helped me up, and luckily I was unharmed. Unfortunately, I did lose about 8 euros worth of blueberries when the containers burst open.
This obviously wasn’t a major accident but it did leave me shaken and scared when riding my bike. To make matters worse, a few weeks later I unexplainably lost control of the bike once more while Joe was riding along. Luckily, he always wears a helmet (even though this is very abnormal here), and the only tears he shed were for his potato puff snacks that burst open on the ground.
These two events in a few weeks time left me feeling very unsure and unhappy with my biking skills. Joey suggested a smaller/lighter bike might help, and I agreed. The thing is, at 5 feet 2 inches tall, I am much shorter than the average Dutch woman. In most bike shops, the salespeople laughed and said I’d have to either special order a bike, or try a kids bike. Finally, I came across a second hand 26″ “EZ Step” bike a few weeks later. The “EZ Step” part means the frame looks like a weird low U, and is meant for the elderly and people with “limited mobility”. At this point, I had no shame and happily purchased the old person bike.
While I originally intended to sell my old bike, I took it out for a ride when the child seat and basket had been removed and realized how easy it was to pedal! I slowly felt my confidence return, and I began to feel excitement rather than dread when going out for a ride. In the end, I decided to split the bikes up with two functions: the “EZ step” with a child seat for towing Joe around town, and my original Louisa May for grocery shopping and everyday riding sans-kid. I moved the big basket to the back of her and this helped keep the balance even.
After many months of unease, and some minor accidents… I am now feeling the love for my bike(s). Even though I have a bus line right outside my door, I now choose to take my bike almost everywhere because it saves money and keeps me healthy… but honestly it’s mostly because cruising through the beautiful streets of Haarlem in really enjoyable on a bike. I can also say I finally get why people back in America love their cars too… it’s very freeing to be able to hop on your wheels and go!