Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bikes (and art and boats)

‘getting back in stride with things in the Netherlands; it’s surprising how much slips by during even a week out of the country.  I’ve been catching up with the government, switching my mind back into Dutch, and, of course, making peace with the bicycle.

I miss riding when I’m away: I abandon the car willingly as soon as I’m back among the Dutch (even though it means a couple of days of painful muscle reconditioning). There’s a loaner bike in our UK offices, but there are daunting hills around Barrington where its hard to get leverage with the folding bike.  There’s not the same array of bike paths, cars have the right of way (and come from the wrong direction), it rains… not quite the same.

I recently heard that the two most efficient means of moving people around are ziplines and roller coasters.  Cool ideas for green transportation, but bicycles must be the most practical alternatives. They are a religion here, and municipalities and clubs make cycling around town simple.  Cyclists (generally) have right of way, and disputes tend to be settled with bells.  There’s lots of people to help with advice, tools, and parts when the bike needs maintenance, usually a 10 euro affair at most.  Red bike paths are everywhere, with bike crossing signals and well-marked routing signs.

A recent article in the Denver Post revealed that this sort of infrastructure is actually a UN plot to reduce US national sovereignty, but, despite what the Tea Party thinks, it would be nice to have.

It all makes for a pretty stress-free mode of transportation (except during the icy winter months), and it’s probably the one cultural artifact that you have to adopt when you move to the Netherlands.  (Yes, I put it off for two years, choking on the price of new bikes, before finding the informal market in used bikes.)

I’ve noticed that US riders tend to pump the pedals hunched over, while Dutch street riders sit bolt upright.  The handlebars are definitely elevated compared to the adjustments I grew up with, and there’s only one rider that this style brings to mind.

Gulch

The exception is the weekend racers, who adopt an exaggerated hunched-over style with lots of teeth showing beneath their goggles.  They’re also the only ones to wear helmets: I’m not sure whether its for safety or to head-butt tree branches and scooter-drivers out of their way.  Finally, all ‘serious’ riders have logo outfits with spandex leggings.

Me, no, I haven’t taken that plunge…

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Two quick notes:

  • I’ve started a Facebook Fan Page for Random Road Art around the Netherlands and elsewhere.  Drop through and share your pictures: sculpture-spotting remains one of my favorite Dutch driving activities.
  • And make a date for Sail 2010: the parade of Tall Ships coming to Amsterdam August 19-23.  It only happens once every five years and seems like it should be spectacular.

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