Biking in the Netherlands is Key to Survival

‘Ooh, I want one of those,’ I say, pointing at the screen of my husband’s laptop.  A woman rides a bike with a cart contraption on the front where her children are sitting, smiling happily.  ‘And maybe those kids too,’ my girls had been marathon tantrumming all afternoon.  They can sense the change, it has seeped into our house, filled all the available space with a silent anxiety.   ‘Is it wrong that the only thing that excites me about going to Amsterdam is that I can have one of these bikes?’

‘Whatever makes you happy, my love’ says my husband, shaking his head – but his smile goes all the way to his eyes.

‘I want one with three wheels,’ I say to my husband as a two-wheeled bakfiets (a bike with a tub at the front for children – or dogs, tools, the dozen plants you hadn’t meant to buy, the slightly too big christmas tree you have no idea where it will go once you get it home, the friend of yours who happens to be visiting and doesn’t want to ride a bike, oh, the possibilities really are endless), flies past the bike shop that we are currently standing in.  I’ve never seen anything like these bikes.  And even though I haven’t actually ridden a bike in more than 5 years, I want one, with the passion of a child in a toy store.

The very tall Dutch man at the store shakes his head.  ‘The three wheel bikes, they are, different to ride.’

‘I’d still like to try,’ I say, my heart sinking a little.  This was my dream.  How hard could it be?

‘It’s like driving with a trailer,’ says the man, as I climb onto it.  Having never driven a car with a trailer, all I offer a blank nod, which is clearly not what the man is hoping for.  ‘The handlebars move from side to side, like this,’ he says, showing me how the handlebars arc out to the left to turn the wheels right.’

My eyebrows shoot up.  ‘So I turn left to go right and right to go left?’ the quaver in my voice obvious.

‘Ja, good, for some it is easy, for others not so.’

I knew without getting on it which category I was in.

‘Give it a try,’ says my husband, with all the sensitivity of someone who is busy looking at a fancy electric bike for himself.

Pride.  It’s a funny thing.  I knew this was going to be a disaster.  The man in the shop knew it was going to be a disaster.  And yet, I climbed onto the bike anyway.

Crossing the road in Amsterdam, feels akin to playing a game of Frogger (for those of you who remember the joys of wet afternoons spent playing the Atari).  I still look the wrong way, I forget to check for bikes, I forget to check for trams, I forget to check for the taxi’s that it turns out are also allowed to drive on the tram tracks.  So far I haven’t been flattened, but it’s come scarily close.

And yet, knowing this, I still climb on the bike.  Three metres down the path, a curb looms threateningly and I overcorrect, launching what has now become a ridiculous 3-wheeled weapon, at the door of a Fiat parked nearby.  Bells ring like christmas, and foul looks and curse words bombard me.  I am only a few meters from the shop and I desperately want to abandon the bike, but I have no idea how to turn around.  Panic sets in.

The only thing I can think to do, is to keep going.  Occasionally, I have moments of success, and my brain, idealistically decides yes, I can totally do this, in fact it is easy.  And then I side swipe someone.  I want to curl up in a ball and cry.  Yet, I pedal on.  So far in, the only thing to do is to keep going.

‘Nope! No, no, no, no!’ I say, leaping off the bike when I finally make it back to the shop.  ‘All of Amsterdam is unanimous in its vote, No!’

‘So No, then,’ smiles the pretty Dutch man wheeling the offending bike away and returning with the two-wheeled version he had suggested in the beginning.   Head trauma’s loom in my children’s future.

Every fibre of my being screams no, and yet, I climb aboard the bike anyway.   I ease the bike onto the path, and feel as though I am riding a long-distance lorry.  A woman streaks passed me, one hand on her handlebars, the other furiously typing a message into her phone, she barely looks up to see if she has the right of way before crossing the road.  She does not.  A man rides by, hands in his suit jacket pockets.  I stop at a red light and three bikes continue into the intersection unfazed by the light’s colour.  I cannot fathom the road rules, they seemed fluid.  The light turns green and I miss it.  I cannot get the bike to take off.  A fresh round of bells chime impatiently.  I pedal harder, but the front wheel swings out to the left.  I slam my feet on the ground and a man says something I don’t understand as he veers around me.  His look though, is unmistakable.  Facial expressions really are universal.

I hit my stride in the park, and with the wind in my hair – completely unfettered by a helmet, I feel 12 years old again.  I am flying and I love it.

It would take me another week of cycling around the park before I would feel confident enough to put both my girls in the front, and another few weeks after that before I would venture out of the park and onto the roads, but every time that same wondrous and wonderful feeling lights up inside me.

‘What are you grateful for?’ asks my yoga teacher, his warm face aglow in the setting sunlight.  My husband and I, sit enjoying the peace of our first night away together unfettered by children.  We are in Spain.

Sensible and sentimental answers are offered up by the group; ‘my children,’ ‘my partner’, ‘my friends’, ‘this opportunity,’ ‘my meditation practise.’

‘My bike,’ I offer, grinning at my teacher.  We have known each other 15 years.  He laughs out loud and shakes his head.  My husband hugs me.

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