Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We're not cyclists, we just bike everywhere

While we're always enthusiastic to take advantage of our proximity to... lots of places, after a weekend away from Leiden, Monday always hits me with the realization: I love riding my bike! After a hiatus of just the weekend, swinging my leg over the seat and heading off down the Doez feels like being reunited with an old friend. There are annoyances on the bike every day, same as driving - erratically swerving texters, foolishly unaware pedestrians - but every day I realize very actively that I'm doing something fun, something that I love having as a daily part of my life.

Maybe biking doesn't come back so easily...
We were a bit nervous at first to get into the bike culture here - I hadn't ridden since Boston, and Nisha's last experiences dated to when slap bracelets were still cool. And it's a bit intimidating just how good people are at multi-tasking while on their bikes. Answer the phone? Not even a problem. Stand your kid on the handlebars? Sure, of course. Hold an umbrella? Yup. Roll a suitcase? Any day of the week.

That look does not spell confidence.
On the other hand, it couldn't be easier to ride a bike here. For one thing, it's flat as can be, except for the small bridges over canals. Every major road has a bike lane (fietspad), and even at intersections outside of the city, cars have to yield as you coast by. And don't worry, they actually will yield, every single time. As the law has been explained to me, if a car and a bike have a collision, it's the car's fault. End of story. While this may seem too cut and dry for some, the effect is that people actually pay attention to what they are doing, and except for occasional buses and motorcycles, vehicles are operated carefully. Drivers in the historic center of the city understand that they aren't going anywhere fast, and that sometimes they simply won't be able to pass a bike. I invariably get nervous about slowing people down, so I pedal hard and hug the curb, but I've seen just as many people roll slowly in pairs down the middle of the road no matter who or what is riding behind them.

It's been far too long since I got to call something 'rad.'
But how else would you describe my purple Batavus Barcelona?
Nisha, ready to ride to another city like it's nothing.

The number of moving bikes and vehicles to process all the time is pretty overwhelming at first, but eventually you realize that the traffic system is based on constant adjustment, that almost everybody will give a little space, slow down just a bit, move over, to keep traffic flowing all the time. It's not quite as straightforward as everybody taking strict turns (there are traffic lights, but not very many of them), but it feels more congenial, and you realize that it makes sense as a traffic system where nobody wants to surrender momentum they've had to generate themselves.

I still don't know that I'm ready to give a bike a chance in the US - Richmond's Church Hill is just too hilly, and the prospect of being on a bike in Manhattan is pretty frightening. Besides, you need fairly temperate weather to take a bike to work, at least the way they do it here - ain't no way I'm showing up to a hospital looking for a place to ditch my spandex shorts. Still, it's something we'll be thinking about as we continue to wonder where we belong.

1 comment:

  1. I dunno, Daavs, NYC has been doing a LOT to make cycling safer and easier lately. I gather there are hundreds of miles of new bicycle lanes, and soon to be a new bike-share program! http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2011/10/how-new-york-city-will-choose-its-bike-share-stations/248/

    Just trying to lure you back to a place that's easier to visit... eventually! :)

    I'm SO happy to hear how much fun you guys are having on bicycles! Makes me even MORE excited to come visit. If that were possible...