Saturday, July 13, 2013

Notes from Amsterdam: Riding a Bike

Riding a bike is like, well riding a bike. I fell into the category of expat who didn't get a bike right away. Then winter came. So here is my take on riding a bike in Amsterdam. 

Do I have to ride a bike in Amsterdam? That is one of the questions that I asked myself before moving here. At first, I was excited to be able to get around town by just my own leg power. There was a romance to having a shiny bell and a basket to carry things like bouquets of flowers, wooden shoes, or miniature windmills.

When I arrived, however, the romance was still there, but the reality also hit. Amsterdammers were very serious about their biking. While it is fun to do and a great form of exercise, riding a bicycle is the primary form of transportation in this city. So it can be a little intimidating hearing ringing bells and watching people fly down the paths darting in between other riders.

My first bike riding experience happened yesterday (January 11) after almost 6 months of living here. How could I have managed for so long? I asked myself the same question. Was it laziness? Was it fear or intimidation? What ended up happening was that I had built up the bike riding experience as something that was more than it was. Because I didn't buy a bike right away, I began to put it off. I had put it off for so long that I learned other ways to get around, and soon, riding a bike snowballed into something that began to feel like an insurmountable task.

The time had come. I was going out with friends after a training workshop, and I was the only one without a bike. The brewery was too far to walk to, and there wasn't any direct public transportation that I knew of. One of the girls offered to let me take her bike while she rode on the back of another. The first thought that entered my mind was that it had probably been almost two decades since I had been on a bicycle, and this made me very nervous. Luckily it wasn't raining, and there was no ice on the paths. I hopped on the seat and gripped the handlebars tightly; I was off. I was very careful and a little wobbly, but riding a bike was what they say, just like riding a bike. I pedaled hard, feeling the icy air in my face and feeling as though my hands were becoming numb. My bag slowly slipped down my arm, but I couldn't stop; everyone was getting far ahead. My legs soon started to burn, and muscles I hadn't used in years were beginning to scream. I was cold yet sweating, and about ten minutes later I was there with the waffled handlebar pattern in my hands from holding on so tightly. I felt both a sense of accomplishment and relief that I didn't cause any accidents along the way.

Will I be buying a bike as a result of my first ride? That is still undecided at this point, but I did prove that I could do it. So do you HAVE to ride a bike in Amsterdam? No, you can absolutely get around without one, but it definitely makes you feel like more of a local if you do.

I never ended up buying a bike while I was there, but I did develop a strong appreciation for all of those bikers around town especially the ones wearing heels or fancy business clothes.