All about cycling in the Netherlands
First of all, I would like to wish you a very happy new year, at this beginning of 2013! In this first blog post of the year I’d also like to share some other ‘new beginnings’ with you.
I recently browsed through the slides collection of my parents and then some photo albums. The slides were great. Not only because even the ones from the sixties are already in colour, but also because I hadn’t seen those slides for about 25 years. My mother recently got a device to make them digital. Which means I can share some that have to do with cycling with you now. My experiences as a child are very common for most Dutch, even today, so they show you how Dutch children get used to riding a bicycle.
I actually found a slide of what must have been one of my first rides on a bicycle. In April of 1967 my parents put me in the children’s seat of my dad’s bicycle. The bicycle was one they got second-hand from the dad of a sister-in-law. As you can just see, it was a really sturdy bike of at least 20 years old, which makes it from the 1940s! The brakes were not cable operated but they were connected to the levers on the handlebars with a series of rods and pivots. Something you don’t see a lot anymore today.
I don’t seem to be very keen about this new experience. I was 19 months old and clutching the wind screen with both my little hands and it seems I could burst out into tears at any moment. But I can assure you I have vivid memories of sitting in that position while absolutely loving it! Until I had to give up this seat to my younger sister and I had to move to the back seat.
The back seat was not unknown to me. I have already shown you the picture that demonstrates I could ride as a passenger at 22 months old. The picture was probably taken because that was a first too.
Getting my own “set of wheels” was another new beginning. September 1967 I turned two and I got a brand new yellow tricycle. The following summer I sit on it like the leader of a gang. A boy from the neighbourhood is crying because I won’t let him near my bike while my sister is secretly trying to touch it from an unexpected angle (yes, I made that up).
While I grew up, there was a new bicycle every couple of years. For my 5th birthday in 1970 I got the old bike of my three years older uncle. It is the same bicycle I ride on as a passenger above. But I remember my grandfather had painted it freshly.
Two years later at 7 in 1972 my bike was really new, and of a modern design too. The horizontal bar of the frame could be detached. Which was good, because I couldn’t swing my leg over the saddle yet and I was still so short that that bar had to be removed for quite a while. Today, Dutch boys ride ‘girls’ bikes’ (like ‘omafietsen’), but not at that time! My generation needed that top bar of the frame to show we were boys! Yes, the bike was purple, it was the 1970s after all!
In those 1970s we, the family, travelled a lot to Scandinavia. In the summer of 1974 I learned that traffic abroad can be very different from what I was used to in that quiet modern suburb of Utrecht. Here I show how I was not allowed to set even one foot on the carriage way. I did it once for the picture, pretending to be very scared. The 2010 picture of the same spot: Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen, reveals there is still a lot of heavy motorised traffic in the very centre of the city. Unfortunately I don’t think much has changed since the last time I was in Copenhagen in 1999. As I have explained before, I am not too impressed by the way Copenhagen treats its cycling citizens.
The next new bicycle came for my 10th birthday in 1975. On the picture I am testing it out on the pavement. I was getting a bit old for riding on the pavement. With this bike I started exploring the rest of the city and it is also the one with which did the traffic test and I used it to ride to secondary school starting a year later. It was also on this “half-sized” bike that I cycled almost 100 kilometres from Utrecht to the hills of Berg en Dal near Nijmegen for a boy-scouts summer camp.
The bicycle I got in 1978 was the first almost adult-sized bike and the first one with hand brakes and 3-speed hub gear. Probably because I felt like an adult at 13 there is no picture of me getting it. I got it the night before my birthday, to test it out on a boy scouts weekend by bicycle. I remember we got terribly lost in the woods in the dark, and I rode against a pole. Not used to the hand brakes, I didn’t stop in time.
I lost count of the next few new bicycles. At least 3 were stolen in the city centre. The next real new experience came when I started cycling in Berlin. First on many trips there on rented bikes. Then, when I lived in Berlin in the summer of 1992, on my own Dutch bicycle that I brought with me. I explored all of Berlin on my bicycle. But the bike wasn’t fit for the cobble stones of many of the streets in especially (former) East-Berlin: some spokes broke and new ones had to come by mail from the Netherlands. No spokes that thick were available in Berlin. A bit weird that these extra thick spokes broke, but I did ride a lot in Berlin…
A demonstration to protest against motorised traffic using the newly opened Brandenburg Gate in the reunified Germany was a new experience for me. The gate did become traffic free, which I found very normal in the first place. It taught me that the way we handle traffic in the Netherlands is different from so many other countries. When I got back I looked at my own country with different eyes.
The last time I was photographed with a brand new bicycle was in 1992 at the age of 27. A picture taken to revive an old family tradition. Sadly the bike was stolen just months later.
The bikes I use now are quite old. I showed them both before in a video but why not do that again here.
My two bicycles today.
I hope there will be many more new beginnings and good new experiences for each of us in the new year!