New beginnings; new bikes and cycle experiences

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.

One of my first times on a bicycle, with my dad in April 1967.

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.

Child passenger
In Summer 1967 I was 22 months old and I could already ride as a passenger with my uncle who was 5 years old at the time.

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.

Second Birthday 1967
Gifts I got for my second birthday in 1967. The black board reads “Long shall he live”.

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).

On my bike 1968
On my bike with great confidence in Summer 1968.

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.

"New" bicycle 1970
Testing my “new” bicycle in 1970. A second hand bike that had belonged to my uncle. Note how wide the pavement was designed in this 1960s estate. Heaven for us children to play on.

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!

My new bicycle in 1972 with ‘detachable’ top frame bar.

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.

Left with one foot in ‘scary” Copenhagen traffic on Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Place) 1974. Right the same spot in 2010.

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.

Testing a new bicycle on the pavement in 1975. Left to right, just behind my head is a cycle path that connects the areas with housing left and right of this green strip. On the right hand side you can just make out the blue cycle path traffic sign. Cars had to make a very long detour to be able to get to the other side. Giving cyclists the advantage of shorter routes was already common in this late 1960s neighbourhood.

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…

Cycling in Berlin in 1991.
Cycling on a rental bicycle in Berlin in 1991.

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.

Berlin 1991 demonstration
Berlin 1991: a (later successful) demonstration and blockade at Brandenburger Tor. The protest banner reads: “FOR PEDESTRIANS ONLY”.

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.

New bike 1992
A brand new bike in 1992, stolen just a couple of months later. Luckily my bikes were always insured, so I got a new bicycle again.

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!

16 thoughts on “New beginnings; new bikes and cycle experiences

  1. I can hardly remember anything when I was a toddler. I am amazed that a 49/50 (you never mentioned when your birthday is) can remember when they were a baby! Maybe people’s memory is much better than I think it tends to be. It is also amazing to think how quickly you grow and often shed former identities. I can hardly remember myself a few years ago, more than a few actually when I was in 5th grade. Some things from that time I’d rather disown, like a bit of a pattern of bad behavior. I remember about that time I got a shiny red bicycle for my birthday. It didn’t appear to me at the time like it was any form of transport, it was a toy. When a Dutch child gets a bicycle, especially around 6-8 years of age, they view it a bit like how 16 year olds in my country tend to view a parent buying them a car for their birthday or Christmas. When I got my bicycle for my last birthday, or more like a couple weeks before my birthday because the one I was using before got stolen, I had to do a lot of work and expense to make it more usable. Chain guard, lights, dynamo, removing the front derailleur, installing curved handlebars, etc.

  2. Thanks for the look back. I only wish my own bicycle history was as nicely documented in photographs. Our experiences are quite different in at least one regard: When my dad borrowed my bike, the only time I can remember him doing so, and rode around the block, I was amazed. It hadn’t occurred to me that he knew how to ride one.

  3. I was surprised to see an old bicycle near the Oudegracht a few weeks ago that had the rod brakes.

    I got my first proper bicycle for Christmas one year when I was fairly young. My parents went out of their way to surprise me with it, because my dad somehow managed to get it up on the roof of the house and tie it to the chimney, as if Santa had left it there for me. The benefits of a one-story home, I guess. 🙂

  4. You had some cool toys: a helicopter even!

    The photographs of me and my family are scattered in several homes. We don’t have slides. It would be nice to have a service digitize the best ones. I visited my mother in December for my birthday and I brought just 3 photos home (of me on my birthday 10 years prior).

    In this day and age, you don’t need to request that someone take a photo of you and your bike: it just happens. Here’s a pretty good one:

      1. Wow. Just 25 years ago you had a big bunch of hair! And Germany was only very recently unified. I can hardly believe that 27 years ago Germany was in two pieces and a good chunk of the world was too. Not all that much older than myself. Maybe to stop the thieves or at least know where your two bicycles are at all times, you could put a GPS chip in a place nobody would think of, maybe inside the handlebars or under the saddle, and link it up with your home computer. Adorable baby pictures of you and your siblings.

  5. I visited my uncle in Amsterdam in 1975, right after I graduated from college, with my American racing bike with dropped handlebars which was the normal every day bike for us here in the states. Now I understand why he was amused, curious and perplexed. I was not a racer then nor am I today.

  6. wat een leuke post! I’m one of your twitter followers (phindmeajob). The pics and your descriptions really brought a smile to my face.

  7. I enjoyed the nostalgia trip. It’s interesting that you seem to have never been tempted by a racing bike, no drop handlebars in any of the photos. Was that your choice ot just the way one rode back then?

    1. “Back then”? To the Dutch racing is not cycling, that was then and it is like that now. It is something else that only sports people do. I have never been very sports minded. The first time I ever rode with dropped handle bars was in Budapest last September. I didn’t like it one bit. So not really a deliberate choice. It is simply that we Dutch see racing as something other than cycling.

      1. “It is something else that only sports people do.”

        I remember seeing plenty of people using racing bikes as normal bikes ten, twenty years ago. I don’t know if that was a regional thing (used to live in the South East back then), or if the fashion just changed.

  8. Your photos are too cool! Just two years ago I found my parents’ slides (I’m 50) and was delighted to discover images of my bikes and me through the years. My slides could almost line up side by side to yours, only Southern California style. For example in my first photo, I am 1 yr old, in the front basket of my Aunt’s bike; only I appear very happy to be there 😉

    Happy New Year!

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