It’s another lovely spring day in Holland. I’m here for my weekly business meetings in Amsterdam, and after the regular walk-through of the hotel I went across to the street to one of Amsterdam’s better bike shops. Those who know me are familiar with my growing affection toward Dutch bicycles. I finally got my Bakfiets, a black 996 with a wooden loading bin. It’s a particularly elegant version from De Fietsfabriek, and was a gift from my business partner.
The plan was to take the boys to school in the morning with it, but they took one look at the thing and decided they might be safer in the bowels of the minivan. The cold damp weather probably didn’t help my cause.
I own two other bikes, a high-performance road bike for a high-speed cardio work-out, and an older, heavier mountain bike that lets me exercise in the forests around Berlin. I use both several times a week, but they are pretty specialized – one for going fast, the other for grinding up earthy hills. These bikes are great for sports, but they really don’t lend themselves for riding into town. Neither of them have a luggage rack for a briefcase, and both are extremely bad for clothing. The absence of chain guards and mudflaps means my pantleg gets caught in the gears and sprockets, and any moisture on the road gets sprayed into my face and up the front of my clothes. Worse, their respective riding positions are perfect for achieving maximum downforce when pedaling… but having your wrists at butt-level is awkward in street clothes, to put it mildly.
So I’ve decided I’m going to get a solid Dutch men’s bike. I’m not going to pretend this is about being “green” though I must admit it appeals to me… at least as a possible justification to my wife for getting yet another bicycle. The simple truth is that it’s actually liberating. I don’t need to look for parking, for one thing… I can just pull up wherever I’m going. It takes just as long to ride to most of the places I usually travel to by car, but I can be less concentrated than I would have to be when maneuvering several thousand pounds of steel through traffic. And the mild amount of exercise is really good. It may not burn a lot of calories, but it helps settle a meal or to get a little fresh air instead of sitting in a car.
The New York Times has a nice little Fashion & Lifestyle multimedia piece that does a good job of explaining what I mean. The article ultimately leaves out how easy the handling becomes on a bike with upright seating and good posture. It becomes easy to respond to elements on the road, and even a novice rider feels confident in city traffic.
Pictured below is the object of my desire: a Fietsfabriek men’s bike in black, with a nice leather saddle and an awesomely big handlebar bell. It may have to be a father’s day gift to myself.
But back to the Dutch bike store. I really like their emphasis on elegance. If you look at bikes in Berlin, you really wonder sometimes whether people have any fashion sense at all – designers or consumers! But in Amsterdam, at least the Arriveste district of Oud Zuid, the consultation by the bike man is as much about functionality as it is matching your look and lifestyle. The man actually recommended handlebars on how the jacket falls across the chest. Pretty smart actually, because the wrong position will just blow a bunch of cold air down the neck. What remains to be seen is whether I’ll still ride my bike once the fall goes from pretty to harsh, or whether I will be safely ensconced in my heated car seat.