On a weekday morning, I watch the city of Amsterdam go to and from work. By bike, obviously. There is no breed apart of anarchic, sporty types in tight lycra, as in so many other western cities.
The cyclist wears an expensive suit, or a thin cotton dress and sling backs. Many bikes in Amsterdam have more than one person, a child strapped in a seat, or a woman perched on the rear luggage rack, decorously side-saddle, ankles crossed and chatting away casually to the rider. As I watch parents on the afternoon school pick-up, I note that this ability to hop on the back of a moving bike is, well, learned at school.
All ages are in the saddle, from a dad riding with one hand while he tenderly holds the head of a sleeping toddler, to white-haired pensioners and hand-holding teenagers. The normal bike is the sturdy roadster that they call “opafiets” or “omafiets” – “grandpa bikes” and “granny bikes”. There are also the cargo-bikes or “bakfiets” used to bring children to school and groceries home from the store. Loaded with several children and a pile of bags, they are the Dutch equivalent of the family car. I see a woman riding solo on a tandem, with three planks of wood tied to the frame, men and women carrying shopping bags or a large bunch of flowers in one hand, and several women in various stages of pregnancy.
“Kids grow up on a bicycle and my youngest daughter was almost born on a bike, literally,” says teacher and mother-of-two Margreet Trox. “My contractions had started and I rode my bicycle to the doctor. We have no car, so it was the quickest way.”
She tells me she has two bikes: a smart one for weekends, an old one for the city. “I have had three stolen,” she says. “We blame drug addicts who then sell them cheaply. The first time it happens, you curse them. The third time, it is very tempting to go looking for them to buy one yourself, although I never did.”
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