Bleary-eyed in the Colorado morning, I just came across this piece praising one of the greatest virtues of the place I just left:
I remember the first time I saw a couple in Amsterdam sharing a bicycle. She was perched sidesaddle on the luggage rack above the rear wheel, one hand around her date’s waist, the other holding an umbrella to deflect the Dutch drizzle. He was whispering to her over his shoulder, the light breeze fluttering his hair. Perhaps the pot I’d smoked earlier that day was gauzing my brain and turning me soft, but right there and then I fell deeply in love with classic Dutch bicycles.
You see them all over Holland. Thick and sturdy. Solid black paint. Primly rectilinear.
For my Euros, Seth Stevenson is one of the wittiest writers and thoughtful curators on the interwebs. With that caveat, take this quibble for the cranky nitpicking it is: In overlooking the Gazelle, Stevenson lost both the plot and the romance.
The Gazelle, one of the makers featured in the Times article Stevenson mentions, is the ne plus ultra of Dutch bicycles. It is closest in its lack of intentional style to the Batavus, and nowhere near as fussy as the Abici or as self-consciously Scandinavian as the Biomega. Gazelle is regarded in Holland as the Mercedes-Benz of bikes.
Why the bicycle bloviations on a blog about org theory and public policy? Although there are some interesting points in Stevenson’s article about adoption and culture with bicycles in America, it’s mostly just sentimentality and unabashed advocacy. Should commuter bicycles take hold as something other than aggressive sport in the US, it will be on the backs of Mercedes bikes like the Gazelle (and perhaps Buicks like the Batavus).
One of the things I will miss most about Holland is looking out my window on a rainy day and watching the endless flow of bicyclists. They usually travel in pairs or small groups, carry more than many people put in their cars, and never wear helmets. Dutch cyclists talk on mobile phones, smoke, text, nurse babies, kiss, and generally extend the lengths of the freedoms available in their consistent, ubiquitous bike lanes. Accidents are rare, though theft is high. I lost two bicycles in two years, but the Dutch realize that bikes are more rented than owned.
I sold my metallic brown Gazelle earlier this week, realizing that shipping would be onerous and expensive. I’m not sure of the exact date of manufacture for the bike, but a mechanic mentioned that that color hadn’t been made since the late 1970s. I bought it from a man in Voorburg who spoke no English and was very patient with my Dutch. He stored and maintained it in a basement workroom. When he showed it to me, his face more than compensated for our language gap–his pride was clear. That must have been the look I had on my face on Monday.
When the time is right, the Gazelle is a Dutch experience I plan to recreate in the US. Metallic brown is a thing of the past, but basic black should do the trick. One gear, working headlamp, saddlebags for books and groceries… and room on the back for my better half. It might look a little strange on these streets, but sometimes love is like that.