The Netherlands has more bikes per capita than any other country in the world. Yep, that’s right. More than China, Japan, or any of those other Asian countries from which numerous famous photographs emerge with dozens of bikers waiting at stoplights. There are 16,652,800 people in the Netherlands and 16,500,000 bicycles. One in four persons goes to work on a bike. Amsterdam is considered the most bicycle-friendly large city in the world with 400 km of bike lanes.
Just to give you a picture of how ubiquitous bikes are in the country, consider these facts. Mail is delivered by a postman on a bike. The bike is provided by the postal company. Fast food delivery is done by young people on bikes – the kind you pedal. You can even take a tour through Amsterdam on a bike taxi.
So, you can imagine my trepidation at getting back on a bike after a ten-year hiatus from Holland. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t bike much when I lived in Holland before. We lived in Haarlem in North Holland, and I worked in The Hague – definitely too far to cycle. I mostly trained to work. Although I could have biked to the station, I often didn’t because it literally took me longer to find a parking space for my bike than to just walk to the station. (Please note: The train station in Haarlem has been completely renovated since then.) And when I arrived back in Haarlem after a twelve-hour day I often couldn’t remember where my bike was parked. I started walking to the station and never looked back.
It took me eight months of living in The Hague before I dared to even buy a bike. In order to keep things simple, I got what the Dutch call a grandma bike – an old-fashioned bike without gears or hand brakes. It took another week of the bike sitting in my hallway before I got the nerve up to take it outside. That didn’t go well. Before I managed to get past one street, my a$$ was killing me! After that trip, I waited for my Dutch husband’s return from Istanbul before cycling again. He helped me – okay, he did all the work – adjust the seat to minimize soreness in the rear region.
Then, a bit of good luck. The Dutch schools were out for two weeks of May vacation. A perfect time to adjust to biking in the city while the vast majority of cars and bikes were AWOL. I’m glad I had time to practice because the first day I cycled after the vacation was nearly disastrous. The main road into the city is blocked due to construction causing tons of extra traffic in my neighborhood and making all the locals into angry drivers. It was a miracle I managed to bike to the tennis courts without getting hit. I got winged with a car mirror but that’s a pretty normal occurrence.
After I managed to bike to tennis while weaving in and around rows of cars lined up in traffic, I decided I got this! I can totally bike wherever, whenever. I tested this theory yesterday when I biked through the construction zone in a dress while wearing heals! Just call me the badass biker.