Rolling By, Beneath My Window

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written Saturday 28 June 2003

Rolling By, Beneath My Window

A lazy Saturday morning. During breaks from setting vertical the bookshelves (the floor sags away from the wall about 2 degrees--nothing the supporting the base with an old issue of Wired and a cheap IKEA rug can't solve), I watch the morning traffic by. Meaning: bicycle traffic. Ja, ja, OK: fietsenverkeer.

There's a moral to this post, a decision made. Wait for it.

Cup of coffee in hand, I realize that it's true what they say: Bicycles Rule in the Netherlands. (That's critical, but it's not the moral. Wait for it!) I set up the camera, on a tripod. How long did this take? A pot of coffee, 3 CDs--choose your measure. The results:

We start with a couple of ground rules. FIRST: Bicycles Rule Over Automobiles. This proximity, and the bicyclist's nonchalance is normal here, unnerving to buitenlanders (Dutch word meaning "foreigners" or--equivalently in their language--"barbarian"). Try trusting drivers like this in the US and you'll be flattened before sunset.

More often than not, the cyclist is unconcerned enough to look the other way.

I suspect that this nonchalance would be easy to get used to. So far as I can tell Dutch drivers are well trained and can be trusted for the most part.

I frequently find on auto trips around town that the cyclists and I arrive at the same time. I have to stop for everything; they stop for nothing. Envy sets in.

Just when one cyclist has passed from in front of your car...

...another comes by. Yes, you could be there all day.

Everyone waits. EVEN Porsche drivers wait.

SECOND ground rule: Bicycles Rule Over Pedestrians! There is no slack in this rule whatever along the red-tile bicycle paths, and this baffles all newcomers. So before crossing a bike path, do as this wise pedestrian demonstrates: look both ways. You'll live longer.

This exquisitely comely pedestrian is doing it right. She will live long.

This hapless sap, obviously a stupid buitenlander (but I repeat myself) is doing it all wrong. The next sound he will hear will be the tinking sound of a small bicycle bell. Caution: Do not mistake this bell's sound as a charming Dutchism: it is the Sound of Death. When you hear it behind you jump over the nearer edge, out of the red. If you (like the pictured fellow) are so unfortunate as to find yourself in the red path's center, ACT! Choose left or right without thinking: at least that way you'll have a 50% chance of surviving.

Walking the edge is a nice game, but also not recommended.

There's no ground rule about bikes' yielding to bikes, which leads to interesting situations like this.

Hand signals are sometimes appreciated but strictly optional.

Typically, other riders sensibly yield to kids regardless of the paths.

So, since bicycles move through town as fast as cars, are easier to park, and are sturdily built in the Netherlands, it's not surprising to see them used to haul cargo. This gentleman has purchased a box of something...

...this one hauls home fresh bread...

...and this one's just been to Blokker.

I'm not sure why this one's wearing a heavy coat,...

...while this tennis player is wearing almost nothing.

This gentleman carries a wheel...

...while this one prefers a darling purse.

And of course this is the Netherlands, so everyone's taking home flowers,...,...!

These wonderful town bikes will carry a little,...


...or way too damn much. Or maybe shopping just depresses him.

Kids count as legal cargo,...

...though they aren't always carried the way I would do,...

...though--what do I know?--maybe this is how Dutch children learn the sense of balance they'll need through their cycling life.

And Dutch kids definitely need a sense of balance, which they exploit out in traffic and on their own, from very early in life--young,....


...very, very young.

And they continue for all the decades of their lives, as long as they have adequate lungs and legs,...

...after which they continue to claim their rights to the red paths with bromfietsen, as long as they have balance to stay upright,...

...after which they then order a motorized claim to the red paths and continue, commanding all the vehicular rights and respect they have enjoyed since they could first balance on two wheels.

And in the meantime, the Dutch beneath my window make for an unconcerned, wheeled cavalcade, for as long as I care to watch.


OK. So here's the moral. There doesn't have to be a moral to every story, much less a moral to every randomly selected collection of images like this. That would be tedious, wouldn't it? But though today's entry doesn't require a moral...still, it has one. So, OK, the bicycle is central to a life in the Netherlands as a Netherlander. I'll be damned if I'm going to let all this just pass by under my window while I sit up here like some old man watching life pass him by. There is observing life, and there is living it. And things are too far to walk, and too hard to drive, and if I'm going to understand these curious people among whom I'm living, I'm going to have to be part of it, do what they do. A bicycle would seem like an excellent start. What's stopping me?

WHAT INDEED? Resolved: Onward to the next chapter of my Dutch life. I'm going to get a bicycle.

posted by eric at 15.47 CET


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Readers' Comments

please......tell me you know how to ride? :)

Posted by: vavega on June 30, 2003 12:58 AM

I guess we'll find out, he?

But riding in town here is as demanding as driving a car. The saving grace is that cyclist's mistakes are automatically seen as the car's or the pedestrian's fault. Strange--but another reason to get a bike.

Posted by: eric on June 30, 2003 07:29 AM

Resist the temptation to purchase the Lance Armstrong bike shorts, they will only slow you down in the openbare toiletten. :)

Posted by: vavega on June 30, 2003 10:12 AM

maybe vv, :), but mrrrrrr the thought of this lycra-wrapped butt !!!!!!

what am i talking about ?

Posted by: drooling yoda on June 30, 2003 10:44 PM

Dear Yoda (Yodette?): I'm SURE I don't know!

VV: also consider the physics of the situation, the total time-to-relief. Perhaps getting out of the stretch stuff would take a few extra seconds, BUTT (hahaha) biking to an Openbare Toilet just has to be faster than walking. Or running. Or hopping.

Posted by: eric on June 30, 2003 10:52 PM

ah the imagery !!!!! the hopping !!! you just gotta lurve it !!!!!

Posted by: cooling off yodette on July 1, 2003 11:40 PM

i think you need to be more concerned with the other cyclists than the cars or pedestrians. the older lady in picture 18 looks mean. do you think you can take her? ;)

Posted by: vavega on July 2, 2003 03:12 AM

Uh...define "take."

Posted by: eric on July 2, 2003 06:09 PM

take as in "take her out" when you both are coming up behind a slower cyclist and you NEED to get to the openbare toiletten. :)

Posted by: vavega on July 3, 2003 03:47 AM

Apparently, the Dutch are not big fans of helmet laws. I guess they have far more important things to worry about...

Posted by: Ruf on November 21, 2004 04:37 AM

really, it is safe to cycle in the Netherlands. I spent 18 months cycling downtown Amsterdam and never saw any cyclist fell or crashed with a car. But once in a cold winter night, i saw a man fell into a canal with his bike.
people always says that there are a lot BIKE in the canals going through A'Dam.
I like the size of A'Dam, everywhere is reachable with a bike. i even cyclyed to the beach from waterlooplain with my Dutch brother-in-law. The Dutch are crazy about bikes.
There are lots of strange bikes in A'Dam, bike for two person, three person, bikes with a big box... and strange ways to cycle, hands off, talking over mobile phone, carry babies,groceries, even carry another bike.
Ja, it is a lovely way to go arround the Netherland, but make sure you have at least two good locks. Otherwise, your bike will say good-bye to you soon.

Posted by: tricia on January 10, 2005 07:17 AM

Yeah Yeah ..Most Dutch People Love "The Bike"... I dont .. ive had 5 bikes.. but there all stolen .. ( thats because i live in amsterdam) i gived up .. and now im goin by Bus,tram or metro..:D.. much easier ..:p

Posted by: Kim Visser on February 11, 2005 10:38 PM
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