I am London born and raised. The only people who cycled in London are brave and perhaps a little reckless. I was certainly not one of them. I had no need to cycle in London. I had buses, trains and the tube. So coming to live in the Netherlands was a huge culture shock. There are bikes everywhere!
The last time I rode a bicycle was more than 10 years ago. Even the thought of getting a bike was alien to me. ‘I don’t need a bike,’ I kept telling myself, ‘I will just walk!’ And I did. I walked everywhere. Now Haarlem is a gorgeous city to walk through; it was never a chore. However, being the only person walking on the pavement lugging home Albert Heijn bags whilst getting strange looks by the passers-by on their fiets, I did notice I was the odd one out. I had to ‘bite the bullet’ and get myself a Dutch bike.
Now purchasing a Dutch bike isn’t an easy task. (Well it certainly wasn’t for me.) The experience was like looking for a very expensive pair of shoes. The bike had to look right, but not be too obvious. The bike had to be comfortable and practical but still be individual enough so I could still find my bike parked up in a sea of them. After what seemed a decade of trolling through various fiets winkels in Haarlem, I finally found her.
There she was. She was a beauty, a bright red metallic thing with white trim wheels and a perfect curved saddle. She was the one. Suddenly my list of what I needed was out of the window. I had to have her.
The first step was complete. I wheeled her out of the shop and pushed her all the way home in the pouring rain. I still didn’t have the courage to ride my brand new bike. The second step was getting on this thing and not to fall off. I waited till the weekend when the weather was sunny and I held my breath and cycled her down the fietspad on Wagenweg.
I was terrified. I kept panicking. Old ladies and men kept over taking me and I was going much faster than I anticipated. My thing of beauty was a heavy metal monster! I reached a junction and suddenly couldn’t remember what side of the road I was supposed to be on. After collecting my breath and getting out of the way of tutting Dutchies, I told myself, ‘You can do this, you didn’t fall off!’
I decided to practice in the Haarlemmerhout, away from the all the other cyclists and the busy road. I took my time. I wanted to get used to my new bike. I was cycling around for what seemed an eternity and then I realised something; I had a smile on my face. This was so much fun! Riding my new bike was thrilling, exciting and feeling the wind in my hair like you’re flying was amazing. My confidence grew and I cycled all over Haarlem. My life changed.
Now I cycle everywhere. I cannot believe it took me so long (20 months) to get a bike. I still can’t cycle whilst attending a conference call, solving mathematical equations, reading a book and holding an umbrella all at the same time. (Dutchies come out of the womb peddling after all.) But one day I will. If you’re anything like me and you still do not have your very own fiets.
JUST DO IT.
Oh and on a side note, Haarlem is a fabulous city to explore on bike. Here is a website with a few cycle routes.