Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cycling 101

This past September our family spent a week in Amsterdam, North Holland, NL. It was a great trip, one I enjoyed as it gave me a glimpse into the area where my grandfather was born. It's a beautiful, unique city. Although I knew going over that Amsterdam was a "bicycle friendly" city and that it was a popular mode of transportation, the full impact of this didn't sink in until I saw it in action. What we in the U.S. define as "bicycle friendly" and what occurs in Amsterdam are two very different things. Amsterdam has intentionally developed an infrastructure to support commuter cycling and to discourage automobile (car) use. There are many roads that are closed to cars, causing cars to have to take "the long way around" between many destinations. Those on bicycles can make use of those roads, cutting both their commuting distance and time. Bike lanes are much wider than in the states and are on all roads that allow cars (at least as far as I could tell). Not only that, the majority of the lanes I saw were "protected" lanes, meaning that they were separated from automobile traffic by some type of barrier or median. Public tram and trains allow bicycles on, although they do charge. There is nothing special you have to do, just roll it on. The city provides public bicycle parking at no cost and there are multiple story parking decks near Central Station for the bicycles. Here's a video that explains a bit about the history of cycling in The Netherlands and shows the bicycle paths that I describe above:



Here in the U.S., commuter cyclists typically ride bikes similar in style to those that are used for sport riding, although the tires are sometimes different. In Amsterdam, I observed a very different scenario. The bikes used prevalently there are similar in style to those sold as "cruiser," "town," or "beach" bikes here in the U.S.. In my area of the country, the bikes are seen at the beach (available from rental companies) and are sometimes ridden in neighborhoods by children.  The bikes in Amsterdam are styled differently. Here's a great video from Dottie at Let's Go Ride a Bike, a blog I have enjoyed reading over the past several days. The video shows the features of the bikes that I saw most often during my trip:


Isn't Dottie stylish in her beautiful dress? That is another thing that is different in Amsterdam and, I think, in other European cities. People wear their regular street clothes for their commute, not the spandex outfits we see here. As Dottie demonstrated, you can see how the style of the bike facilitates this. It was fun to watch the ladies in their heels and the men in their suits going to work, along with those who were dressed more casually. I didn't see a single person in spandex - yay! Spandex is definitely not for everyone! Another thing you might have noticed is that she has made provisions to carry cargo without using a backpack, unlike most here in the states. When I read a bit about this, it was so obvious! Long term backpack wear can cause back pain, as can a stooped position on a bike (that I already knew). The panniers, baskets and the upright position of these bikes help mitigate these issues. So smart!

When we were in Amsterdam and then later, in Zurich, we did not rent a car. Instead, we walked everywhere or rode the trams. I was a bit intimidated by cycling - there seemed to be some type of unspoken cycling language or culture that I wasn't quite privy to, so I felt safer sticking to my feet. I think had I taken to wheels, I might have caused an accident or two, as I haven't ridden regularly since childhood. When we returned home, I started wondering what it would be like to be able to bike to the park, the swimming pool, grocery store, etc. - all places I usually drive, even though they are close to my home (especially the pool). After searching around on the internet and checking with a few local bike shops, I decided to ask my husband for a bike for Christmas. He was happy to oblige and my new bike found it's way into our home this past week. Here it is:






Sorry about the fuzziness, I took it in a hurry before I rolled it out the door! It's a Linus Dutchi 3, purchased from a somewhat local bike shop. The big trick was fitting it onto our bike rack to get it home from the shop - it sits awkwardly due to the position of the top bar. Car racks are definitely made for sport bikes! I've taken it for two rides around my neighborhood so far. I'm not in the best of shape and so I need to work my way up to the grocery store runs. We have a lot of hills around here, so both my leg strength and my endurance will need to build up. I'm hoping that with some consistent effort on my part I'll be able to make it to the grocery store and back sometime this spring. I'm already planning what to add - I'll need some panniers for the back and a basket for the front, and I think maybe a really cool bike bell. My husband wants to get some bungee cords and a milk carton for it, but I'm trying to steer him clear of that. I do think that it would be practical in some scenarios, though, so I'll keep it in the back of my mind! Right now my goal is to ride our neighborhood loop daily, then after 7-10 days, add in some of the side streets. When I can ride easily for about 30 minutes, I'll start working my way up to the grocery store. I'll try to keep everyone updated on my progress. I think I'm going to have a lot of fun! So - when was the last time you rode a bike?




1 comment:

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