To those of you who were born and bred in the land of Nether, I imagine that the bicycle appears as everyday an object as your kettle or thumb: a precious tool, but not one that inspires the poetry of the muses. However, to a humble Londoner like myself, (whose experiences of bikes before arriving in Amsterdam can be pinpointed to some childhood japes in an urban park, my dad occasionally coming home to complain that his own bike had been squashed/stolen/weed-upon, and strong associations with an undesirable blonde-mopped mayor), forming a relationship with my two-wheeled buddy has been something of a revelation. And now, as I face an inevitable return to a country where cars and the conservatives rule the roost, the bond between me and bike gains even more intensity.
But things weren’t always this way. When I first purchased my bike nine months ago, I left it locked outside for a fortnight without so much as uttering a “hello” when I ran past it to catch a tram. Then, when I eventually girded my loins and took it for a ride, I ended up losing the key for my wheel lock and leaving it in a dubious corner of the red-light district for four days. Upon returning, armed with a bike-man who was armed with a chainsaw, I saw that not only had I locked my bike to itself but I had also, with my main lock, chained it to someone else’s bike too. This someone had, quite understandably, viciously beaten up my bike in attempt to free their own and, when failing in doing so, had left me a very aggressive note. Feeling like a terrible human being, I sat on the pavement and wept.
For some weeks after this incident, I held towards my bike equal feelings of esteem and resentment. I cared for it but I wished it would leave me alone. I couldn’t even so much as go shopping without having to find a safe and cosy place to lock it up first. Sometimes it would wheeze like a dying mouse when I rode it, sometimes it would stay obstinately quiet. When it had a punctured tire, I didn’t even notice until my thighs were so stiff that I couldn’t so much as go to the loo without the help of a friend.
“My bike doesn’t communicate very well with me”, I moaned to the mechanic who was replacing my tire.
He looked at me intensely, like a Dutch Mr. Miyagi. “Maybe you don’t communicate very well with your bike!”
I let out a nervous chuckle. “If only bikes had ears and mouths!” I said.
He rolled his eyes, as if to say, soon you’ll learn, you ignoramus.
And so I did (learn, that is).
It came to my attention that every time someone I knew complained about their bike, it would instantly get stolen. “I hope you’re not next!” I said, patting mine. It glowered at me with its lights. Then whispered its first words: Are we really stolen? Or do we just run away?
I decided I needed to change my attitude. I gave my bike a name- Becky Harrison, after a good pal of mine who I felt shared the plucky spirit of my wheeled transporter. I started making sure that my silver saddle bags were closed when I locked Becky the bike up so as to avoid puddles forming overnight. When the opportunity arose, I would always be sure to pump up its tires. Rather than treating it like a pesky child, I made it an extension of myself, like an unborn baby. Cycling became not just a means of getting from A to B but an enjoyable activity, as fundamental to my experience of Amsterdam as stroopwafels and free cheese samples.
As I prepare to leave this lovely city (and perhaps it will only be a temporary leave), I mull over the future of my bike.
“Take me with you!” It whispers to me as we whisk down canals.
“But how?” I reply. “Do I buy you a plane ticket?”
“No, you fool, cycle me home.”
“But I have too much stuff for it to fit in your saddle bags.” I don’t say this aloud, though, in case I hurt its feelings.
If I don’t manage to transport Becky Harrison home, then I hope its new owner, like me, will be suitably short of leg and long of love. I also hope that, unlike me, they’ll be willing to fix the wonky mudguard and abstain from using the saddle bags as a place to store KitKat wrappers. And if they happen to own a bell that doesn’t stop working when it’s raining then that would be excellent. If you know someone who fits this description, then point them in my direction.
May you reunite with your glorious two-wheeled, pedal-chain driven chariot of a bike.