Tag Archives: Bike

Left

I’m walking with my bike in the hands, about to cross the De Cleqstraat. A young man nears on foot from the left.

He has pitch black hair, neatly combed and worked to the right with gel. His thick black glasses, dark eyebrows, dark eyes and half shaven black beard give him a typical contemporary “Amsterdam intellectual” look. He’s tallish. On his chest, a nonchalant bright bleech-yellow blouse. His pants are turquoise, equally light-hearted and very adequately adapted to this summer’s morning. On his feet, not-quite-flip-flops, appearing as if they cost him a couple of hundreds of euros. I’d classify him as a semi post-hipsterist or the like. One thing I know for sure: I hate this man.

Traffic law in Amsterdam belongs not so much to the strongest as to the one with the best ability to combine what’s spatially possible with what’s socially acceptable and -when cops are around- what’s allowed. In other words: because it’s common knowledge that if you spend half of your day biking around, you want to get home as soon as you possibly can, you can bend the rules as long as you keep smiling. Fellow road users can therefore count on courtesy beyond the written rules, especially when that is assumed to benefit both. It’s giving and taking so to speak. A game with ethics, really. And of course, one gives a beautiful young lady more than a cranky old bastard.

So this semi post-hipsterist, let’s call him Lord Adolph, is heading towards me from the left, say on a meter. We are in a dubious traffic situation. He’s determined to cut me off. Gentleman as I am, I shortly stop to let him pass. No thanks, no smile, not even a glance… nothing. Slightly frustrated, of the opinion that one second was more than enough and eager to forget him as soon as possible, I take my next step. My bike scrapes his heel.

I turn my face towards Lord Adolph and watch him turn his. His dark eyebrows point downward. “O sorry, man!” I say with an innocent tone “that was not my intention”. As his face contracts further, I feel relief for not having to hear his voice.

A myope at a hundred meters would have perceived the grin on my face by the time I crossed the street. Of all the accidents I caused, I don’t believe any has left me feeling this satisfied.

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Graffiti and the Gravity of Gravity

By biking slowly you open up to the surroundings in a different way than when you’re quick. I am holding my steer loosely and at ease. Me at my finest. Or that’s what I believe.

The speed bump near my house does not come unforseen. Passing it every day, I know it very well. I wouldn’t say I appreciate the bump. It is a nasty one, to which I have to anticipate quite a little each time I go with speed. Tonight, I am going slowly, so there is little danger. Or that’s what I believe.

So it happens that my mind drifts where my body was an hour ago. Mr. La Luz gave us an inspiring talk on how he avoided sudden bankruptcy of his catering company by selling 50.000 obligations of 1 euro within 3 days, helped by social media.

I get called back by a shock. It was the bump. I see two tourists come from under the graffiti ornamented bridge to the right. They are about to become spectators of a struggle between my physical appearance, my bike and what Newton once framed as the attraction between two bodies.

The steer shoots to the right. That’s where the sidewalk starts. It’s stuck. I am quite surprised that I managed to lose control at this idle pace. I am an individual who commends himself for heaving escaped perilous situations. I have regained control during slip events and even when I had tyres stuck in a tramway. Indeed, when I moved to the Netherlands ten years ago, my quest was to master the bike better than the Dutch. I have learned to make sharp curves without holding my steering wheel. My traffic radar – a basic Dutch city biker’s skill – works without a flaw. I have lifted the daily need of transportation to an art. That’s how I am able to afford this looseness in the first place. Tonight, the bricks of the city of my ancestors disagree.

As I grab the steer and try to pull it back, the bike bends. The pedals capture my feet while my back wheel pushes the entire cascade forwards. Did I brake? I cannot tell, but something changed. My front wheel makes a sudden shift to the left. Up till now, the situation seemed out of control. Now it is. The saddle catapults my body, while the bike takes off below me, only to find its way back to the ground in a swift parabolic motion. I follow a similar curve, and reach out to the ground with my left hand.

One of the great things you can buy in the Netherlands, is a basket for the front of your bicycle. You wouldn’t imagine how handy they are. Gloves too hot? In the basket. Crate of beer? In the basket. Just bought a nice plant? Into the basket it goes! The basket – my friend, my friend – the basket. Or so it has me believe.

While my hands stroke the floor, my ribs discover the solid character of my precious basket in a wholly new way. The air rushes out of my lungs and some limbs fly by. It doesn’t take long until I’m safely back on the ground, knowing that I’m not sleeping on my side tonight.

In the ideal scenario, the two tourists who just witnessed my life flash by continue their pace pretending that nothing happened. I know before I look up, however, that this is not that scenario. It is perhaps for that reason that I make my groan sound as manly as possible. When I look up, I see them coming to my aid.

“Are you ok?” . “Well, I’m still able to breathe, so I think so.” and in a different tone “I have no clue how that happened!”.

“Don’t worry, man” says the guy, “it happens to everyone…”. He deserves this gaze of death.

The joy of a bikewalk

The chain gets loose. But I reattached it yesterday! We’re on the other end of the Vondelpark. That’s a one hour walk home if I’m quick. “Just go, man…” I tell Swen the artist. “Don’t wait for me. This is going to take a while.” “Hey! There’s something you should learn about me. We’re in this together. I’m not leaving you now.”

Swen is being hired by the municipality. Together with children from the Reimerswaal neighbourhood, he creates a boat out of litter as a way to raise awareness for the litter problem in Amsterdam New-West. I’ve been helping him with that for the last couple of weeks. We have a good click, and it’s been going very well.

When our ways part, we say goodbye. I still have a long way to go. Cold hands full of grease and late for my appointment with Alex, I pull my far too heavy bike through the snow over a distance I just calculated to be six kilometers. It’s dark, it’s cold and I’m pissed off.

A guy in the distance is calling someone on the phone. He seems to think the call is important enough for him not to notice me or my struggles. I have to make way for him and for the guy he is impressing on the other side of the line. While the fist that is holding the left part of my steer gently taps him on the thigh, I think of some ways in which I could strangle him.

Alex calls. Half an hour late. “Yeah sorry that I’m late, dude…” I say “I am crossing the Amstel on foot, because my bike is broken.” “Oh! Well, I’m standing in front of your door. I just walked all the way from the IJ.” His bike is broken too. Somewhere deep inside I know there is something smelly about this. I don’t have the slightest incentive to laugh. I cut off the conversation and carry on, tired legs through the snow.

There’s a sticker on a traffic light saying: “the worst is yet to come”. Nothing matters anymore.

Wodan

Fifteen men around a fire. One o’clock in the afternoon. We’re eating soup prepared by Veronica, resting from a morning of hard work. From willow branches we build walls while we burn a vast amount more. The ambiance is peaceful: we are here by choice, it’s nice to work outside together and the scent of spring is in the air.

“Wodan”. Raouls words are mine today, and mine are his. He is our guide on a biking tour through the past. Julian, Katia and Elishka live in the east, but are back for the weekend. On city bikes we are on a mountain bike trail through forest and heather. One year ago we were housemates; today it feels like nothing changed. Bound by our love for nature. We just had a picnic in the fields dancing and singing just for fun.

“We need beer”. Says Harmen. We agree that wine will not do. All the work is done. I estimate that we have burned about a ton today. By doing so, we have discovered a new campfire spot in Droevendaal, and we are not intending to leave it for the next couple of hours. It would be respectless to turn our backs on this powerful mass of coles. In one hour, we’ll get beer delivered by friends. An hour later, delicious indian food, cooked by another friend. We’ll draw in the coals. Instruments will come, and tonight we’ll be dancing here arm in arm with over twenty boys and girls.

Deep out of the grounds of the forest near Wolfheze, grow six five hundred years old oaks, locally known as Wodan’s oaks. This must be my fifth visit. My connection to them becomes more powerful every time. When we stand in front of one, its bark soft of the moss, Elishka suggests to hug it together. We do so compassionately. This group will soon fall apart again, but these Wodans, anchored, will keep nurturing our dreams with relief.