“Do you want to ride Dutch style?” Misha looked slightly giddy and unsure of my reaction.
Well this was Amsterdam. But this wasn’t mid-sex show. Nope, not a red light district negotiation. This was Misha, my friend whom I met in India last year, perched atop her vintage-style, typically Dutch, bicycle – one of 880,000* in this famously two-wheel loving city. This was riding Dutch style in Amsterdam. A second-hand model: new cycles are food for thieves. We both stood in the drizzle, ignoring our increasingly soggy-selves as we discussed this croggy (a Midlands term for giving someone a lift on the back of your bike) situation. I was eager to become, if just for a short cycle journey, Dutch.
“Definitely!” I way too eagerly responded.
Misha instructed – I forever forget my native tongue is her second:
“I’ll start pedalling, while I’m moving, grip the back of my seat and lightly jump onto the metal grate (regularly a bag harness), with both legs collected on one side”.
Slightly nervous, envisioning an unsuccessful hard landing, on anywhere but the grate, unsteadying Misha, directing a collision into the giant heap of wheels and handle bars stationed to our right, I ‘ok’ed her instructions.
‘Right, are you ready?’ checked a calm-headed Misha.
‘Yep’ – slightly not yep I fibbed.
And off she pedalled, pedalling and pedalling, slowly pedalling. I commenced a power walk alongside, and then, 1, 2, 3, I was sitting. Sitting on something. Yes I made it! Sitting, wahoo! Until…
‘How are you sitting on?’ Misha was concerned through her chuckles.
I was falling, falling off the something.
“Aaaaah” I screeched out. “I’m off! I fell off.”
“Oh no, what happened?” Misha’s chuckles unfazed – what a bicycle calamity.
Misha stopped so we could check out the grate situation. The grate something I was sitting on, before I was falling, had somehow wrangled itself one third down the back of the wheel.
‘That’s so weird, I take my friends all of the time and that’s never happened before.’ Misha commented. I felt guilty for breaking her croggy-grate and simultaneously a complete noob at being Dutch. I apologised profusely as we edged it back round and failed at our reattachment efforts – with no tools but enthusiasm. An impossible situation – the screws were lost to the night.
My mind wondered off – why it had broken… Perhaps too eager? Perhaps I underestimated extra Christmas weight? Perhaps I just wasn’t Dutch bicycle riding material? Big bummer.
With our handy work being anything but handy, Misha suggested we get the experts involved: a bike mechanic (of course Amsterdam has more bike mechanics than Mcdonalds – an unofficial guestimate). But whether we did or didn’t, our ride out to central ‘Dam was no more. I’d have to ride (metro) Dutch style. Apparently more than half of all city centre journeys in Amsterdam are by bike**, tonight I just couldn’t be part of the statistic.
We compromised on making the ride interesting, and set up a ‘race.’ Her cycle legs vs. my ability to speedily board the metro. Of course, having no ability whatsoever to control my speed, excluding running down, then up, the stairs, Misha won. She’d barely broken a sweat, I don’t think she even tried to beat me – it must be the Dutch in her.
As there was no mechanic near to the station, and two friends were waiting for our dinner acquaintance, Misha postponed grate fixing.
Fast forward two days…
Back again. Myself, Misha, the bike and the grate. My last evening in ‘Dam, two hours pre-bus boarding, destination: back home, and I was trying to ‘ride Dutch style’ once again (pre ales). The grate was secure, we pulled and tugged for reassurance. Yes, very secure. If I broke it this time, I’d accept it as a sign from the city, from the Netherlands, from my bar crawl hangover. I’m just not cut out for the roads of this cycle-laden country.
“Ok, are you ready this time?” Misha asked.
“Yes, I’m gonna make it. I hope I don’t brake it this time.” Too excited to not let it happen.
Misha began pedalling, pedalling and pedalling, slowly pedalling. Again, there I was, with the slight power walk. 1, 2, 3, I jumped, I was sitting, again sitting. Yes sitting. Still sitting! The grate wasn’t moving, but we were! Misha was still pedalling, not colliding into parked bikes, and we were moving. I was sitting, she was pedalling, we were moving.
I was sat, side-saddled, staring out at the street from the back of the bike. The picture of Dutch and elegant, purely in my deluded head. And privileged. Privileged that I was getting to see the city, the not-central touristy part of the city, from the back of a bicycle. Maybe my first failed attempt increased my appreciation of the experience. My thoughts flew me back to Asian scenes of young girls croggying scooters – effortlessly graceful in their side-saddle positioning. Since that scene I’d never given up on the opportunity to be a part of that picture. (Not the picture of flailing arms, legs and grates of two nights before).
It was night-time, Amsterdam’s liberal spirit would be in full swing. But not where we were cycling. Less tourists meant less red-light district antics. But we did pass a canal or two, Misha’s workplace and fellow cyclists. I finally felt part of Amsterdam’s flow. All of the “it’s completely different seeing the city from a bike” comments were in action.
“This is really fun” I said.
“Isn’t it uncomfortable?” She wasn’t convinced.
It was no beanbag chair, but my head was too dizzy with city lights to acknowledge my numb bum.
“Erm, not yet.” A giddy response.
I cheshire-cat grinned the whole journey and constantly worried for the fate of the grate, but all too soon we’d made it to Maxwell’s – a local restaurant – not a tourist-full table in sight – where we would reward ourselves with round two of ‘riding Dutch style in Amsterdam‘ as a winner.
“Ok, when I say jump, jump down” Misha was firm in her instruction.
Ding ding – we made it, Dutch style!
**Croggy – Midlands slang. Meaning to give someone a lift on the back of your bike
***I added the link for Maxwell’s incase anyone wants to try their cheese fondue! They didn’t pay me or ask me too.