I have always associated bicycle with freedom. Freedom to choose your way. Freedom to choose your pace. Freedom to feel the air in your lungs and wind in your hair.
I only owned three bicycles in my life: a kid bike on which I learnt to cycle, the junior bike that I roamed the neighbourhood on, and finally a comfort bike that was found in a rubbish dump and got beautifully upcycled (yes, exactly) by my husband.
My first bicycle was a shiny purple small bike fitted with stabilizers that after a few months were taken off to be replaced – very temporarily – by a wooden pole attached to the back of the saddle. My father would hold on to it while running along me until he finally knew he could let go, stop and see me riding away on my own.
Fairly quickly I grew out of the kids bike and got upgraded to much cooler model with high head tube, hand brake and back rack that could be used to carry the extra person. It looked like this and was all I wanted and needed. I could cycle around the estates, very often pretending that the bike was my fellow horse and together we explored and conquered not the nearby streets but rather distant kingdoms or wild prairies.
As much fun as that was, in a few years this bike too became the thing of the past as it was too small for a young girl. So it was sold yet sadly enough we could never afford the new one so I got no bike to cycle to school or ride to friends’ houses. Luckily, there was always someone I could borrow a bike from to go for a day trip to the lake or to the mountains. I always felt great to get on the bike and feel the air blowing in my face and even though some of the bikes were too big and not so comfortable to ride, surely you don’t look a gifted horse into the mouth.
I think I truly discovered the culture of riding a bike once I was on my summer holidays in Switzerland. The green ways led us through the corn fields and woodlands, along the golf courses and away from the roads and traffic. And even in the city centres the cars would always give way to bicycles. And the bicycles would always stop for the pedestrians. I was amazed by the respect shown and I never felt as safe riding a bike.
Amsterdam, on the other hand, proved way too professional for my leisure cyclist skills. Even though cycling in Amsterdam was the first thing on my to-do-list I never ventured to merge into a cycling lane as I was afraid I will be knocked-down or at least pinged for not knowing where I was going and not keeping up with the other’s speed.
Is it easy to learn to ride a bike? I can still remember going through all the stages of learning and feeling proud and very grown-up while reaching this milestone. I can still remember watching my husband teaching our daughter. I think riding a bike is one of those basic skills that parents, well mostly fathers, teach their children. Or is it? As parents have less time and tend to turn to professionals for solutions I could imagine in a few years from now cycling schools will be as popular as swimming lessons. Surely, the kids will have better skills but will we not miss something important and will we still have the authority if we leave teaching our children to teachers?
Many years passed until I got my third bike. As with many things in my life I didn’t search for it, it found me. The bike was dumped in a pile of rubbish, broken and wasted. The handlebar was dented and askew. The wheels were flat. The brake cable was cut. The chain was rusted. The shifter was gone. While most saw a wreck, my husband saw the potential. He brought it home and started to fix and to tweak and to add until he made the bike just for me. It had now bright red brake and gear cables and a wicker basket to carry all the essentials.
We were now ready for family trips. We explored lots of greenways, cycled in parks and along the canals. We traveled with bikes to France and rode along the coast of Brittany. Sometimes a bike would break. Sometimes we got caught in the rain and once in a tide coming in. We do get dirty and the bikes ever more so. When we cycle we mostly escape the city, the crowds and stay away from urban areas. We try to regularly cycle to school. Occasionally, I cycle to work or town but I still feel insecure to join the rush hour traffic. I never cycled on the city bikes, yet I would love to give it a try. I honestly do not care how the bike looks like, if it is mine or borrowed and if it’s slightly too big or too small. As long as there is time to explore, look around and take in what you see, I enjoy it.