I have never been a fan of bike races. If I saw the Tour de France was on tv, I would quickly flip the channel. To watch men, in tight little outfits, ride around on those skinny bikes seemed more excitement than I could handle. But living here in The Netherlands, I have been surrounded by bicycles and a very shocking thing happened to me during the Olympics—I actually watched a bike race. We started to watch the race about half way through, and I automatically picked up my book. The race was going to be background noise for me as the family enjoyed themselves. I would peek over my book to see how well the American and Dutch teams were doing, and pretty soon I was completely sucked in. By the time the race was near the finishing line, I was screaming and waving my arms as the Dutch biker Marianne Vos won the Gold Medal.

I have often written about the bike culture in this country. There are over 16 million bikes in The Netherlands and about 17 million people live here. This country has more bikes per capita than any country in the world. 99.1% of the people here ride a bicycle, compared to 32% in America. Bicycles are not just a way of life they are a necessity. They are how people get to work and school. It is how they get their groceries, how they get their kids to hockey practice, and how they get to their hot date.

These Dutch bikes are not cheap. The average bike costs about $1000 and that is not just for adults, children’s bikes are just as expensive. Nearly one billion euros is spent on bicycles a year. If you own a bike shop or you can repair them, you are doing well in this country.

I recently visited our local bicycle shop as our son is ready for a new bike. When he rides his bike it is like he is leaving little bread crumbs along the street, so many parts are falling off. From the outside, it looks like a nice little store and the showroom is really not that big. But they have hundreds of bikes crammed in there, and the prices were 800 euros and up. We asked to see what they had for used bikes, and we were taken in the back. This was just amazing to me, as I felt I was stepping into Santa’s workshop. There were three bikes hanging from the ceiling on ropes, and they were being repaired or tires were being replaced. And there was a lineup of bikes just waiting to get up into the air. Then we left the workshop, and came onto a footbridge that crossed over a sloot (most people would think it looked like a dinkie canal) and into another area that had used bikes. The shop also had bikes that were all painted red and those are the bikes that are loaned out when the owner’s bike is being repaired. Finally, we stepped into another huge room that had more used bikes and bikes waiting to be fixed. What an incredible business this is.

The used bikes are really great, as they are usually half the price and obviously have to be in great condition. We were only lookyloos on this day, as we want to be smart consumers and get the best deal. Trust me when I say there are plenty of bike shops to choose from.

In addition to the bicycles, this shop had plenty of accessories. There were all kinds of bicycle seats, for every kind of butt in the world. There were even many types of seat covers that were not just for padding but for protection. Just think how long these bikes are outside in the rain, so there are plastic seat covers similar to rain hats. There were walls and walls of bells. Bells come in every color you can imagine and then there is a variety of bell sounds, and you naturally have to find the ring a ding that suits your personality. And there are the baskets. There were plastic and wooden kind that look like crates and then there was my favorite: a basket that looked like it belonged to Miss Gulch in THE WIZARD OF OZ. I swear I looked inside to see if Toto was hiding there. And for movie fans, the basket is not identical to Miss Gulch’s but it had that old picnic basket look to it, and that is right where my mind went.

Once again, my world opened up a little more on this day. I stepped into a world that is so normal and even boring in this country. The Dutch cannot imagine their lives without a bike, as they have been on them since they were infants. The other day I was in the car at the hardware store and doing what I love, people watching. A couple came out of the store with their baby. The mother put the baby in the front seat and she then put her items into her two saddle bags in the back. The father had two bags of potting soil and he strapped them to the front and back of his bike, he seemed pretty confident that the bags would not fall. He bounced the bike a few times, the bags did not move, and he was satisfied. The mother got on her bike and he got on his and off they went. And I would not be surprised if they stopped at the nursery to get some plants. This man and woman would find a way to get them home. It’s what the Dutch do so well.

Recommended viewing: THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE is one of my favorite animated films. It is about a bicyclist, the Tour de France and everything ends up in New York city. This is a fabulous French film for all ages. Enjoy!

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  • Aledys Ver  On August 9, 2012 at 10:26 am

    That shop (and all bike shops here in the NL) sounds a bit like stepping into the Chocolate Factory, you expect little magic beings pulling bikes up, repairing, hammering, turning wheels … 🙂

  • Alison  On August 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I bought a used fiets and it was getting a once-over in the back, strung up, when I went to pick it up. So fun to see!

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