Less than a week out from my arrival in Amsterdam, I purchased a bike. The first couple of days my butt was so sore that I couldn’t sit down without pain shooting up my spine. I never had to bike to commute before; navigating a whole new country on two wheels seemed like an adventure fraught with danger—especially one where helmets aren't exactly encouraged.
My friend and I shouted directions at each other, trying to Google Maps and bike simultaneously. We wondered what the triangles on the red bike paths meant. We got lost in the pitch black parks far from any street lamps. We fell, picked ourselves up, and began pedaling again. Our butts stopped hurting.
I fell in love with my bike. I’ve been searching for a suitable name, and in the process of writing this blog post I've landed on one: Minty. She’s a beaut. She’s mint green and has little pixelated flowers on her dress guard and top tube. I felt a rush of pride when I fixed her up, all by myself.
She’s pulled through for me this whole semester, even that one time we were hit by a motorcycle. It was a swelteringly hot day. My friends and I threw on our shortest shorts, our flip flops, and our makeshift swimsuits (nobody told us to bring actual swimsuits because it “rains all the time”). We considered our situation: three girls, two bikes. The answer was obvious.
My friend who is half my size hopped on the back of my bike, her legs dangling over one side. Immediately I felt a sense of vertigo as the bike teetered and tottered—and I hadn’t even started pedaling. I attempted to push off the ground to get us going, and failed magnificently. The back wheel swerved left and right as I zigzagged across the bike path. My friend screamed. I screamed. Minty probably screamed.
After a while, it got easier. We were still going at half our normal pace, and were struggling to comprehend just how Dutch people make this look effortless. Every bump in the road threw us. We stopped. We started. We hated traffic lights at this point for making us stop and start again. We hated intersections. We hated the in-between intersections where you are trapped on “safe land” but in the middle of a bike lane and a car lane, and you could choose to stay there forever, or you could move and die.
We came to a particularly busy intersection. Endless amounts of bikes and motorcycles zipped by on the left. I saw an opening; I made for it. A motorcycle suddenly came out of nowhere without slowing down or blaring his horn. At the last moment, I turned my wheel perpendicular to me. He nicked Minty’s front wheel and sped away, laughing.
My life literally flashed before my eyes. I inhaled, summoned up every drop of courage, and pushed onward—we ultimately made it to the beach intact. Who knew that a few weeks later, I would actually hit the side of a car with my bike, file for insurance protection against claims, and live with a bruise the size and shape of a baby sting ray on my thigh? (That’s a story for another time.)
There are times when I catch my reflection in store windows as I woosh by, cutting through narrow alleyways of quaint cafes, zooming over the cutest bridges. I feel like a local on my bike—no better way to get to know a city, where bikes outnumber the people. The infrastructure of the Netherlands makes this country one of the most bike-friendly places in the world. In moments like those, when I’m riding into the sunset, I feel like the king of the road (and I am; bikes > cars > pedestrians).
It’s quieter to ride at night. I find myself going at half speed because there is no one around me to up my adrenaline; no one to outrace, no one to swerve away from. I finally understand T-Swift’s lyric, “I take the long way home, I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be alright and they say I don’t know.” That’s fair—I don’t know the next time I’ll get into a nasty scrape on the road. But with Amsterdam’s canopies of autumn-tinged trees, crooked houses, and shimmering canals, I’m willing to take the long way home.