There’s nothing quite as aggravating as buying a bike in this country when you’re Dutch. The kids needed new bikes and I kind of wanted a bike, too. I had bought one at Goodwill a few years ago, but it didn’t feel right.
So the four of us went to a bicycle specialist store, with rows and rows of bikes for sale. The kind of store where they know what they’re doing. You’d think. Okay, yeah, they know what they’re doing in American terms.
Cycling is almost exclusively a recreational activity here. The type of bike that you can buy confirms that. The majority of the bikes in the store were mountain bikes. After that came racing bikes. And about ten were “city bikes”. Yep, ten bikes that weren’t racing or mountain bikes.
That’s not to say they were regular bikes in my book, though. Of those ten city bikes, eight were some replica of really weird-looking thirties or forties American kids’ bikes, but for adults. At least they had fenders, because most American bikes don’t–a sure sign of fair-weather cycling. They didn’t have gears, but those could be added.
The two others looked a bit like a hybrid between an oma bike (the kind of old-fashion, indestructable, no-frills bike my grandmother rode on) and a mountain bike. They had the oma-bike curve and the relatively high-set handlebars, but shock-absorbing parts in the frame and hand breaks and ten speeds.
I actually really liked the latter type, and I bought one.
That wasn’t the end of it, however, because most American bikes don’t come with anything. Good old capitalism, combined with the fact that bikes aren’t considered a necessity, means that bicycle manufacturers can get away with not having anything on them that is considered standard in Holland. Like a kick stand. And fenders. And chain covers. And a baggage rack. And a lock. And lights. And a pump.
The bike I liked most not only didn’t have fenders, but it was made in such a way that fenders couldn’t even be added. So my choice was literally limited to the other one single bike, which did have fenders. And a baggage rack. And even a kick stand. Oh boy! But still no lights, no pump, no lock, no snelbinders (the heavy-duty rubber things attached to the baggage rack that keep whatever you put on it in place.
So I bought a pump, with an attachment system so stupid the people in the store recommended just getting a bag for my baggage rack to keep the pump in, because attaching it to the bike can’t be done without it being in the way when you cycle. I’m not making this up.
We were also going to get locks, but the locks they recommended weighed about half as much as the bikes themselves. They had lighter ones, the clerk told us, just not in store at the moment. So we decided to wait. I can probably dig up my old chain lock somewhere.
They sold quite a variety of bicycle bags in the store, which surprised me at first, because judging by the number of people cycling with backpacks on, or tottering along the road with big, heavy shoulder bags slung over their back, which keeps them perpetually off-balance, you’d think there’s no such thing in this country as a bicycle bag. But on closer inspection it turned out that all the bags were tiny, and none of them (and I’m talking about only one bag to hang off one side of the rack, if you have a rack) cost under $60.
I will actually be using my bike mainly for recreational purposes, too. I’ll cycle around the neighborhood with T, completely aimlessly, except that it will get me in shape. There’s no way I could use my bike to actually get anywhere, because it’s not safe to cycle on the highway, and there are no bicycle paths except for in some neighborhoods and on a few stretches of a few roads in the very center of Austin.
Within the next few years there will be some restaurants, a coffee shop, maybe a dry cleaner and small grocery store built in our subdivision, on the piece of land along the highway, so I could ride my bike to get some groceries then, or to meet someone at a coffee shop. So I suppose I don’t need a lock just yet, or a pump, because I won’t ever be more than a twenty-minute walk away from home.
I’ll put off getting bags until there’s actually a grocery store I can cycle to, and even then I will probably order some proper bags online from Holland. Along with shipping and handling they might end up costing about the same as American bags, but at least they’ll be functional.
So, though I’m happy to have a pretty nice bike, it’s missing some vital organs, and I just have to try not to think of what we paid for an incomplete bike.
Being in a bicycle store like that just brings out the worst in me. I try my hardest not to be obnoxious and rude, but people probably don’t realize it. Because when I realize that one thing after another isn’t included, and they show me what I can buy to add on, like ridiculously heavy locks that you would have to put in a bag, that you would also first have to buy, to put on a rack that you would first have to buy, I keep beginning irritated sentences like “But why can’t it just be…” and then I stop myself and mumble “Oh, forget it.” Really, take my word for it, that’s me trying. Because what I want to do is scream, and swear and tell the poor clerk what an effing backward… oh, forget it.
I’ve got a bike, now, anyway. Half a bike, for half-assed cycling. Half-assed will just have to do. Again.