A Little Rant About Bikes


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.

oma bike (photo: bucketofcherries.com)

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.

snelbinders (photo: koopkeus.nl)

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.

Now this is a Dutch city bike (photo: profiledefietsenspeicalist.nl) It has a pump, an attached lock, fenders, chain and wheel protectors (so you don’t destroy your nice pants or skirt), a kick stand, a baggage rack with snelbinders, gears, and lights that don’t need batteries.

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.

15 responses to “A Little Rant About Bikes

  1. Wow – that bike in the photo looks awesome! I’ve never even seen a bike like that before. You are, of course, absolutely correct in your assessment of Americans and bikes. We don’t use them to actually get anywhere useful. I have two examples of our exception to this rule (although I’m sure you will cringe at my even thinking of them as exceptions). First is that Sean rides his bike to work every day. He’s a summer camp counselor at a neighborhood school. He fought me at first. Last summer (before he had his license) he wanted me to drive him and I refused. The school where he works is about 3 miles away. An easy 7-10 minute bike ride on residential streets. This year he is still using his bike (even though he has his license). He does it because I make him and although he’s used to it now, if you asked him I’m sure he feels put out by it.

    Also, we will be leaving in a few weeks for our annual family beach vacation. One of the highlights for the kids is that we bring their bikes with us. Every day that we go to the beach, they ride their bikes from our rental house while another mom and I drive a car with all of the beach crap in it (chairs, umbrellas, food, boogie boards, etc, etc, etc). The kids always look forward to this part of the vacation and see it as an adventure. This is about a 5-6 mile ride on very flat beach roads.

    I wish bike riding were more a part of everyday American culture. It would be good for our health and the environment.

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    • That’s great that you make your son ride to work. Yes, it would be so much better. But I think it’s hard to ever make it an accepted mode of transportation in lots of American towns. The fact that it has to start somewhere is what makes it hard. In the Netherlands, people have always cycled. So kids all cycle to school, to their friends, to after-school activities. And when they grow up, they can opt to buy a car, but they still also cycle. So, as motor vehiclists, they understand the importance of watching out for bikes, and there’s no question in anyone’s mind that bikes have a right to be on the road. Here, Drivers also wouldn;t be that aggressive if their kids rode to school on their bikes, but they don’t, so many drivers have this us against them mentality, and that makes it downright dangerous to cycle here.

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    • Hey Kelly, Tony just made me realize that it was you! Hi! Written by Kelly, who has a son named Sean. That should’ve been a clue. Say hi to Carlos and the boys.

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  2. Marie-Jacqueline

    O, the frustration of it all! The way you were writing it I could see the bike buying event in my minds eye.

    You didn’t ask for something out of the ordinary.
    Just a normal bike, to shop, to just ride for the fun of it!
    Just taking your bike, with light and ‘snelbinders’ and a bell.
    With bags you can put a lot of groceries in.
    I think it still must be hard for you to acheave a sort of acceptation that in the US it isn’t the Dutch biking way!

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    • Very true. There are some things I still don’t fully accept. I get used to them, but I always have this “In Holland, we…” thing going on in my mind. I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away.

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  3. I think the NL’s is just the exception because over there we all bike to work, to the shops, to our friends, and they have bicycle-paths everywhere too, it’s all just so normal to have. After being in NZ for over 6 years I have just sort of given up bicycling and even sold my old Gazelle to someone in Christchurch, she was so happy with it. I think Christchurch is probably the only town in New Zealand with real bicycle-paths and people that know how to behave when they encounter a bicyclist when driving a car. I bought one of those so called city/mountain-bikes when we lived in town, but still, the brakes felt like they were not meant for the hills they have over there..so that’s another point to watch out for! Oh and I hate bicycle helmets!!

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    • I can’t stand bicycle helmets, either, but if I were to ride in traffic here, I would definitely use on, because there are a lot of car drivers who hate cyclists. More on that later.
      I gave up on cycling in the Valley after doing it twice. My bike stood on our porch for years, until I gave it away to a bricklayer who was doing our wall and showed an interest because he wanted a bike for his daughter. I’m sure he didn’t fully appreciate what he got. Bags and all. I’ve been thinking of that bike ever since buying this new one (nice though it is) and I can kick myself for giving it away.
      Ugh, this is just one of the things that really make me a bit homesick, even after 18 years.

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  4. hear-hear, aye, amen, helemaal mee eens.

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  5. I bought a cheap second-hand bike, so mine didn’t have much of anything, including working lights, and my bike lock seemed to cost almost as much as the bike. Fortunately, it doesn’t get used much at night, so the little lights we bought from Hema do just fine and I found a wonderful fietstas on koninginnedag this year for just €5!

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  6. Good on you, Kelly! Have a great time at the shore!! Barbara, I think the “In Holland, we…” will never get less. I haven’t noticed 😉

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  7. I agree with everything you wrote. I’m trying to purchase a Dutch-style bike in San Francisco right now and it’s infuriating. I might just try to import a bike from the Netherlands.

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