Real Men Ride Bicycles
I’m just back from a vacation visiting family in the Netherlands – my husband is Dutch and we go every few years to visit his parents – and each time we go, all the bicycles on the streets never fail to catch my attention.
Bicycles are everywhere. No exaggeration. There are more bicycles per capita than people. They even have special ferries for them. We took one of those ferries across the Ijssel River when we visited Zwolle – while we were out for a ride on our bicycles.
There are strictly enforced rules of the road for them. Roundabouts have bicycle lanes, and they ride through them the same as cars. In fact, bicycles own the streets in the Netherlands. In the towns and cities, cars and pedestrians make way for them. And if there’s a dispute, or some question as to who has right of way, smart people will defer to bicycles. No one wants to be the car driver who has to explain to the police about the bicycle crushed under their front tire. And as for pedestrians…if they get run over by a bicycle, well, they’re just considered stupid for not being quick enough.
A few years ago, we watched a canal in Amsterdam being dredged for stolen bicycles. Bicycle theft is such a problem in the Netherlands that any time we had to leave our rides unattended, we locked them up tighter than the Canadian Mint and checked on them frequently.
Remember in the Old West, when stealing a man’s horse was a hanging offense?
That’s how the Dutch feel about their rides. We borrowed bicycles from my BIL’s girlfriend’s neighbour, whose little girl cried because she thought we were going to keep them.
There are tandem bicycles, and ones with passenger seats. Passengers also ride on rear or front racks meant for carrying packages. I’ve ridden on the back of my husband’s bicycle, mostly because it’s illegal to operate one while under the influence and he didn’t trust me to be inconspicuous if the police happened along. As if putting me on the back of a bicycle, hanging on for dear life after having a few drinks, made me somehow less so…
But my favourite bicycle had a toddler strapped in a seat on the back, and a wooden cart with two preschoolers in it fastened to the front tire.
And it was driven by a real man – tall, blond and handsome, and not a bit concerned about having the kids out for a ride on a bicycle. This did not seem to threaten his manhood in any way. I don’t think he had any idea he was the object of my fascination.
You don’t see a sight like that in rural Nova Scotia.
“You should get a picture of that,” my husband said.
At first, I thought he’d read my mind. Then I realized he was talking about the bicycle. I wish I’d gotten a picture, but by the time I’d focused my camera, the hottie and his mini entourage were long gone. Besides, it felt just a tad creepy to be taking pictures of a stranger. Oh yes, and his children, too.
I’ve pretty much decided that, in one of my future stories, the hero will ride a bicycle. I don’t mean one of those high-priced racing bikes, either. He’s going to meander along the tops of the dykes beside the Ijssel on his three-speed, take the ferry across the river, and stop for a latte in one of the nearby medieval towns.
The heroine, if she’s had a few drinks, may get to ride along on the back.