This is Bluey the Bicycle. Bluey and I first became acquainted the week when I first moved to Amsterdam and ended up purchasing her at the giant Albert Cuyp Market (which I have promptly never returned to since). Bluey is a good old classic Dutch oma fiets- literally “grandma’s bicycle”- which is the name given to these sorts of cruiser bicycles in the Netherlands.
Now Bluey has been a great bicycle, and it is really not her fault that she got me as an owner as I tend to not be the best caretaker… and I don’t just mean the memorable first few days when I tried to remember how to use a pedal break for the first time since I was ten, or the many rust spots on the frame from hitting her with the heavy bicycle lock during parking (the picture above is a rather old one). No, so far the following things have happened to me since I’ve been a Dutch bicycle owner, in roughly chronological order:
- The first trial was a few weeks after I’d arrived in the country and after returning to Amsterdam Centraal from a train journey I noticed my bicycle was missing and no longer parked where I had left it. On the one hand a stolen bicycle is mildly exciting because it’s one of those things everyone must allegedly have happen to them in order to be a real Amsterdammer, on the other hand Bluey and I had only known each other few weeks and it was upsetting to think of our relationship getting cut short.
Luckily it turned out Bluey was not stolen by a crack addict who promptly threw her into the canal but rather the city, who routinely clears out all the bicycles parked illegally in front of the station (the problem is legal parking is often chock-full with abandoned bicycles, so if you’re running late like I was cycling there isn’t a great idea if you want to find a spot). When this happens they take your bike to the bicycle depot and you have to go retrieve it and pay a 10 Euro fine, but the real punishment is losing a half day of your life going out into the middle of nowhere on a bus that rarely runs to a place presumably many people would want to go. And the depot itself might as well be renamed “Where Bikes Go To Die,” as they’re required to keep all abandoned and illegally parked bicycles in Amsterdam for six months in case someone comes to fetch theirs, but most are never claimed-Luckily Bluey and I were quickly reunited, and got the hell out of there!
- Moving along, Bluey has also gotten a flat tire twice. This is a fairly normal thing in this country of course, but the first flat tire was due to a thumb tack that was lying in the middle of a road, and it was mysteriously near a bicycle shop that agreed to quickly fix the flat, so I never quite shook off wondering if there was a sinister motive for there being a thumb tack in the middle of the road in the first place.
- Speaking of sinister motives… last month when I moved I spent the first two weeks parking Bluey in front of my new house along with all the other bikes that were there. After two weeks Bluey’s back tire had once again gone flat, but not due to a puncture- somehow the air had just been released. Which would’ve been a weird minor thing, except for the part where the very same thing happened just two days later.
Now the first time you take a bike to the shop with a tire like this they just look at you funny, the second time they ask you if you have a problem with your neighbor. Turns out someone in my subdivided old canal house started a personal vendetta to have bicycles no longer parked in front of our place, and poor Bluey got caught in the crossfire. Bluey now gets parked down the street, but my Dutch friends all found the entire affair hilarious because I live in one of the nicest, safest areas of the city (the last time something violent happened it was when some Germans marched through with uniforms and guns), and I still managed to get into a turf war which I promptly lost.
- The final transgression against Bluey happened just last week, when I did something very stupid and lost my spare bicycle key which I kept meaning to make a copy of ever since I lost the first one but never had. In the walk from down the street to my apartment which is maybe 100 meters of road. Let’s just say people are not always very attentive on the final stretch home when it’s late at night.
Now the real issue here is what on Earth do you do when facing a formidable Dutch bicycle lock and no way to unlock it, but very much in need of your mechanical stallion? (Fun fact: the Dutch word fiets for bicycle is thought by linguists to come from an abbreviation for a German phrase for “mechanical horse.”) Consultation with a mechanic on duty at a nearby bicycle shop and the fact that I hadn’t actually locked Bluey to a bike rack, just the front weel to the frame, meant I was advised to steal my own bicycle and bring it over (and because he thought I was cute he agreed to cut the lock off for free if I bought a new one there). I just had to awkwardly bring the thing a few blocks over from the current position to the shop.
By the way, it turns out I now know why bike theft is so common in the Netherlands- even when it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon and you are stealing your own bicycle by carrying it several blocks, not one person will bother to stop and ask what on Earth it is you’re doing!
So goes the life and times of my experience as a Dutch bicycle owner- I’m not sure if I’m a particularly good one, but Bluey has yet to complain personally about her situation. I will say though that at each of these stages someone has told me “don’t worry, you’re not a real Amsterdammer until that happens anyway!”, and based on the other bicycle related mishaps two things still need to happen to me.
The first is at some point I need to get my wheel stuck in the tram tracks and fall over. If this is the price to pay I refuse to ever become a real citizen of this city, as that just sounds far too painful.
The second is Bluey needs to be stolen for real, and I never see her again. I hope this never happens either- we’ve just had too many memorable experiences together!