Learning to Ride

July 07, 2012 By Emmy McCarthy 4 Comments

How one Mama got her wheels back.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. I beg to differ.

Filled with excitement at our new home city, my husband and I ventured out in our former child-free days to acquire our first Dutch bikes.

We headed into the nearest bike shop and to our delight found it staffed by a friendly Canadian who was more than happy to answer all our stupid questions and sell us a couple of bikes.

"Back brakes ok?" he said, "I'm sorry, could you please repeat that in English?" said I. He patiently explained the concept of back brakes, you pedal backwards to brake. "Oh I don't think so, thank you, just the normal brakes will be fine" I countered.

There followed a lengthy explanation of why back brakes were better, did I know how cold it got here and normal brakes would freeze rendering the bike useless in the winter. With the fear of deathly cold instilled in me, I reluctantly agreed to the back brakes.

Riding home wasn't so bad. I took it slowly and, frankly, it was no distance. Invigorated with my new biking prowess ("It's just a bike, you never forget how to ride a bike! Hahahaha!") we set off the next morning through the centre of town.

As Julia Roberts once said, "Big mistake, big huge mistake". All was going well until I had to make my first turn onto a bridge, my husband had shot off ahead and made a sharp left and in my determination to follow him I forgot to look properly and cut up another bike. While desperately trying to shout a full British apology over my shoulder I turned and realised I wasn't going to make the corner. Worse than that, I was headed straight for a group of map-reading tourists, blissfully unaware of their impending doom.

I grabbed frantically for the brakes. The brakes that were not there because I had bought a bike with back brakes and had no memory of this as I hurtled towards the tourists.

They went down like skittles.

Had we been in a ten pin bowling alley I would have been doing my happy dance underneath the "STRIIIIIIIIIIIKKKKE!" screen.

As it turned out though I was a screaming harpy on a bridge in the middle of beautiful Amsterdam yelling at my husband for racing ahead of me and causing me to crash (that poor boy... ahem...)

That put me off for a while.  I opted for trams where possible, or good old legs and feet.

Then I had a baby and my husband was adamant that we go Dutch and get a bakfiets. The popular way of transporting your child on a bike in our area of Amsterdam.

Oh dear.

Too pregnant to try it out by the time we bought it. I left it untouched for the first few months then on a sunny summer day (I know, rare as hen's teeth around here) we headed off to the Vondelpark with the baby strapped into a maxi cosi to try it out.

Rookie error.

The Vondelpark on a sunny summer's day is lethal for an inexperienced bakfiets rider. I tried it. I wasn't sure about it. I got off. The end.

Until one day I got up the nerve to take it out with the baby during the quiet of the day. Just the two of us riding around our neighbourhood.

A couple of wobbles and we were off! Wow. What an experience. It was like learning to ride all over again, but better because now it was a mama baby adventure.

Since that day we've never looked back. I still hate riding in the centre, too many people getting in my way, too busy. Other than that though, we ride all the time. We have covered kilometres of this city from one side to the other, my bakfiets and I. It changed how I see the city and I would encourage anyone to at least try it out.

We bought a new bakfiets.nl kort (the short, two wheeler) after an enormous amount of research and I recommend it to everyone who asks. My son loves it, always has done and I can't imagine navigating the city without it.


Emmy McCarthy is the Director of Stichting Amsterdam Mamas. She is a Mama, Entrepreneur and Connector on a never-ending quest for balance in her life.


 photo credit: Amsterdamized via photo pin cc

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