Biking culture as something unfamiliar

When you think about Holland you might have Gouda cheese, Heineken beer, bitterballen, windmills, dams and the colour orange in mind. I’m sure sooner or later the bikes come into the picture. Growing up in a suburb of Bern bikes were never an unfamiliar picture to me. I used to bike to school or work, my bike being a means of transportation but not more.

Biking in Holland is on a whole new level. Everyone bikes everywhere with anything on their bikes. In the morning the streets are full with kids on the way to school, parents with the “bakfiets” (a bike with a big box in front of the bike, in which 4 little children can sit) or kids standing on the back rack of their parent’s bikes enjoying the view and ride. Around 9am it’s the students’ time, lectures begin or the library is calling for some studying. What you can encounter now are bikes packed with young people, backpacks in the basket, phone in one hand and coffee in the other. Usually it’s really hard to overtake a slow biker as everyone is biking in a group and chatting together, plus there are just too many bikes. Riding with the flow is less stressful and safer. It’s like rush hour but in “bikecity”. During the day the strangest things can be seen on bikes. People transporting dogs, furniture or around Christmas a Christmas tree. The later the evening, the more young people find themselves on their bikes again, some of them training for the next slalom bike competition trying not to fall or hurt themselves. Following this description it can be said that Holland has an extremely broad and diverse bike culture. The bike as a mean of transportation encompasses way more than what I was used to from home. A bike does not only get you from A to B but is your best friend in any situation. It’s a life style that is so simple but yet exceptional enriching. Pretty much anything can be achieved with a bike and the freedom that comes with it.

At the beginning of my stay I bought myself a second hand bike. The thought of buying a good bike, as it will be your main transportation vehicle, is not very common. The chance of getting your shiny and expensive bike stolen is too high. Anything more than 100€ spent is too much and will attract unwanted attention. Being used to biking, the whole act of it was familiar to me. Not so the cultural practice of doing pretty much everything and going everywhere with your bike. Over time I got more accustomed to the biking culture, including drinking my morning coffee on the way to the lecture in the city center, packing my groceries on my front and back rack (looking like I was feeding a family of 8 people), dinking people on the back of my bike, practicing my slalom skills on the weekends and chatting along with my friends while biking to our next adventure. Yesterday I finally found someone who agreed to buy my bike as I will be leaving Utrecht soon. Oddly enough, I felt sad giving away my old and loyal friend who carried me through this semester. It was like saying goodbye to a life style of freedom, carelessness and the possibility to explore the world on just two wheels. Also the independence of time and society as you never relied on cars or buses.

This cultural practice showed me that things appearing to be familiar or known at first sight might turn out to hold more than you would expect. If you encounter such an alleged familiarity and really dive into it you might find unfamiliar aspects and differences. This unfamiliarity again can become something familiar over time and you implement it in your own daily life. It taught me that even in familiar situations unexpected things may arise that show you a different or better way of doing things.

Lea Moser

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