Friday, 10 August 2007

Cycle of life

One thing that's special about spending time in the Netherlands is the overwhelming predominance there of the bicycle as a mode of transport. It has its drawbacks in bad weather (we also do an annual autumn break there) but otherwise there's nothing so liberating as swinging up onto your big solid gearless bike to go to the shops, the beach or wherever, taking part in a real communal activity and being as green as can be.

It's just not possible to the same extent here in Brussels, because despite the designation of a great deal of cycle-paths, they're pretty much notional (painted lines on the road surface, rather than the dedicated paths you see in NL) and that, together with the Belgian driver's lack of awareness of cyclists (every Dutch driver is primarily a cyclist, born and bred) makes the practice unsafe. There are many beautiful cycle-routes here, of course. They've taken to rehabilitating disused railway tracks as cycle-routes. But that's recreation, not everyday life.

Despite all that, I was just browsing through the online catalogue of Fietsfabriek (Bike Factory) in Amsterdam, who make some of the most attractive Dutch bikes. If you read the descriptions, you'll understand that this is not cycling for guys in lycra shorts with leg muscles like knotted string. A few excerpts:

This bike can easily carry 2 children and a big bag of groceries: it stays balanced.

If you have pets you can easily carry them in the crate so you can keep an eye on them.

The back rack is strong enough to carry an adult!

This model is also used by carpenters, plummers and builders, for whom we install a box for heavy tools.

A low step is especially comfortable for elderly people because it makes it easier to keep your balance on the bike.

Balloon tires are very thick tires with natural springs. You can easily ride up to curbs without damaging the rims.

Start off browsing with the Pack-Max Duo, suitable for carrying three children. People actually do that sort of thing routinely in Holland.