Roll on, Dutch bikes, roll on
A pal of mine who’s in the know sent me a link to the walking and biking needs survey of the community. She is on lots of such mailings through her work, and she forwarded the survey so I might take it, too.
I don’t mention her name, for her protection, in case the surveying group takes umbrage, because I had a a great deal to say. I am short or sleep, short on time and short on attention span. But I am never short on opinions.
I worried the committee looking into ways to improve the biking and walking experiences of Owensboro might not hear from every crucial voice, and I like to think mine is one. You might think yours is, too. A call or email to the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce might be helpful, even if the survey has ended.
Because I want to see Owensboro out walking. Out on bikes. If you are out there, I am more likely to be out there, too. There is a joy and freedom that comes with walking out among others doing the same. Nodding slightly, sharing the sidewalk, hearing birdsong and squirrel clatter, catching glimpses of all the life we miss whizzing by in cars, the windows rolled up, the roar of the A/C on high.
I stopped by a bike shop over the weekend, almost overcome with nostalgia with each inhale of all the fine rubbery scent. I ask the young man behind the counter if they sold, or could get their hands on, a Dutch- or English-style bike, one with an upright sitting position, swept-back handlebars, something like Miss Gulch rode in “The Wizard of Oz.”
He looked at me, thin as a whippet, little beard, big eyes and said, no. No, he had no idea what a Dutch bike is, so, again, no.
I don’t blame him, not too much, but I left disappointed. Other bike sellers in town have versions of a Dutch bike, in that they are step-through bikes, with the pedals slightly forward, and you can stand flat-footed at a stop. All good things. But still, I can’t shake the old-fashioned design and charm of the “sit up and beg”-style bike of my forbearers.
I found a brand of Dutch bike I like very much called the Azor. They have the geometry I am looking for, and videos show them loaded down, mothers with a child in front of her, perched on a little seat attached just below the handlebars, another child on the back, the mom on her cellphone.
Then I read the Azor is designed to be a car substitute in the Netherlands, and I figure it must weigh a ton, because it looks like it could carry a ton. Can you imagine, really?
As I searched for a replacement bike, I came across a thing called The Plain Bike Project. Coming to us out of Winnipeg, this group started less as a bike shop than a “social bomb,” their words. They want to bring everyday, practical cycling to North America. They think bicycling to is a smart way to travel, and it should be viewed more as a way to get around than an extreme sport.
And they think this new revolution into bicycling will roll in on an omafiets, the Grandma’s bike so popular in Europe.
Good luck finding such a bike, you say? Not a bit of it, they reply. Instead of waiting for the trend to catch on, the Plain Bike Project got busy ordering up a shipping container full of used Dutch bikes. A slew of them. You can purchase one relatively inexpensively.
You get online, note what you are looking for — frame size, number of gears — and they will work to send you something close to your request. Or, for less money, you can just ask for a bike and they will send you potluck. But a working bike. Maybe a single speed with coaster breaks, maybe something more elaborate. Probably the bike will be black. But it could be dark green.
Who knows? Who cares? Imagine it. A bunch of us taking the air on our omafiets. And it won’t matter if some of our bikes are used. The Dutch bikes are quite literally crafted to be left outside in the rain, in the weather. They last forever. It’s what makes them cool.
By Greta McDonough Messenger-Inquirer