How to Ride And Fall In The Streets Of Amsterdam

One bump, three grazes and eight bruises – that basically sums up my first couple months of cycling around Amsterdam. The last time I confidently rode a bicycle was in the 90’s. From when I was ten years old until around ten and a half years old, I was the proud owner of a bicycle. After it got stolen, breaking my heart, I never bothered getting a new one (roller-skates were big back then too, so I simply switched my mode of transport). The next time I encountered cycling was at Afrikaburn, South Africa’s smaller version of Burning Man. But let’s face it, I was in the middle of the desert! It didn’t matter how fast or slow I was going and I was too preoccupied to care about falling; because of that I never did. But now I’ve moved to Amsterdam, the cycle city. It’s something that’s part of the culture here. I’ve had to put on my big girl cycling pants and learn the way of the locals.

In fact, it got off to a good start. After only searching for a couple of days on the internet, I had come across a decent second hand bike going for a really good price. I met with the man, who had a myriad of other bicycles up for grabs, made my choice and completed the sale. My new ride was an old Dutch style city bike, completely black with silver handle bars. Once the seat was adjusted to the lowest possible level, the bike was a perfect fit for me! I hopped on, wobbling with dismay, and made my way along the winding cobbled streets; feeling nervous and excited all at once. Five minutes into my excursion, I clipped the pavement and fell to the ground, buried under a spinning wheel. Feeling more sorry for my new beloved bike than my bruised hip, I continued, trying my hardest not to get run over by the variety of vehicles zooming around. It was a nerve wrecking experience, my first cycle in Amsterdam. But I was proud of myself for firstly only falling once and secondly for not harming anyone while doing so.

My cute city bike and I shared only a few more rides (and falls) together. One morning, I walked outside with courage plucked up high and forced confidence, ready to ride through my day, only to discover my bike was gone. I’d only owned her for about a week and a half when someone decided to take over ownership. Amsterdam is known for it’s high rate of bicycle theft. “Never get attached” I was warned – hundreds of bikes get stolen every single day. It’s known as the cycle of life (get it, cycle). The poor pick locks, steal bikes, resell them at a low rate, bike buyers search for low priced bicycles, buy them from the “thieves”, who then steal them again and so the cycle goes. It’s just how the system works.

After the initial shock of having been “robbed” had faded, I felt more a part of the city than ever; like I’d just passed some cruel initiation. I was one step closer to being part of the Dutch club. I didn’t jump too quickly at buying another bike. I decided to give other modes of transport a run for their money. But that is inevitably what they did – take my money and run. A second search abruptly began when I knew I need a more sufficient way of commuting.

A couple weeks later, I managed to get hold of another bike; similar in style to my previous one, but much smaller, with a giant red bell attached to her front. Being my second bike, I took at this one with a lot more confidence, as a child does when trying something new. Unfortunately, I’m a lot further from the ground than a kid, so when I fell, I fell hard. A few weeks ago, I had to make an emergency stop for a tram. I seemed to manage alright, until I tried to dismount, which ended with me tangled up between the poles of my bike. Embraced, sore and a little confused as to how that one even happened, I decided to simply blame gravity. Then a couple days later, I had to make a stop at a traffic light. The weather was miserable so the streets were wet from rain. In my attempt to stop , I skidded sideways, hitting the ground with my knee and colliding with another rider. Adding another bruise to my body and an even bigger bruise to my ego.

All in all, I’m not naturally gifted with skills on two wheels, but I’m getting there. Each day I hop on my bike with a bit more ease and enthusiasm. I’m getting to know the rules of the road, learning how to stop without toppling over and always double locking when parked. I’m proud to announce it’s been two weeks since my last fall. My injuries are almost all but healed. It’s exciting as an adult to experience the world like a child. With all the responsibilities, stresses over money, work and relationships it’s so refreshing to simply hop on a bicycle and turn into a kid again. At least now I’ve upgraded to not needing training wheels.