Living in the Netherlands and not knowing how to ride a bike

I grew up in a hilly city, in an apartment in the middle of the city centre. Where I grew up, bikes are toys, and they are used by kids. I also used to have one. A flashy red bike with three wheels. I stopped using it when I was too tall to fit.

Then my mother gave the bike to a relative, who had a young daughter. There were boys riding bikes with two wheels. But it was something that people did until they were fifteen.
In the city I grew up, the less organised and wild traffic habits, increase the likelihood of being killed in an accident. Therefore riding a bike as a vehicle in running traffic is out of the question for any sane mother. If you are a girl, you will not switch to a two-wheel bike anyways. If you are a boy and if you love your mother, then you would say goodbye to your bike when you hit 15. Also, proof that you are not a small kid anymore.

My mother couldn’t know the terror of humiliation I would experience in the Netherlands at the age of 30. If she knew, maybe she would have let me ride a two-wheel bike like the neighbourhood boys.

Imagine me on an adult bike, totally stiffed. My husband is holding the seat, giving instructions about how to keep my balance. This is too big of a “test of trust” in a marriage. Let’s be honest; I am not five years old, and he is not my father.

Meanwhile, neighbourhood kids pass by on their bikes, riding like the wind and laughing at me. One of them yells: “You are missing the orange flag hahaha”. (Orange flag attached to little kid’s bikes ensures their visibility for other bikers.)

When I was fully convinced that learning how to ride a bike at the age of 30 is a mission impossible, I suggested buying an adult bike with three wheels. But my step-kids were very clear that they would never ever bike next to me. A not so cool step-mother was their horror of humiliation.

My husband was not ready to give up yet. Like true Dutch, he loves outdoor activities; he has multiple bikes in the garage. And he thinks that it is ridiculous to take the car to places that we can easily go by bike.

During a gathering, our dear neighbour volunteered to end this frustration. He agreed to teach me how to ride a bike on a relatively quiet road. I was using my step-son’s bike. A smaller one on which I can quickly put my feet back on the ground to feel safe.

This was 12 years ago. Now I have a beautiful white bike, and I love to ride it. I still have some balancing problems. I can sign that I am turning left, but I cannot let my right hand loose and sign that I am turning right. I still panic when I have to pass other bikers on a bridge. And I still think that Dutch people riding bikes with baby seats are out of their minds!

Irem Janssen

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