Tuesday, 4 August 2015

No spandex please, we're Dutch

We've been passing through the Netherlands and were surrounded, as you'd expect, by bikes. No surprise there, but what is quite interesting is the sort of bikes that are popular over there. Most of the ones you see in town are charmingly retro-style bikes with about three gears, sturdy frames, often with a wicker basket and one of those kick stands that no longer seem to come as standard on most bikes sold in Britain. Not so many mountain bikes (well it was the Netherlands), or drop handlebar racing machines, hardly any Spandex and Lycra and no cycle helmets.

A lot of the retro design you see is just stylistic whimsy. Think the New Beetle, the innards of a mid-to high-end modern car, encased in the curvy shell of a basic mid-century people's car, then sold at a premium, or Boris Johnson's idea of a 21st Century Routemaster bus - a case of the upper classes trying to recreate something charming the lower classes might use, but not really getting it, like Marie Antionette playing with china milkmaid's pails.

But the Dutch bikes are old-fashioned to a purpose. Extra-long mudguards, because these people are going about their everyday business in everyday clothes, not dressing up in Lycra, and you don't want to turn up at work with a muddy brown stripe up your back. Baskets, not because you want to look like an extra from Miss Marple, but because you might want to carry stuff. An enclosed cycle chain because black grease on your trouser ends looks almost as rubbish as a brown stripe up your back, and it's a lot harder to wash out. This is biking, not as an entirely separate leisure activity, but as practical, everyday transport.

I've seen the past, and it works.