I closed the chapter on many unexpected things this year, some inevitabley expected, but my beloved bicycle was the heartache surprise I wasn’t ready to part ways with. I always said the day my bike is stolen is the day I leave this city for good. My friends chuckled at this statement because apparently as it goes here, “you’re not a true ‘Amsterdamer until you have a bike stolen.”
I never owned my own car, therefore, a bike was the closest set of wheels I could relate to. On the 31st of December 2019, after a pretty chaotic move to a new apartment, I went back to retrieve my bike beside a canal and take off into the night to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends. The distinct back wheel with the orange highlights glowed in the dark. It always caught my eye, calming any onset anxiety, like a mother who had lost their child in a large crowd for a few seconds. I paced up and down the surrounding canals, nothing. It was gone. As the fireworks exploded around me and merry tourists swayed through the bustling streets, drinks in tow, the first tear rolled down my cheek. Before long I was fully inconsolable. My eyes started to swell and my face glowed, red raw. No one had died, but it felt like a funeral to me. The previous month I had bailed my bike out of ‘bike jail’ when the municipality removed it from a restricted area on the street on my 28th birthday. I resembled a worried mother rescuing their child from a precarious situation. During transit to the warehouse, it was bashed and bruised, left to rust in the cold outdoors – Oh my guilt prevailed! I sorrowfully expressed my remorse as it clattered and rattled on the long cycle home. Why my melodramatic reaction? Let me tell you…
In my 1.5 years living in Amsterdam, it was my first bike and I cherished it. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, most people advise you to spend more money on a lock than on the actual bike itself. My friend often jokes that even the wealthiest Dutch businessmen decked out in beautifully tailored blue suits and brown shoes, cycle a bike that resembles and echoes that of two drain pipes glued together. However, I knew it was love at first sight when we locked eyes at the market in Waterlooplein. It was expensive, but I had to have it.
The freedom that comes with a bike is indescribable. You aren’t waiting around or throwing money away on costly public transport. Not to mention adding to environmental pollution and traffic congestion. Little do you know that you are racking up many kilometres daily, increasing happy endorphins and overall leading a healthier life. Hail, rain or shine, the Dutch will bike anywhere and everywhere. Prior to moving to The Netherlands, I wouldn’t even consider cycling my bike if it was raining, but the great thing about the Dutch is that they adapt everything to suit their surrounding environment and climate. The infrastructure means that bikes surpass cars in number and respect. The wind in Amsterdam is often soul cutting, but the challenge creates determination and a sense of accomplishment. You never need to worry about getting anywhere and more importantly, getting home after a late night or early morning (even after a few alcoholic beverages – Dutch courage!)
I know I shouldn’t, but I often feel attached to things or people that I create fond memories with. Letting go is always so difficult for me because I see it as a personal failure – I constantly reminisce and reflect. I have had many adventures with this bike. It’s usually the difficult experiences that lodge deep in my memory because the good things in life never come easy. I cycled 20 kilometres to Ikea in the lashings of rain and a violent storm on my return, with a large, heavy blue Ikea bag strapped to the front. It was touch and go, but I made it back in one piece. Surprisingly, my pots, pans and glass items did too! In April 2019, I cycled North East to Marken Island with friends. An arguably more challenging route, as we encountered every season in one day. My bike was heavy, but sturdy. The extra weight caused me to curse and shout as I peddled as fast as I could across the long, exposed bridge to reach the small fishing island against the tenacious wind. Character building tears were also included (free of charge) during this expedition. During the early summer heatwave, I cycled from Amsterdam to beyond Haarlem (Bloemendaal Aan Zee) for a festival on the beach. Between a long day of energetic dancing, reckless sunburn and careless dehydration, I was destroyed, but deeply satisfied with my solo adventure.
We sometimes take our bodies for granted. It’s only through the hardships we realise how lucky we are to be given this amazing machine – to move, to be independent, to thrive. Often it’s the mind that needs to be plugged in and connected to make things happen. The feeling of freedom whilst cycling positively consumes you – the wind in your hair, fresh air in your lungs and the wings that allow you to soar. You are in the Now, Present in your breath. You are free.
What does freedom mean to you?
PS. Who ever out there has my stolen bike, I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me. Sometimes we need to accept that not everything in life is meant to stay with us forever. You release the old and welcome the new.