Sunday, 25 August 2013

On your marks, get set, cycle!



Since moving back to the Netherlands, cycling has become a very important part of our life. Instead of driving to school, the sport's fields, hairdresser, dentist, a friend's house, or the supermarket, we get on our bikes.

My children take our new exercise regime in their stride. And so do I. Well for now at least. When the sun is out almost everyday and it hasn't seriously rained for at least three weeks, I think all this cycling is great fun. Since I purchased an ugly, but highly functional double pannier bag, I even do most of our grocery shopping by bike. And I must say I am getting better and better at judging the capacity of the aforementioned pannier bag. The last time I cycled home with a couple of bread rolls and a packet of crisps clamped between my teeth is almost a week ago.
Every morning when I take my 10yo to her new school, we encounter a - hitherto unknown - subspecies. That of the cycling (grand)parent/child combination. Fathers with a little one in a seat on the back, leaning precariously over to the left to hold another child's shoulder in an attempt to point it in the right direction. Mums with two, three little blond children on large carrier tricycles. And grandparents with a 4, or 5yo on a tag along bike. To try and manoeuvre a car through my neighbourhood during the school run, really is quite an endeavour.
My daughter, a virtual novice on a bicylce, acts as if she's cycled all her life. And fair enough she isn't zigzagging down the road like some of the younger children. Negotiating traffic however is still pretty tricky. Not that she'll ever admit it. In fact she is on a mission to get my permission to cycle to school all by herself.
Which - to her infinite disappointment - is going to take a while. Firstly, I need to see for myself that she notices and stops for motorists and cyclists coming from the right. And secondly, I would like to make sure that she doesn't hesitate when crossing a road, that she gets on her bike a little quicker and that she doesn't come to an unexpected standstill in the middle of the road every time she spots a tiny
bug on her arm.
We negotiated a fragile truce. She rides her bike twenty or so meters ahead of me. That way she can pretend to be all grown up and I can anticipate oncoming traffic, even if she doesn't.
Cycling with my son is an altogether different experience. He is fast and furious. Daring me to keep up with him. Refusing to wear a helmet as no one else does. He has a point.  I loose my first battle, before we have even started some serious cycling.
After explaining him all the rules and the different traffic signs that he should be paying attention to, we set off to the supermarket together. We're not even halfway there, before it all goes pear-shaped. Not only do I forget the necessary handsignals, as he impatiently points out on several ocassions, I also have the nerve to ride my bike on the pavement.
Let me explain that to get to our local supermarket, you have to ride your bike round a roundabout where cyclists have priority. If you take the second exit as you are supposed to, you then need to

cross a very busy road to get to the shops. If however you take the third exit, you need to cycle on the pavement, for about fifty meters or so, to get to the supermarket. It's an altogether safer option.
My 12yo is appalled. He apparantly has become all Swiss over the past two years and now feels that rules are rules and that you should obey them at all times. Even if those rules  make no sense at all.
Oh dear. One of the nicest things about being Dutch, is that from a very young age you learn to ignore loads of rules. As long as you don't hurt anybody, act sensibly and courteously towards other people, most things you do, are absolutely fine. In other words, if I ride my bike very slowly on the pavement and make sure I get off it and walk if there are some pedestrians coming towards me, then all is well.
My son however insists on abandoning me and stubbornly follows his own internal compass. From my pavement position it is impossible to make sure that my son - a hundred meters or so down the road - executes his crossing perfectly. Luckily he makes it to the supermarket in one piece. The grocery shopping however, I do on my own these days. And that, surely, must be exactly what my son aimed for all along. Grrrr.