Monday, April 20

Bicycle Balance

*original writing date: 26 August 2005*

Do you remember this passage from the CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Seuss?

“Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!
It is fun to have fun but you have to know how!
I can hold up the cupAnd the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books! And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship and a little toy man! And look!
With my tailI can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan as I hop on the ball!
But that is not all.Oh, no.That is not all…”

Well, I hereby give witness that the Cat in the Hat, as wily as he may be has absolutely NOTHING on the Dutch and their ability to balance ALL while riding a bicycle. It is an amazing thing to watch, actually, as the locals pedal home with their shopping bags full. That’s impressive alone, but I wish I had a photo of some of the things I have seen them carry whilst cycling down the bike lane.

For instance, one man last week was obviously on his way to pick up a child from school and he pedaled his own bike while holding another bike alongside and steering both through the traffic so that when he arrived his child would have a vehicle to return home.

A common practice which we have also adopted is to haul a passenger on the back end or rack end of the bike. It is not at all rare to see a passenger sitting side saddle on a bike, but the racks are most often home to packages of all sorts; groceries, books, briefcases, flowers, etc.

Often, there will also be a bag attached-or in Dutch: fietstas which is like a trunk for a bicycle. That’s where a full load of groceries can be carried, or a picnic lunch, or school books. In our case, it’s a handy place for diapers, wipes and extra jackets.

Of course there are the seats for the babies and toddlers and though I can cart Andrew around on my bike, my mouth hangs agape as I watch the parents toodle by with a child not only on the back of the bike but also one strapped in a seat at the front! I was deeply chagrined recently when, as I walked my bike through a sharp curve and up a sloping canal bridge, because I didn’t have the leg power to negotiate the curve or the hill, I was passed by a somewhat rotund Dutch woman carting a toddler on the front and a Kindergartner on the back of her bike and not even breaking a sweat! Ah, me.

Also, Netherlanders, not to be outdone by commuters in the States are very handy with a cell phone while negotiating traffic on the bicycle. I haven’t yet seen anyone trying to do their make-up while riding, but I am certain that too could be done. Eight-year old Emma’s observation tonight is actually quite a tell all of this culture. She said “I guess you know you’re in Holland when you see someone riding a bike AND smoking a cigarette!” In her estimation, the two activities are usually mutually exclusive, but not here in Holland. No, the cardiovascular benefits of riding are cancelled out by the inhalation of nicotine.

It also should be mentioned that it is entirely possible for the locals to carry and consume a steaming cup of coffee while pedalling along.

Yes, these are the bits of the culture for which we will always stand at the outside.

Now, finally, I mention the piece de résistance in balancing all things a top a bicycle. Don and I, with Andrew in tow were on a bike outing last week when along the bike path came a man, one hand on the handlebars and one hand holding a rather large object alongside as he pedaled down the road. It was about 3 feet tall x 2 feet wide x 2 feet deep. He had a rope strapped around it and he held onto that with one hand as he maneuvered down the path. Friends, it was a small filing cabinet! I literally stopped my bike and stared as he passed.

That kind of balance is, in my estimation, the sum total of being Dutch.


  1. I just love that you compared this to the Cat in the Hat. Brilliant!

  2. well, they grow up with it. What can we say, they had years of practise

  3. I just got back from a weeklong visit. The epitome of watching the Dutch "be Dutch" occured when, in downtown Haarlem, I saw a woman balancing on the back of her bike a: 4 ft by 2 ft by 6 in heavy box from Ikea! The Ikea store was back a mile or two near Amsterdam.