Sunday, July 10, 2005

bicycles...



Most people find Amsterdam to be a beautiful old city, paced by gently flowing bicycle traffic. Many visitors marvel at the rhythm of life in this quiet metropolis -- streets flowing with flocks of men, women, and children on bicycles. Tourists snap photographs of men in business suits with briefcases propped on the handlebars, women with yellow-haired children in various bicycle/wagon hybrids, hip young Amsterdammers with colorfully-painted "grandma-bicycles..." I believe that the majority of people passing through Amsterdam catch themselves admiring this basic mode of transportation for being so clean, so efficient, so healthy, so graceful...

I also believe that the majority of people passing through Amsterdam are clueless.

The postcards and casual tourist glances do nothing to indicate the frustration and agony of flattened tires, drenched clothing, and every manner of annoying rattles and squeaks issued by an old Amsterdam omafiets. Don't get me wrong. I understand the many benefits of bicycles, and in fact I would personally advocate for more people in other parts of the world to take advantage of bicycles as an inexpensive and efficient mode of transport. But I don't think the idyllic postcard image of people happily bicycling through Amsterdam is doing any favors for anybody. In reality, bicycle transportation has a dark and fearsome side.

To justify this conjecture, I need to look no further than my own bicycle: a brown, corroded men's Batavus bicycle, originally dubbed "Cleveland Brown" -- or "Cleveland" for short. I bought it second-hand at a shop on the Overtoom for about €100, and I liked it for its sturdy frame to complement the newly replaced wheels, chain, and lighting mechanism. I named him in homage to my home state's principal metropolis -- reinvigorated Rust-Belt city (like the bike itself) and home to a football team whose name conveniently coincided with the paint job on the bicycle... So Cleveland and I toured the city together for many months. At the time, he was a vast improvement and a welcome relief to my old bicycle, "Niet Makkelijk" ("Not Easy"), and indeed he faithfully served his purposes for a good while.

In time, though -- as with virtually all bicycles -- Cleveland Brown began to turn to the dark side. First the front fork and lighting mechanism were marred in a freak accident. The brown manufacturer's front fork was replaced with a black front fork (as black as sin), and the front light was lowered from handlebar-level to the level of the wheel (like an evil winking eye). But I was naïve and blinded to the obvious signs at that point -- that Cleveland's journey toward the dark side had begun... Yet from that day forward -- slowly, ever so slowly -- the dark side began to take over my poor bicycle. The chain guard was broken by neighborhood kids and replaced with a black casing (as black as the night). The front wheel was maligned and replaced with a sturdy new wheel, rimmed in black (as black as death). The cargo rack on the back of the bicycle rusted through and was replaced by a new, black replacement (as black as the devil's soul). Bit by bit, Cleveland Brown lost the will to resist, and the dark side increased its hold on the young Jedi warrior.

Now I can say that I genuinely fear and loathe my bicycle. The kick-stand is almost frozen solid. The chain breathes a death-rattle on every crank. The front steering column moans and squeaks with each twist of the handlebars. The right foot pedal is cracked and crooked. More and more parts are rusting through, and soon there will be nothing of the original body left. The name "Cleveland Brown" no longer holds any meaning for me...

I now refer to him as "Darth Brown." It's sad and tragic, but truly the dark side is powerful and persuasive. Just remember that the next time you think about labeling Amsterdam's bicycle traffic as being so idyllic.

7 Comments:

At 8:09 PM, Blogger seth said...

Lovely! "Darth Brown" is beginning to sound like one of my many steeds - all of which were wholly evil from the get-go. Thanks for the memories.

 
At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Marci said...

I remember the gleam in your eye the day you brought "Cleveland" home, but I had a first hand experience riding "Darth" the other day...and I must say, he indeed has turned to the dark side.

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Jason Slack said...

Ha! I have always loved the way you name your transportation. This is the first time I can remember you needing to change a name though. Do you perform exorcisms in your church?

 
At 8:37 PM, Blogger patricia said...

hi eric, just to commiserate with you ... I had a pretty gnarly head-on collision yesterday, rounding the corner on Leidsekade into someone going the wrong way on the wrong side of the street and in an utter daze ... as of tomorrow, I too will have a new front fork ... right now Isabelle (the Gazelle) is a beautiful deep green ... I'm afraid to pick her up tomorrow and see what sort of mismatched replacement part they've given her ... and after your story, I'm really hoping it's not black!

 
At 9:55 PM, Anonymous mom said...

Who would ever think you would have to be afraid of the dark side of a bike? So sad...

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Some good thoughts brought up by the comments... First, I need to give props to my lovely wife as she in fact is the one who helped discover the "Darth Brown" name change... Second, Seth and Patricia's comments -- combined with Jason's closing question -- make me wonder if we really should consider a new ministry of the church... And finally, to all who pass this way, beware of the dark side (if I were you, Patricia, I would be afraid -- very afraid).

 
At 11:19 PM, Blogger Crystal said...

I did a Europe Backpacking tour back in '98, and Yeah I found the bicycle culture of Amsterdam different and charming. At least you guys don't get fat like us Americans, because you stay fit with the bicycling.

 

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