Monday, 24 October 2011

How many bikes are enough?

I find myself contemplating this strange question after a discussion with my husband about finally sending my old, battered, mountain bike to the tip as it’s wheels are now beyond repair.  It is the sort of question you would only ask yourself if you live in the Netherlands.  In the UK I used to ask, how many pairs of stilettos are enough or how many handbags. Now its bikes.

Before I came to the Netherlands I could barely ride a bike. I didn’t learn as a child because I lived in London and to ride a bike on our local streets would have resulted in certain death! Once I was a student, my pride and self image were too fragile to take the inevitable knocks of the extremely ungraceful process of wobbling up and down the (very steep) hills of Brighton on two wheels.  Thus it was only when I moved to the English countryside in my thirties that I finally set my nervous bottom upon a bike seat and meandered dangerously around my cul de sac where the local 7 year olds generously encouraged my efforts.

The bike I learnt to ride on was a deeply unglamorous neon, orange, mountain bike.  It was passed on to me by a friend whose 16 year old son had outgrown it. Since she had kindly donated the bike I felt compelled to use it, so every summer for 4 years the bike was ceremonially brought out of storage in the garage, dusted off, oiled and tyres pumped. I would then wobble my way into the village which was a 10 minute walk away but which took equally long at my pathetic peddling pace.  This annual event was my sole experience of cycling before I moved to the Netherlands.

Once I arrived here it became very quickly apparent I would have to re-assess my relationship with 2 wheels.  So the neon orange bike came out of storage once more and I attempted to get the hang of cycling somewhere with cycle paths and no hills.  The first problem I encountered was my tummy.  As I was pregnant at the time I found my belly was increasingly getting in the way when I leant over the handlebars of my mountain bike. Eventually I had to concede that a bump and a mountain bike were mutually exclusive and so I decided to buy my first bike.

This is where the slippery road to bike collection began.  I realise I am not alone in this phenomenon, in fact I suspect there is some kind of mathematical correlation between the number of years you live in the Netherlands and the number of bikes you accumulate!  We now have my stadsfiets, a moederfiets, my husband’s road bike, his old mountain bike and a whole range of varying sized 2 wheeled vehicles for the kids. I think we currently have at least 9 wheeled vehicles in our bike shed. 

We justify the collection with the reasoning that we should have enough bikes for guests to join us when we cycle into town.  I would estimate that has actually happened twice in the three years we’ve lived here!  So, when my husband looked exasperatedly at the neon, rusty, mountain bike on which my adventures on two wheels started and pronounced it beyond his ability to repair, I found myself wondering if we really could do without it.

When you anguish over the departure of an old bike does that mean you’re starting to adapt to a life where two wheels, rather than four, are king?  But whether it’s a sign that we’ve assimilated or just a question of de-cluttering, either way the orange bike is going to the great cycle park in the sky!