Is that a boat?!


R just waking up

I’ve been riding the bakfiets full time since Mr. Blazer mashed up my Raleigh. I love my LBS, but they’re a tiny shop. With Memorial Day weekend coming up, they said they’d need at least a week and a half to order the rim and build the wheel. I could have gone to the other shop in town and probably gotten it back sooner—and would have if I didn’t have other bikes to ride—but I couldn’t have ridden there with the kids and the busted wheel all together in the Bakfiets, which is what I did last Friday afternoon when I was the one watching them.

The other shop in town is far down a busy avenue with no shoulder. I have to cross a bridge over the expressway—also with no shoulder—and pass two on/off ramp junctions. I have ridden it twice and it was both times completely unpleasant. I would never take the kids that way. My LBS, on the other hand, is on a quiet, mostly residential street just outside the university campus. The ride there is 100% lovely. I can wait for the new wheel.

I wish I had a picture of the kids and the wheel, because it’s a great example of how the bakfiets makes some tasks easier than they would be with a car. With the bakfiets, I put the kids in, buckle their belts, drop in the wheel, and off we go. We ride right in through the front door of the shop and they can sit in the bike while I drop off the wheel. If we’d driven, I’d have had to wrangle them into their car seats, fold up the stroller and put it in the back with the wheel. Then on the other end: find parking, pull out the stroller, unfold it, unharness the kids, strap them into the stroller, then somehow push a double stroller while carrying a dirty bicycle wheel. Then repeat the whole process to get them home. (Not to mention S had the car all day, anyway).

So the wheel is in the shop and I’m riding the bakfiets to work. It’s hot now, a little summer preview. People are out in droves, on the streets, on their porches. They love talking about the bike and they give it glowing reviews. These interactions alone are enough to convince me utility cycling could take off anywhere if only local governments would dedicate the resources to building infrastructure. People want to ride, they just don’t want to do it without a high level of subjective safety.

Most of the talking is actually shouting and waving from a distance. A woman walking her dogs said it was “the best thing I’ve ever seen,” which is a pretty serious claim and one I probably wouldn’t argue. Mothers immediately launch into safety conversations, namely that they’d much rather have their kids up front where they can see them than trailing behind under a canopy. Another conversation I have repeatedly goes like this:

“Did you make that?”

“No, it’s Dutch.”

“Of course! The Dutch sure do love their bikes.”

Which is true, but it’s not the fetishized kind of love we Americans have for our bikes where components glitter in the fading light of day (N.B. I have plenty of those pictures myself. Who doesn’t like a pretty bike?) The Dutch love their bicycles the way some people love their Hondas: they are reliable transportation, the end. It would hardly be called love if they were asked to define it. It’s so central to their way of life that it would be akin to asking a retired American if he loved Social Security. He wouldn’t call it love, but if you tried to take it from him, you wouldn’t hear the end of it. (Yes, I realize this is probably the world’s saddest analogue.)

The best shout so far came from a guy in a pickup who asked if the bakfiets was a boat. Which got me thinking. Henry, are you reading this? How about an amphibious conversion kit? Four plugs for the drain holes, bolt-on pontoons for the rack instead of panniers, and a flip-down paddlewheel driven by a bottle-generator style something bolted onto a seat stay. Brilliant! You’d have to say goodbye to the dynohub and the lights, but it would certainly be the best thing anybody had ever seen at the beach (or on the canals…?)

Meanwhile, looks like someone has already had this thought. Or at least half of it.

7 Responses to “Is that a boat?!”

  1. 1 sara

    No exaggeration– I think I have at least one person a day ask if we made the bakfiets ourselves (and that is since we began riding it in Feb. 2009). My husband likes that this is people’s first query, somehow attesting to our country’s ingenuity that it would be assumed that we personally made such an awesome machine. But yes, we always give props to the Dutch.

  2. Sandy Zipp just tipped me off to this blog. I probably live about a mile down the road from you and I’ve been writing a blog about living without a car in Providence (well, mostly it’s about biking in Providence). I’m surprised that I’ve never seen you out on the Bakfiets – it’s certainly distinctive. I have seen your Raleigh. In fact, I took a picture of it at the Pawtucket Farmers’ Market back in February and included the picture in a post about my bike seat:

  3. 4 Matt

    Very nice meeting you, too. Hope to see you again soon at the market!

  4. I love the shout outs from the cyclists (as opposed to someone like me who just bikes to get some place). The “Oh my g*d, what a load!” and the “That’s great.” And I’m always optimistic that the “load” they are referring to are the 3 kids on my bike, not my ass!

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