It doesn’t take much to work out I’ve become a bit of a cycle-nut in the past year. For those of you that don’t know, I moved to Amsterdam from London in July 2010 to start a European adventure (although to be fair, at the moment you could call it a Netherlands adventure as I haven’t ventured far!).
Amsterdam in my opinion is the biking capital. Apart from the trams and the hazardous tracks, the bike comes first. Everything is done on the bike – commuting, shopping, drinking (see the infamous beer-bike), sight-seeing… And fear not, should you find yourself stuck at a party without your bike; there will always be another nut happy to carry you on the back (not subject to numerous accidents – can’t say it hasn’t made me more confident to just roll with it)!
As kids we spent many hours if not days on our bikes, encouraged by our Dad who used to ride professionally before our arrival. In the summer we looked forward to Le Tour; come 7pm, curtains were drawn, Dad’s beer was opened and silence was assumed whilst we watched the lycra-cladded cyclists ride one of the toughest events. I never imagined however that I would catch the cycling bug!
The accessibility, flat roads and number of cyclists couldn’t be more encouraging, and although finding a bike was a hassle (the Dutchies are the world’s tallest nation… I’m quite possibly the shortest person here) I bit the bullet and invested in my first road bike in February with the help of Evans Cycles and the kind advice from Bianchi Netherlands. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve done. I now try and get out on my bike at least twice a week (aside from my commute to work), with a long ride at the weekend.
I have built up a great community; many now considered friends, using various social sites such as meetup.com, runkeeper.com and tribesports.com. Although daunting at first, I soon realised that the community is everything – cyclists enjoy seeing others enjoying the sport as much as they do, male or female; making it highly motivating and encouraging, particularly knowing there’s support for all the little queries (i.e. ‘my wheel is buckled – what next?!’).
Most recently I discovered Cycletta. Supported by the British world and olympic champion Victoria Pendleton and sponsored by Sky Ride, Cycletta is a new UK community to encourage women to participate in the sport of cycling. For all levels and interests, whether that’s road enthusiasts or leisure riders, Cycletta organise closed-road events to help overcome the fear of getting on a bike and the many anxieties you may have. And even though this is a UK initiative, as an expat living abroad, it has still provided a great source of advice and encouragement.
When I lived in London many of my colleagues commuted to work and would spend their weekends riding to Brighton or the likes. As a car-owner however, I was over-come by the amount of traffic, lack of quiet roads and low self-esteem. The mountain bike I had as a teenager only saw the light of day on the short paths of Tooting Common on a nice summer’s evening. As well as finding my surroundings limiting, there was also a lack of beginner/supporting community – particularly as a girl, not forgetting that growing up, there were never particularly any women professionals to aspire to. I can only wish that the support, such as that from Cycletta and Victoria Pendleton, had been there previously.
My biggest achievement in cycling so far (beyond managing to stay up-right at traffic lights – learning the knack to cleats was an interesting one!) was participating and managing not to be the last to finish, in the HTC Detour recently. I was surprised however to discover of the 50 participants, only 2 girls registered; myself being one of them! This was a little daunting knowing that the bunch of guys would be a lot stronger than me, but I soon realized that female or not, you’re part of the bigger cycling community and everyone is there to support you. I can only encourage more people, particularly women, to pump up their tires and start enjoying the freedom of being on a bike.
Upcoming Cycletta events include ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on September 11th and Tatton Park on 2nd October. To register and for more details visit the website or join the Facebook page.