It’s raining today, which isn’t so great for cycling (I didn’t,) but great for nature as this November was supposedly the driest month on record in Holland. But rain rarely stops the average Dutchie from hopping on a bike. I think one of the reasons cycling has been embraced by the Dutch—aside from the most salient, which is that the entire country is flat—is due to Calvinism. Calvinism, a Protestant reformation movement circa 1530, was a reaction to the excessive worldliness of the Roman Catholic Church. It emphasizes man’s total depravity and a sober approach to life, for it sees humans as sinners who cannot escape God’s judgment. It was actually considered revolutionary at the time because it preached man did not need the church and could approach God personally.
But still. Its main tenant is that life is full of suffering and there is no escape, save for God’s mercy, which is totally random because…well, unfortunately God doesn’t favor everyone. It was all decided before you were born. Calvinism is a strongly moral, no nonsense, and austere approach to life and cycling fits perfectly with this mentality.
First of all, it’s cheap. There is nothing showy, excessive or remotely bling about riding a bike. It’s simply the most practical, affordable way of getting around. If you live in the Netherlands long enough, you’ll learn that the Dutch literally know the price of everything and can quote what they spent of vacation 10 years ago—in guilders, even! So this form of frugality appeals to the Calvinist mind.
Second, Calvinists believed that the only reward for suffering was suffering, so you might as well get on with things. Unlike Catholics, who could do horrendous things, immediately confess and ask forgiveness—a simple way out—Calvinists believed that facing difficulties was proof that you were made of good stuff and had likely been chosen by God. So bravely facing cold winds, rain and snow and suffering through the elements while cycling is just a matter of how life works, you have to suffer through it.
As someone reared in Los Angeles, I have a great deal of respect for Dutch heartiness in the face of adverse weather conditions. Nothing truly stops the Dutchman (or gal) from going outside. I am no Calvinist and though I have endured bike rides with frozen fingers and toes, a runny nose and muscles that ached to warm up, not to mention getting soaked all the way through to my underwear, I always felt this earned me bragging rights. But here, it is simply what getting from A to B entails.
I was once asked by a Dutch banker (who despite his bling salary and pin stripe suits, cycled to work,) “What do you do for sport?”
“Cycling,” I answered.
“That’s transportation,” he replied, correcting me.
I told him I was from Los Angeles, “where it’s considered a sport,” but this didn’t make him smile. Seems he was just being a Calvinist.