The most recent bicycle news in the Netherlands has me smiling. Former speed skater Jan Bos—as you can imagine, a man with terribly impressive thighs—has announced he wants to break the world’s bicycle speed record. According to the news on Expatica, a website for expats, that record is 133 km/hr (no source stated) but according to The Physics Fact book, the record belongs to Bruce Bursford, a Brit who clocked 334.6 km/hr in 1995. Unfortunately, Bruce died colliding into a van during training, a none too poetic end for a sportsman. See, driving really does kill.
Here’s a picture of his ultimate bike:
This summer, several Dutch students using a “special bike” (uh, do they mean motorbike?) managed to clock 129 km/hr. Obviously, they weren’t hitting such speeds cycling along the Dutch countryside, which is as flat as a park bench. Perhaps the Alps figured somewhere into the equation…
*Let me digress for a moment…what is it about the male of the species that is so intoxicated with speed—or size and quantity for that matter? In man-speak (fill-in-the-blank)er is better, whether they’re talking about themselves, their women or their engine’s horsepower. Men are built for speed, women for the slow boil.
Regarding speed, I love cycling in the Netherlands because it is slow. The majority of Dutch bikes are cumbersome one-speeds, called affectionately the omafiets (grandma bike) or opafiets (grandpa bike). Like this one:
I don’t know how they got this name—other than the frame is just like the one your grandparents rode— but as I read here, the word fiets may have been derived from the sound fts that means something’s fast. The author writes: Imagine a nineteenth-century gentleman saying something like “I saw that vélocipède arriving and fts it had already passed along”.
But that was the 1890s. From a 21st century perspective, Dutch bikes are slow. Modest. Nothing fancy (just like the Calvinists who ride them.) Riding one has taught me how to enjoy life at a meandering pace. Not that I don’t enjoy going fast— speed is exhilarating, after all—but in a world of fast food, speed dating and the like, slowing down feels increasingly like an act of rebellion. Because my bike can only go so fast, so do I and I arrive when I arrive, though that’s no longer the point.
There are other cycling folk who are also trying to slow down. On Facebook there’s the Slow Bicycle movment (with the tag line: Enjoy the Ride) created by people who wanted to claim cycling back from so-called “fanatic, spandex clad weekend warriors,” the type you’re more apt to find in North America, where competition is rife in the fast lane. In Holland, this species is rare, thank god. But I’m glad to see others appreciate the value in taking things slow because that’s exactly how I enjoy the ride.