You know how sometimes a material object will become so closely connected to a person that the one brings up an automatic association of the other? Well for my husband, this was it:
He’s had this bike 13 years. Longer than me. During his student time in Amsterdam, a friend found the bike abandoned with a sticker on it that it would be picked up by the ‘abandoned-bike-clean-up-crew’. And yes, such a crew does exist, with an official title, I suppose. It was missing a front tire and a few other ‘small parts’. They fixed it up and Maarten spray-painted it with a fake rust color to ward off bike thieves (might seem a bit overboard, considering it was already consigned to the junk pile, but if you’ve ever lived in Amsterdam you know: the junkier the bike, the better-or safer – it is). And so began the love affair. It carried him all over the city, and sometimes, on a nice night after a drink at the pub with friends, it’d carry him the 25 kilometers to his parent’s house for a spontaneous visit.
Three years later this bike carried me and my sensitive American buttocks around Amsterdam on its handlebars while Maarten and his friend Bas gave me a grand tour on my first visit to the Netherlands. Now something you must know about Maarten: he’s a very talented bike rider. His sense of flow (that gives me a heart attack in the car) allows him to manuever through busy city traffic (with dangerous tram tracks, curbs, tourists without flow on rental bikes…) with grace and ease. He prides himself on quick reflexes and can avoid crashes (or at least injury) like no one else I’ve ever met. But on that fateful September day something happened. Crossing over a busy street and entering a bike path with a curb and two posts in the middle, Maarten lost his concentration (I like to think that my buttocks and his whispering in my ear had something to do with it) and I found myself, in a rare example of fast reflexes, launching myself off the bike handles to safety as Maarten held on to insure my exit and then crashed. I looked with endearment at my new Dutch boyfriend, humbled and human there on the paving stones.
Later, when we were living on a farm in the middle of the polder outside of the village of Bunschoten the year after we married, Maarten was riding through the village with a poster rolled up in one hand when one half of the handlebars broke off completely. He tumbled off and somersaulted; standing back up with the poster in hand, not a tear or wrinkle on it – or him. We rode home; Maarten with one hand in the middle, the other on the remaining handlebar. He continued to ride it this way until he found time to replace them. The shiny newness of the handlebars clashed with the faded rusty black of the frame. Some may have chosen to part with the bike at such a point, but not Maarten.
Another evening, riding home in the winter dark from work, he cut through a farm-yard and rode straight into a chain the farmer had put up across the road to block it when the cows came into the barn for milking. Maarten and bike flew up and flipped over, both landing unharmed on the other side of the chain. He arrived home a few minutes later with a grin on his face and a story we’ve retold many times.
Lately Maarten and his bike have been enjoying the long ride to and from work on most Mondays, when he is in his office, or to the bus stop or train station when he is able to travel to meetings using public transportation. He has a bike that he used on our bike trip in Norway (you know, a road bike, with things like gears…), but somehow his old bike has always been his first choice for riding in the Netherlands. This land lends itself to the steady pumping of a one speed. Gears are overrated.
Maarten on this bike was a symbol for so much that I love about him. His dutchness. His loyalty to things (you could call it stinginess…). And I found him to be very cool, tough, manly and sexy when riding it (hmm, what does this say about me?). When we moved here Maarten’s parents gifted me with a beautiful old Burco ‘Oma fiets’ (‘Granny bike’) – a classic black, sit-up-straight dutch-styled cruiser from the 1950s. We were a matching set and those two bikes have taken us all over the Netherlands in the past 7 years.
On the weekend before Easter Maarten and I enjoyed a bike ride through the dunes along the coast while the kids were with Oma and Opa. I had to take my old black bike because it is the only one I can sit comfortably on with my big belly, and so Maarten brought along his old bike as well, to keep me company and not make me jealous of his gears (because you know, the dunes have actual hills). We had a wonderful ride, enjoyed coffee and apple pie on the beach, then stopped on the way back for a picnic, where Maarten snapped this shot of our bikes parked against the garbage can. They fit so nicely together now, seem to belong together. Like Maarten and I.
We got back to the car and Maarten loaded the bikes on the back. We were in a tight spot, close by wooden posts lining the edge of the parking spaces, and when Maarten backed up and then pulled out to leave, his back bike tire got hung up on one of the posts, bending the wheel terribly, irreplaceably tearing out a few spokes and breaking the frame.
The end of an era. Maarten, in his endearing stinginess, is insisting he’ll be fine with his other bike. I’m pushing for a replacement. I think I just might need Maarten to have that bike as much as he does himself.