Last June I met with a group of bicycle activists in New York, most notably Charles Komoff, famous (among other things) for revitalising Transportation Alternatives during the 80s. I have not blogged about our meeting that night, because the moment that stood out from the rest was led by a peripheral member of our little gathering. She had not long gotten back from a quick trip to Amsterdam, and was so appalled by the number of semi-abandoned bikes in the streets, causing her to stumble and trip, that she wrote a complaint letter. Yes, she complained to the Dutch tourist commission, about all the bikes. She had come to our meeting by bike. She left on her bike. Her own bike was sitting beside her, while she was telling her story. The moment she finished, good manners prevailed, and the group quickly found something else about bikes that we could all talk about.
There was once a time when travel was something done only by travellers. They kept reflexive journals, filled sketch books, and allowed themselves to be assailed by other cultures. Today, we portal around, wishing away anything that stands between us and that money shot we have gone to take, of ourselves in front of the I-amsterdam sign. We collect our baggage at Schiphol airport and look for a hire car, because that’s what you do, when you travel. Alternatively, we take the train to Centraal Station in Amsterdam, and look for a tram. Whole banks of yellow hire bikes, mean nothing to us.
Though we may be regular cyclists in our home towns, car dependence and/or transit dependence, is what runs in our veins, by virtue of where we were raised. Thus any of us, really, is capable of returning with some story about a bike almost hitting us when we stepped from a tram, or about having trouble driving with bikes all around us. With everything else we must think about when we travel, we can regress to our pre-cycling state, when cycling was as unthinkable to us, as it is for most people in non-cycling nations. As for the woman who stopped our conversation that night, I’ve stopped thinking of her as an American imperialist, but instead, as a casualty, of too rich a diet of travel.