Easy Rider

So, when was the last time you went for a ride without a helmet and not break someone’s law?  Thursday, Germans in five states celebrated Corpus Christi Day by, what else, taking a holiday!  Karen and I went with our friends the Hansons to the open market in Sittard.  Karen and the Hansons drove, anticipating puchasing cloth and food from the local vendors.  I decided to ride the 3.5 miles to town and meet them.

First question, which bike to take?  This was actually a no brainer;  the road bike, with it’s clip-in pedals, is a death trap in congested stop-and-go urban scenes, plus, I needed to be able to walk around without carrying a spare pair of shoes.  That left the mountain bike.  Toe straps permit the use of tennis shoes, and the lower gearing and plush suspension work great on cobblestones and curbs.  Not a Dutch standard bike by any means, but perfect for the task at hand.

Next:  What to wear?  The usual bike garb would have stood out like a bad sunburn.  No, when in the Netherlands, dress as the Dutch do:  Street clothes and a smile; leave the helmet at home.  That meant notching the riding intensity back, way back.  12 mph average.  In many years of riding, I had never thought to go without a helmet, or to intentionally take it easy.  Taking it easy is not really in my nature, and going without a helmet is positively verboten back in the states.  The Dutch sniff dismissively at the “zero tolerance” attitudes in the USA.  From their perspective, people should be able to choose for themselves when and when not to wear a helmet or smoke a joint.  What a concept!  Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the Dutch, or our own heritage for that matter.

The ride was relaxed.  When I got behind some folks going slower than me on the cycle path, I matched their pace instead of making the usual pass.  Eventually, they would go another way, or there would be a traffic circle, enabling me to get by quietly.

After a pleasant ride, we hooked up near the gazebo at the center of the town square, then off to shop and check out the sites on a beautifully sunny day, highs in the mid 70’s.  Some time later, having checked out the many vendors, we were off to to find an outdoor table at one of the cafes and get a bite to eat.  Shopping can be such work!  Following a suitably relaxed meal, we explored the shoppes on the side streets radiating from the town square.  Taken together, Sittard is much bigger than any shopping mall I’ve seen back in the states.  Rather than crowding a hundred shops in an environmentally controlled building, the entire town of Sittard supports shops and apartments for the people who work in the shops.  Imagine a commute of 300 seconds or less!

When it was finally time to return home, the others headed off to the car while I re-traced my route home, both in direction and in spirit.  The afternoon sun was pretty warm, reminding me to take it easy, literally, no sweat.  That, plus the natural cooling from riding was enough to keep everything in check.

A few minutes later, I arrived at our house in Suesterseel, fully expecting the rest of the gang to already be there.  As I opened the gate, the others showed up in the car!  We were all a bit surprised at the turn of events.  In hind sight, the speed of the car was eclipsed by the extra time hiking to the parking garage, finding the car, paying the toll, and negotiating red lights.  If we lived further away, the car would have been quicker, but in close to town, the bike rules, not to mention being zero cost.

Summer is just starting.  There will be future trips into Sittard or one of the other towns close by.  Maybe next time, we might all go on bikes… yah never know!

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Filed under culture, urban bike

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