On two wheels

A new bike shop recently opened near the Tilburg University campus. Getting a bike is usually one of the initial adaptive moves that international students need to make in order to settle in easily in the Netherlands. However, for some international students, like me, getting a bike is not just a matter of logistics. It rather is a challenge: the start of an unpredicted revolution.

This post is about … a playlist for bike-riders.


It was in my first week in the Netherlands that I thought: ‘Superheroes exist, and they are hiding among us!’. That was because I was witnessing certain events that, according to the knowledge I had at that time about human possibilities, I had to define as extraordinary deeds of people with superpowers. During that first week in the Netherlands, I saw things I didn’t even believe to be possible according to the laws of gravity and mechanics…

I saw a girl who was giving a friend a lift on her bicycle, while the friend was carrying … a wheeled suitcase! I saw a guy riding a bike … with one of his legs in a cast and while holding the crutches under his arm. I saw a girl riding a bike and carrying … an ironing board.

And these are just the most extreme deeds I can recall now. The general impression I had at the time (and that impression has not yet been falsified) was that the majority of Dutch people possess an exceptional capacity to keep their balance on two wheels. Thanks to this bike-instinct, they are able to combine the activity of riding a bike with a myriad of other multiple tasks: they can ride and hold umbrellas at the same time, on super windy days too; they can ride while they eat; they can ride and text … and as far as lovers are concerned, they can even ride while holding hands!

I know that all these episodes together may sound like the same reheated soup of clichés about the stereotypical depiction of the Netherlands as a paradise for bikers … but I swear that I am telling the truth and that I am giving a fair recount of some scenes engraved in my memory during my first days in the country. Maybe my report is so rich of anecdotes about bikers precisely because, in those first days, my main concerns were: ‘Shall I get a bike?’, ‘And what if, then, I will not be able to ride it?’.

Actually, back then, the last time I had been on a bike was many years ago, when I was 7 years old and learned how to ride on two wheels. And, as far as I was able to remember my childhood, I totted up more bad falls than kilometres in my short experience as a bike-rider. When I moved to the Netherlands I had little faith in my cycling skills and to compensate for this lack of expertise, I focused all my attention on studying bikers’ behavior, trying to understanding how people manage to keep their balance so easily on two wheels.

Certainly, I was aware that there is a saying: ‘Once you learn how to ride a bike, you can never forget it!’. But, nowadays, there are so many legends passed off as truths, that I have adopted the golden rule that I have to see something to believe it. I went to a second-hand shop with some friends, new in town like myself, and we picked up ‘our’ bikes. That’s how my story on two wheels in ‘Fietsland’ started.

I know that everyone has at least one story to tell about bikes. I saw evidence of this during the first poetry-workshop I organized at Tilburg University. I proposed a set of assorted illustrations to the public. Each participant was invited to select one picture and to create a short story drawing inspiration from the selected illustration. Well, the experiment showed that 99% of participants picked the following illustration, where, as you can see, a bike is prominently displayed. And the bike was the most popular narrative element appearing in the majority of the stories created by the public during that workshop.

chiara blog on two wheels

Since I know that everyone has something to tell about bikes, but I also know that everyone has little time to really get into someone else’s ordinary stories, I will not spend many words on my riding chronicles.

I will instead leave you with a thematic playlist that, I hope, can be representative of common experiences on two wheels. You can even take these five songs as a motivational soundtrack for the next spring bike trip you are planning!I will start this musical-bike-tour with a slow pace.

The first song is for all the ones who are sentimental and who feel quite small when looking at a parking  garage full of thousands of bikes.

The second song is a classic soundtrack for those who forget all duties as soon as they are on two wheels!

Slowing down again!

Sorry, the third track is… in Italian! This vintage sound is for all those who feel like they’re going back in time whenever they ride a bicycle.

And here’s my favorite for the grand finale…

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