Whether you have lived in the Netherlands for six months or six years, chances are you have probably had your bike stolen at some point or another. You will, therefore, easily relate to the foot-stomping irritation (it is really inconvenient), and will be familiar the complete lack of sympathy you receive from anyone you tell. The phrase “Welcome to Amsterdam” is used all-too-frequently.
Yes okay, every bike is a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode into thin air on a busy street in broad daylight. But that doesn’t make it right. And there is still a necessary process you have to pass through, emotionally. For anyone who hasn’t yet fallen victim to common thieves with metal cutters, I have outlined this emotional process below. For anyone who has; solidarity.
You have just enjoyed a couple of hours of fruitful socialising. You saunter back to your perceived bicycle location, satiated with good conversation, but – lo! – there is nothing but an empty space where once your bike dwelt. Your immediate, and natural, response is: it’s been stolen. The succeeding thoughts, nevertheless, are full of self-doubt. Maybe I didn’t park it there after all? Did I even lock it? Is it illegal to park it here? You’re confused. You’re going slightly mad second-guessing yourself. But one thing is certain: you’re walking home.
The overwhelming question of ‘Why me?’ Is this some bike-related bad karma? Was it when I avoided eye contact and ignored the pedestrian waiting patiently to cross the zebra crossing? Was it when I parked my bike on a ‘no parking’ sign? Did I turn without indicating? These are all questions you ask the heavens as you trudge home, the angry victim of what you are now certain was a targeted hate-crime.
A journey which took five minutes on the way there has now turned into a 20-minute nightmare, as you rack your brain, struggling to remember the last time you moved so bloody slowly. The straat you usually fly down with the wind in your hair and fire in your eyes has turned into a never-ending tunnel. You quicken your step to lessen the frustration of being reduced to snails pace, but that leads to another inevitable feeling: fatigue. Compared to cycling, walking is wholly energy-inefficient and, as a pedestrian, you have also been demoted to bottom of the Amsterdam food-chain, second only to tourists.
Bikes are flying past you at what feels like the speed of light. You catch a glimpse of one which looked just like yours; the one which was kidnapped (and potentially held for ransom by the Gemeente) and the next stage of our emotional journey begins: grief. You remember all the good times you had on that bike; the time it threw you off when you were too drunk to sit on it straight; the time its brakes failed and you both went hurtling onto a busy intersection; and, most importantly all the times you went about your business and returned to find it waiting for you like an obedient old dog. You might have even given your bike a name. Regardless, you resolve that you want one exactly like your old one, but know deep down that you will never find a bike that great ever again.
You finally arrive home. It’s been an emotional 20-minute roller coaster ride, but you made it home and now it’s time to get practical. Are you going to start using, ahem, public transport? Or are you going to rejoin the idyllic streams of cyclists floating by in the wind (and usually rain). You make a choice and accept that the days riding of that bike are gone. You start referring to it as your ‘old bike’. You tell yourself that said old bike would want you to move on… it would want you to be happy again.
You buy another one the next day and, excuse the pun, the cycle continues.