As the train chugs up to the Utrecht station, they begin appearing by the thousands. Bikes. Multi-tiered racks burst at full capacity, their wheeled contents spayed out like a modern art sculptures. I’m in town for Le Guess Who? Festival, and with venues spread around the city and a hotel just past the edge of town, it’s clear that I’m going to have to join the riding ranks. Years of spin class have not prepared me for this.
The bike rental guy tells me that to signal what direction I’m going I just stick out the appropriate arm. (Take my hands off the handlebars? Hell no.) He chuckles assuredly when I ask about a park where I can practice. Last time I was on a bike was seven years ago on a dirt road in France. His confidence feels unfounded.
After a few shaky turns around the parking lot, I give it a go, gliding down the suburban Dutch street. Soon I’m sharing the wide bicycle lane with others, our flock thickening as we near the city center, pausing in neat rows at each stoplight. Next to me, a girl applies lipstick. On the other side, a twenty-something in tight jeans accepts a friend request on Facebook, his feet peddling back and forth to keep his bike upright while stopped. Near the front of our pack, a mother carefully rearranges her son’s tiny bike. (I ignore the fact that when the light turns green he takes off much faster than I do.)
I’m miles from Fred Armisen’s “bicycle rights” character on Portlandia. I am so full of adrenaline I could throw up. Or lift a car. Or throw up while lifting a car. But I can’t deny the fact that despite the culture shock, I’m not just having a great time—I feel like part of the club.–Laura Studarus