My first car was a white 1962 Morris Minor. Actually, that’s not strictly true - before that I drove my mum’s 1966 one, and her 1972 van, which we took to the Reading Festival one year. All had ‘A Series’ engines, and I could strip them down to the con-rods & rebuild them with my eyes shut - even now, I could probably fit a new set of valves in under two hours, including grinding them in, torquing the head down & setting up the tappets.
These were the kind of vehicles that had ‘character’ - they had endemic rust, rattled and squeaked, and broke down a lot. But that didn’t matter, because you could always fix them yourself, and ended up loving their idiosyncrasies. You couldn’t help becoming an enthusiast, who just couldn’t understand why anyone would want any other type of vehicle.
Modern cars aren’t like that though. I lift the bonnet (hood), and struggle to recognise the engine. And I’ve completely lost my enthusiasm for them. When I drive, I just want to get from A to B, so that I can get on with my life. A bit like most people, I guess. We live in a ridiculously car-centric country, but most people aren’t really ‘Petrol Heads’ made in the image of Jeremy Clarkson - they just want to get on with their lives, and we’ve been sold the myth that the way you do this is in a car.
So what’s this all got to do with riding a bike?
Well, there was a post about Marc in Amsterdam getting a flat on the way to the office the other day. Did he do what your average British cycling enthusiast would do, and whip out his tool roll to effect a repair (and along the way service the bottom bracket, re-lace the back wheel, and re-cable the entire bike)?
No. He did what most motorists in the UK would actually do when faced with a flat - make it as far as the nearest of many local repair shops, and let the professionals take care of it. Like getting a car serviced here, he also got a courtesy vehicle to use while his was being repaired. Though in his case, it was a bike rather than a car that he borrowed.
The funny thing is that this experience isn’t uniquely Dutch. Copenhagenize reported a pretty much identical experience this time last year.
So maybe this is a clue about the difference between the UK, and places where lots of people ride bikes for their regular daily trips. Their bikes, even though they enjoy riding them, are just a means of getting about - not something you have to be an enthusiast for. When you ride a bike there, you don’t stand out as different, special or greener than everyone else, just someone who’s going about their everyday business. And you’re doing it on a utensil that makes sense for the kind of journeys most people make.
The funny thing is, those journeys are remarkably similar to those we make in the UK.
Hmmmm . . .
Until we get there though, you might want to learn how to fix a flat: