Stylish clothes and grease do not go together. If New Yorkers are ever to adopt bicycling in large numbers, as the current city administration is encouraging, this basic conundrum must be solved.
Enter the Dutch bicycle.
A Dutch-style bicycle is one where a rider sits upright, as opposed to leaning forward. In addition, the bike is equipped with front- and rear-wheel fenders, sometimes a spoke shield on the back wheel, and most importantly, a wrap-around chain guard that eliminates all possibility of getting grease on a stylish skirt or suit. The frame is also longer and sturdier, to help carry cargo or kids. There are many variations, but these are the basics.
I saw and fell in love with the bicycles 17 years ago, and the lifestyle they made possible, on a three-month European fellowship that took me to Amsterdam for the first time.
When I returned home, I discovered that these bikes weren't available in the U.S. Ten years ago, U.S. bike manufacturers and vendors took their cue from the sports market. At the time, and still to some extent today, when you look around a bike shop, few bikes are equipped for what I think of as city riding.
Happily, in the last five years, that has changed. Shops are now full of bikes made for moving around the city, some by American manufacturers. They have chain guards. They have fenders. Handlebars are positioned high, so that riders can sit upright and have a good view of traffic.
But not for me. I can see these bicycles, but cannot ride them, at least not well. At six feet, seven inches, it is difficult to find a bike, even at the store owned by a Dutchman. Rolling Orange, a shop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, sells actual Dutch bikes. When I tried out some bikes there recently, I felt like I was on a tricycle. My knees grazed the handlebars. The clerk there shook his heads sadly. Tall men in the Netherlands must ride something, but at the moment I'm at a loss.
My current bike is an unusually large-frame mountain bike I snatched up 15 years ago. I have equipped it with an extra-long seat post and extra-long handlebars. Perched on top, I look as if I am riding standing up.
Of course, even if I were to find a Dutch-style bike, I would have to consider where to keep it. I have locked up my current bike on the street for the last 11 years, in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Not only does this save space in my apartment, but also it allows me to hop on quickly and go. The bike has held up surprisingly well, thanks to multiple locks and various anti-theft measures. If I did buy a nice Dutch bike, which tend to be expensive, could I really just keep it on the street? I am told many if not most Dutch do in urban cities like Amsterdam.
My latest strategy is to look at web pages devoted to tall cyclists. Although most are aimed at racers, I haven't given up.
As New York and surrounding cities evolve into more bicycle-friendly places, perhaps more people will explore their own relationships with their two-wheeled steeds, deciding what works for them and what doesn't, and what kind of cyclist they are.