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Friday, March 1, 2013

Bike-ulele tour, part 1




On the ICE to Germany. Passing metro stations: Amstel, Spaklerweg, Van der Madeweg ... my old route. I'm in the front of the train, Del Rey's in the next car. Del makes up her mind about things. She's headstrong, which is how she got where she is today. Her Brompton folding bike is tucked under the seat as we embark on our summer '12 international bike-ukulele (bike-ulele?) tour.


Dozing on the ICE
I got a folding bike too. I was a bit nervous about its quality and durability but after riding it from the Indische Buurt to Central Station I think it's going to work out ok. I found it on marktplaats.nl. A guy in Rotterdam, Tomas, was selling a De Blasi vouwfiets for €135. So I suggested to Del that we take a little trip to Rotterdam. This project got momentarily derailed when the train had to go back to Central Station due to the fact that someone got run over. It was after 4 when we got to Rotterdam.






Tomas 'unfolding' his Gazelle
Doesn't look like a folding bike. 
Tomas picked us up at the rear of the station. His little daughter was in the back of the car. He drove us across Rotterdam in heavy traffic and we chatted about folding bikes and other things. Tomas is a Hungarian transplanted to Holland. He took us to his home which is some kind of temple. There he has an amazing collection of bikes, including many folding bikes. He appears to spend most of his free time rebuilding them.

I tried out the Di Blasi. It seemed like a good bike and easy to fold/unfold. The chain needed to be replaced and the rear wheel/sprocket made a bit of noise. The gear shifter marginally functional. But it rode smoothly, even comfortably. I also tried a Kentex, a little aluminum thing that was quite light, and a couple of "folding" Gazelles. These looked like normal bikes but instead of folding, they come apart in two pieces by simply releasing a latch. I remember seeing one of these on a train to Utrecht--that old guy who coincidentally turned up in my car on the return trip--and I recall lusting after that bike. But it didn't seem practical for our tour, and it only had one speed. So I took the Di Blasi.

The Kentex


All these photos by Del Rey
Other rooms were crammed with bikes, many featuring novel designs, such as a modern Gazelle that appeared to have two chains. It was remarkable how many designs of folding bikes existed, as if the definitive model had yet to be perfected and everything on the market were still prototypes. Brompton, it seemed, had come closest to a standard, but perhaps that was due mainly to the strength of their marketing.




Having purchased the bike, we rode back to downtown Rotterdam over the Erasmusbrug. It was a pretty, sunny afternoon. The Di Blasi rode ok but it was a bit rough climbing the ramp to the bridge since shifting down did not appear to have any effect.

When we reached the central station, which seems finally near completion with a massive modernist steel canopy, I went looking for West Kruiskade, the avenue with all the Chinese restaurants. We found a nice little joint where I'd eaten before. Since I had no lock for my new bike and Del always carried her Brompton with her, I asked the proprietor if we could take our bikes inside the restaurant, now full of people. He hesitated, but as we stood outside, looking at the menu, he offered to lock them away for us. We had a superb lunch of prawn-stuffed tofu and greens with spiced beef and lots of rice.

Rotterdam scene.
After dinner we caught the train back home. I managed to fold my bike and placed it underneath my seat.

In Amsterdam I unfolded the Di Blasi and we rode to the Nieuwemarkt, where we found Candace, Neil and a German friend of theirs, Marko, sitting in front of a "coffeeshop," Hill St Blues, smoking weed. Then we took a walk over to Neil's boat and got in, bicycles and all. A pirate's skull and crossbones waved over the vessel. It was dusk and turning cool. As usual the streets around Nieuwemarkt were jammed with people. Candace accommodated herself among the blankets in the rear and strummed her uke. As Neil steered us through the canals to the IJ, we fell silent. Clearly the three were ripped. Darkness fell as we cruised through the harbor and turned back to the canal ring. As on other canal cruises I've taken, it gave a whole different perspective on Amsterdam and I hardly recognized the Kiezersgracht, the Reguliersgracht with its view of seven bridges. Emerging at Waterlooplein we were stopped by a police boat who scolded Neil for not having visible illumination. It  was true, we had a faintly glowing electric lantern suspended from a little pole that was between Marko and me. Neil did his best to appease the canal cops but they insisted he head straight home. We proceeded through the grachtengordel, the tunnel entrances enchantingly illuminated, till we reached Neil and Candace's houseboat on the Jakob van Lennepkade.



(note: original date of this entry: July 15, 2012)

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