I never quite understood Boris Johnson (former mayor of London’s) vision for cycling in London and his plan to create of cycle paths, until I visited the Netherlands. Granted, I had been to Amsterdam, a few times , many moons ago, but it was work related and I didn’t really take in as much as I perhaps should have. Fortunately, my stylist role took me to Rotterdam this year, and my eyes were wide open and ready to absorb. As the Airport bus weaved it’s 30 minute ride through the city towards Rotterdam central, I was mesmerised by the number of people cycling; the cycle paths, what people were carrying on their bikes, what they were wearing, how many people were some times on one bike, and the fact that the cycle lanes had their own traffic lights!! Epic
There was so much to take in you see: The pretty canals, (which apparently help manage water levels, as most of the Netherlands is below the sea level) , the random groups of children in swimming trunks plunging into bodies of water with no parents in sight ; the stunning and quirky architect with the Juxtaposition of the old with a lot of new, (due to the massive bombing in 1940 which flattened most of the city). – I also immediately noticed the consideration that was given to the spacing between the sky scrapers, which allowed light through to the ground level. It differed from the never ending addition to the London Skyline, where the sunlight is blocked out making places around Liverpool street and Canary Wharf over cast even when the sun is out. (I digress, but that’s one of my London gripes, off my chest).
The quirky idiosyncratic cubes houses near Blaak and the Oude Haven in Rotterdam. I was curious to see the interior, and hovered around in the hope of coming across any residence, whom I intended to politely ask for a look inside, but no joy, just fellow tourist.
My first visit to Rotterdam lasted a few days, but I liked it so much, I knew I had to return, to absorb, and be a part of the cycling culture. Last month, I packed my bags, with a 7 year old in tow, and proceeded to explore Rotterdam extensively.
Normally, I’ll be the first to hire a bike once out of London or abroad, but I found it quite difficult to conjure up the courage to cycle in London. On the rare occasions when I had borrowed a neighbours’ bike, I cycled on the pavement apologetically, and only ventured into the road on local quiet streets. I didn’t see myself using it as a form of transport, instead , I perceived it as a bit of fun, and moments to let the wind on my face, whilst exercising my legs and heart.
Cycling with my daughter from a young age was always my dream, but atlas the reality of London’s busy roads, cyclist fatalities, pollution, getting the right gear including helmets e.t.c just put me off. The thought of cycling was daunting, stressful. with no room for pleasure. Needless to say, our experience in Rotterdam was completely the opposite. Almost therapeutic in fact. No one wore helmets, and very rarely did you see the Lycra look. So, for the first time in my daughter’s 7 years of life, we cycled together, freely, through Rotterdam, enjoying the breeze, views, and getting about the city.
Being a stylist, I couldn’t help but observe the fashion, and more so the cyclist, as their dress sense seemed refreshingly unconventional to me. I thought the girls looked very feminine on the bikes, and there was a conscious effort to achieve this look.
It turned out, that the Dutch have a different mentality towards cycling. It’s considered on par with walking, only faster. Most Dutch, like Brits, cycle from quite a young age. The difference however, is that is seen as a way of life, with people cycling all year round everyday!. Apparently, the cycle paths get priority after a snowfall, then the roads, then the pedestrians, and most Dutch people, especially the women all own two bikes. Impressive.
Through social interaction, I discover that the Dutch don’t tend to think about what they are wearing before they get on their bikes. The bike seems secondary, and their plans for the day primary, whether that be going to a party, work, a date or otherwise. It was fascinating to see girls beautifully dressed, with some in 6 inch high shoes on their Bikes! It made for a pleasant landscape to observe, with the sunshine and Architecture in the back drop. I also gathered that a lot more women own bikes, apparently many of the men just prefer to walk ( or perhaps these are men, of a certain age group).
Drawing inspiration from the Dutch chicks, I decided to follow suit. I wiped out a dress, hired bikes for myself and the 7 yr old, and along with a friend (who originally hails from London, and had her bike sitting in her garage for months on end) – we hit the streets of Rotterdam. This went on for days, and once I got used to pedalling backwards to slow down and break, I felt like I slotted in well, and we had a great time. So much so, we hired bikes, whilst in other parts of the Netherlands. I was pleasantly surprised that the 7 yr old kept up with the pace, and was happy to cycle on the street and across the bridge below, despite only ever really cycling on the pavement, park and the woods in London. Check out the action on My YOUTUBE channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Giwl0-q6A
Dress from random boutique; Shoes from Clarks; Sunglasses from Toms; Earcuff from Claire s Accessories
A few hours after cycling in town. No helmets worn, but thankfully I have short hair, so no stands where out of place. Which is more than I can say for my friend, but who cares, I guess you just brush your hair, when you get to your destination. Look! she even had time to give me a ‘backie’ something I haven’t done for years!!!
It occurred to me, that if most girls who cycled in London, dressed in this manner, it would be considered a ‘trend’, which lead me to think that if the Dutch girls were not fussed about bicycle apparel, what did they care about. It turns out the be the actually bikes, the rear rack bags and wait for it…. The reinterpretation of the front basket!
Up until about 4 years ago, many Dutch people just choose any odd bike, as the rate of bike theft was very high. Then along came some start up companies, making high end bikes with more attention to design and details. The younger people/hipsters who wanted to be more individual started snapping these up and having them personalised.
I particularly like this because of its’ simplicity and colour. I saw so many, but people were cycling and it was hard to stop them for Pics.
The rear rack bags allows people to express their individuality, I saw so many…
The latest craze seems to be the reinterpretation of the front basket which is not only being replaced by plastic crates, but good old fashion rugged wooden crates, which I surmise most people just D.I.Y.
The Humble basket.
The Refined basket
The Plastic alternatives
The Gentrified plastic crate
The good old fashioned wooden crate, along side the pretty basket. My favourite of course is this wooden box and with some exposure to the elements, it would look better with time. I couldn’t help wondering however, that this trend has just come full circle, like all things fashionable.
Now that we are back in London, the 7 yr old wants to cycling everyday! Which means, I have to put action to the thought I had earlier on in the year, when I saw this beautiful bike at a press day, and made a mental note to buy one. Not being a bike connoisseur BUT a lover of design & print, my first ‘grown up’ bike will be this aesthetically pleasing yet functional Orla Keily bike, (the result of a collaboration btw Orla Kiely & Halfords) and is now on order. It made for a beautiful Installation piece, to hang on my wall, but now it will actually get used by moi. We’ll start off using it for short journeys to the shops, circle routes, and who knows we might even become brave enough to start cycling around London. Hopefully, the new Mayor of London, will carry on the legacy of the cycle paths, and more of us will get into it. I am fully aware however, that London roads are too narrow to sometimes accommodate cycle paths, and I should know, I drive! Garment wise,I can’t see myself wearing Lycra, though I’m aware of fashionable and breathable bike gear out there. I think cycling in may regular clothes will make me feel liberated, I just need to wrap my head around having to wear a helmet, and leggings under my dresses, but and this is a big BUT, ask me again, when it snows in London….
Orla Keily Classic bike Orange design £399.00 http://www.halfords.com
Having said all this about the Dutch approach to cycling, It occurred to me that I had seen the odd girls in London, who do make an effort to look glamorous or chic, whilst on their bikes. I guess cycling is currently on my radar, so I was quick to spot this cool chick locking up her bike, as I was parking my car. She told me she never thinks about what she wears when cycling, instead she just dresses for the day. On further probing however, I discover she didn’t grow up in London, and in her part of the world, the Dutch approach prevails.