A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Have you read my post about the painful experience of losing the bike-love of my life? Looking back at the time of mourning after Piet’s death, I have to admit that I would not have been able to go back to normal life if I hadn’t had my friends in Leiden. While my friends in Germany just couldn’t understand what it meant to me, my friends in Leiden did understand. All of them are attached to their bikes or had been through a similar experience as well and could therefore feel my pain and supported me in every way they could. So I asked them to tell me their stories. Thank you, my lovely friends, for helping me demonstrate that bikes are more than just a means for transportation!
My Buddy Piet
Me and Piet were best buds. Everywhere I went I’d take Piet with me. Hell, I would have even taken into class with me, if getting up the stairs wasn’t such a cumbersome task. So I’d say “This is where we part, buddy” and lock him up outside the library or Lipsius or wherever. It was tough seeing his sad little face as I left him out in the cold, but as soon as my class finished, we would be out frolicking through the streets of Leiden again, two best buddies.
They say the best things in life come in twos: fish and chips, rock and roll, Cheech and Chong. Well the two of us were an inseparable team and whenever we two were together we could do anything. We could take on the whole world. Plus, Piet was always there for me when I needed it the most. One time I went out and got so drunk that I don’t remember getting home. Astonished by the fact that I was still alive, the next morning I looked around my room and saw that Piet was lying dutifully next to my bed. ‘Piet must have helped me get home safely, I thought. “Thanks buddy” I said, giving him a gentle pat. I smiled and stretched and went straight back to sleep.
But, sadly, the good times weren’t to last forever. Piet was an old man now, no longer the bouncy puppy with a shiny coat, he was ramshackle and rusty and on his last legs. It seemed like every time I helped him stand up, bits would fall off him, like a sad and weary old leper that had lost the will to live. He’d travel at the pace of a snail, and would groan and screech as he did, as if every movement was an agonizing strain. Always the stubborn type, he struggled to hold himself together but looked as though a single bump would break him into a million tiny pieces. I told my friend about Piet’s worsening condition. He said “it’s because he’s two-tired” and laughed it off. I was heartbroken.
Me and Piet had come a long way and he had taught me so much. Ever since our mutual friend Katharina had introduced us, I knew we would be the best of buddies for all of time. But I knew Piet’s time was coming to an end and that our relationship was about to reach its final destination.
I had to bite the bullet. So, one morning I took Piet outside, told him we were going for a walk. And then I just wheeled him out and I left him, where all bikes go to die. I shuddered at the thought of this, but I’d made the difficult decision and I had to stick to it. I knew that even if I was to take him to get ‘fixed up’, it would only have been a temporary solution against the impending inevitability. I wiped a single tear from my eye. “Goodbye buddy”, I said, before turning and leaving him alone for the last time.
It’s not easy to leave a loved one behind like that. But I like to think he’s up there in bicycle heaven right now: zooming about the place, making lots of new bikey friends and causing plenty of mischief along the way. Now, every time I hear the pained screech of unoiled brakes, the reluctant ‘click-clack’ of an old rusty chain, or the sound of a nervous cyclist in fear for his life each time he climbs onto his rickety old bike, I’ll think of my buddy.
may you rest (rust) in peace (pieces).
Bike-love at first sight
I first came to Leiden in the fall of 2010 on a semester exchange. During that time I had a bike that was okay but by no means “the one” — he was pale blue, a little too rusty with broken gears. While he transported me to and from wherever I needed to go with few problems it was never love: our relationship was entirely built on convenience; perhaps you could even say I settled. He was, after all, the first bike I tried out. With him, things were fine, but never magical.
Then I met Wouter and everything changed.
Wouter came to me after I had returned to Leiden to begin my masters, following six months spent back home in the States. During these months I was reliant entirely on my car, and often dreamed about the bike I would get upon my return.
I knew I wanted something a little more classic — a roadster, or an Omafiets as they’re called here in Holland. I had this image of riding to the beach in a flowing dress, bouquet of flowers in my basket, feeling very European and yes, very hipster at the same time. What can I say? I had a vision about love and knew what I wanted.
When I got back I shopped around the numerous bike shops in Leiden and, one fine day, I found Wouter. He was new, sleek, black and shiny. And he was on sale! It seemed a match made in heaven — and for three short months, it was.
I took such great care of him, always making sure his tires were full and he was locked up safely and securely when not in use. I even bought a garland of (fake) flowers to string around his handlebars — he looked so handsome and I felt so proud riding him around the town! Our love blossomed and grew.
Then one day I was meeting a friend at La Place, the lovely restaurant on top of the V&D, for lunch. It was market day so the streets were crowded and I was already running late so I hurriedly left Wouter in front of the store and ran in. Walking downstairs after lunch I reached in my purse to grab my bike keys as I usually do and noticed something was terribly wrong — my keys were nowhere to be found, which meant only one thing: I had left poor Wouter alone and unlocked!
Sure enough, some thief had taken Wouter. I frantically circled the area hoping that maybe he had just been moved when I spotted it: the flowers that made up his beautiful garland had been torn off as the perp presumably made his getaway. They were strewn along the middle of Breestraat like a breadcrumb trail, but it was too late. There was no way of knowing where Wouter had been taken to, nor would I ever be able to find him again. For a long time after I would catch myself checking out other people’s bikes, thinking that maybe, just maybe, one day I’d spot my love among them. But of course I never did, and eventually I stopped looking at every bike wondering if it could be him.
Not long after, a Finnish friend offered to sell me her bike as she was soon leaving Leiden. I took her bike mainly because it was cheap and sturdy — it was covered in Finnish writing and to this day I have no idea what it says. I figured at the very least it would be less likely to be stolen, as Wouter was an easy target, all shiny and new, and this bike was decidedly less so.
That was a year and a half ago. I have been with my Finnish bike-friend ever since, and couldn’t be happier. While he may not have Wouter’s sharp looks, he’s truly sturdy as a rock and has never given me any problems. Although at the time I didn’t think it was possible to love again, slowly but surely that’s exactly how it happened. I guess bike-love, like the real thing, takes time and patience, and often comes when you least expect it. It seems the ones we expect to stick around forever may disappear on us, but, just as there are plenty of fish in the sea, there are many more bikes in Holland.
When we met it was love at first sight; Valuas, that’s his name. He looked so beautiful and charming in this pretty small bicycle shop, which let me immediately think “I definitely want this bike!”. It turned out that he was also really comfortable, had a light and an orange Dutch lock. But his previous owner was attached to him too, so he didn’t really want to let him go. Luckily I had a friend with me who was really good in mediating and assured the owner that I will take care of him.
And so I finally got that bike! Ever since he was assisting me with all my moves, he was always reliable, spontaneous and also, as he always wanted my friends to like him as well, he was always eager to carry them on his back. The whole time of my Erasmus in Leiden, Valua and I stuck together through thick and thin. We managed to go through wind and storms and even overcame long distances, to the beach and even to Haarlem. He accompanied me all the time during my ERASMUS stay in Leiden and surprisingly he never got stolen. Though I was sad to leave him last March, I was so happy that I could give him to a friend of mine and I was sure that she would treat him well!
Valua’s new girlfriend:
As an American student studying in Europe for the first time, I found it hard to miss the cultural differences between Leiden and Bristol. One of the most defining distinctions for me was how cycling was the main form of transportation for the majority of students and residents living in Leiden. In contrast, almost seventy percent of students have cars, using bicycles for only exercise, if they even own one. After only living in Leiden for a few days, I quickly realized I would have to adapt to this more energy efficient mode of transportation.
Soon after I made this decision, I found a posting from my friend Lisa, advertising the sale of her bike. My only real requirement was for handle bar brakes, and Lisa’s bike had those, so that’s how Rusty and I came to meet. I named her Rusty for her brown color and, obviously, the subtle rust that had developed on some of her parts. She was a temperamental bike; only one of the handle brakes worked and she rode the smoothest in second gear. I saw Rusty’s flaws more as little quirks and grew affectionate towards them as I became more comfortable riding in Leiden traffic.
Some of my most stressful and favorite memories in Leiden were from traveling with Rusty. In the beginning, I was legitimately terrified of the fast moving bikers. I have a very poor sense of balance, so I would get yelled at when I would not use hand signals because I did not want to let go of the handle bars. Unfortunately, I transferred a lot of this stress onto Rusty, and avoided using her during busy traffic times for a few weeks after purchasing her. Finally, I decided it was time to work on my somewhat complicated relationship with Rusty. I would take her out in the early morning and late evening, when there was barely anyone else on the streets. I was able to enjoy the free feeling I got riding around the city with just the two of us. Eventually, I started traveling with friends, although I was never able to master giving someone a “backy” on Rusty.
Rusty and I remained close until our very last ride together, before giving her to my friend Leo. I was hoping that someday I would reunite with her, but recently I found out that Rusty had been a victim of theft. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that someone would actually want to steal Old Rusty. My only hope is that she still gets out for late night rides, wherever she may be.
Goede Dag! May I briefly introduce myself?
Well…It is not simple. There are many names for me straying around in Leiden`s plentiful alleyways. Some tongues call me by the name of Leo. Ridiculous name. Others recognise me as Sebastian, Sebasteo or Hans. The German, the Germ or just de Duitser. But there is just one name that really fits. It mirrors the core of my personality: Dr. (Bike) Love.
You as a reader might find that name a little bit odd or even consider it as complete nonsense produced by a disturbed mind. But please give me the time to explain. Okay first of all: No I am not involved in any amorous relationship with two-wheelers even if they are beautiful. I just believe these mechanical masterpieces give us so much. A beautiful way to get everywhere in combination with fresh air and exercise. They are the fundamental traveling element in Leiden. To the shop, to Einsteins, to the library, to Odessa, back home and just everywhere you want to go. Carried by their tires day in, day out as good as they can. Such loyal creatures, but unfortunately when I cycle around town I come across a lot of neglected, forgotten pairs of pedals. How is this possible? Isn’t that a bit unfair? Even friends of mine keep their bikes in unacceptable condition. Treat them as if they are just as human transport devices only made to move our bodies from A to B.
Cricket handlebar and wheels, loose screws, tires which nearly contain a vacuum following me in my nightmares. A chain rosty like an anchor sunk deep down in to the Mariana Trench. Lonely and forgotten. No single hand there for them. It touches me deeply to see these poor forgotten ones freezing outside, not even locked properly, because they owners don’t even think they are worth it or just don’t care. Too busy with their lives.
As a doctor (Bike Love) I am strongly convinced each bike is a lovable, grateful, elegant steeldonkey. They have character and soul! Doesn’t your bike serve you well most of the time even if you never let it sleep inside? Don’t you think they definitely deserve more attention and care? I mean they surely don’t demand a lot at all. Just feed him or her some oil, grab a pump and give him or her a little well-earned treat with the screwdriver. Whenever I see an injured biky, I grab my wrenches and bring it in order again. I patch that inner tube and make it new. I promise by my profession you will never regret it! The relation between you two will improve right away and your bike will thank you by making these wheels running as fast as never before. Double win situation! Both of you will fly over Leiden’s asphalt like free birds.
So all I want as a professional, serious, thoughtful doctor is some more love and attention for our steely companions out there. Everyone needs a piece of love and affection. And our bikes here in Leiden truly deserved it.
Flat Tire Department 5C
Have you made a similar experience? We would love to hear your story! Feel free to share it with us in the comment area below.