We were taking a tour of the city with our friend, Abi, who was helping us find somewhere to rent. It was while we were on our way to see an apartment in the Oud Zuid area of the city that Abi pointed to a long, black, two-wheeled contraption with a large bucket in front. “Within six months of living here, you’ll be scooting around on one of those,” she said. “I guarantee it”. I laughed.
In truth, I couldn’t quite work out how you would use such a machine. It seemed so unwieldy, so foreign. I loved the idea that I could be one of those seemingly highly capable, hardy, multi-tasking parents I came to see everywhere around the city, shopping bags and two children strapped into the front seat, another child on the back, but I was six months pregnant with my second child at the time, and our small family already relied on two cars between us. The idea of a cargo bike was quaint, but it wasn’t going to cut it.
As it turned out, Abi’s prediction was, indeed, incorrect. It took just four months for us to succumb to the cargo-bike life rather than six, and only because I was pregnant for three of them. For each of those four months, as I walked and trammed my way around this city, I grew increasingly envious of the freedom these devices seemed to afford. I’d see the other mums and dads from my daughter’s class, whizzing to the morning drop off and home from after-school clubs. They’d ride alongside each other, chatting as they went, or having a quick catch-up at the traffic lights before pedalling off, as I struggled with the pushchair through streets of pedestrians and tourists.
When not filled with children, the buckets would be used to transport dining chairs, flowerpots, Christmas trees, everything you could imagine, and some things you couldn’t. No queuing in traffic, no frustrated tooting of horns, just a swift and seamless sweep through the day and the city.
Fast forward a few years and our precious cargo bike isn’t just a part of our way of life, it is our way of life, and it’s one of the best lifestyle changes I have ever made. From the moment the children are strapped into the front seat and I take the first pedal stroke of the morning, all the chaos, shouting and lost shoes of the pre-school rush are forgotten. We’ll sing together with the air blowing through our hair, my daughter pointing out Spring flowers in the morning, my son shouting to the stars in the evening. On wet days, of which there are many, they get to cocoon inside the detachable rain cover, chattering to each other and looking through the plastic windows at the rain and wind outside.
The MaxiCosi adaptor we attached to the bike for my son as a baby has long gone, leaving plenty of room for the groceries up front, or the mother-in-law as was the case on her last visit. On the rare occasion my husband and I would have had a date night in pre-Covid times, I’d take a break from the pedalling and give him the driving seat, while I bunkered down in the bucket in front. Few things test the trust of a 15-year marriage quite like allowing your husband to hurtle you through the streets of Amsterdam at speed.
Our entire lockdown has been lived through the freedom of our cargo bike. When the schools first closed, and the sun mercifully shone, I’d pack my daughter and a friend or two with some picnic rugs and games in front, put my son on the seat behind, and head off exploring, to the beach, the countryside, or on the shuttle boat across the river Ij to the lakes and forests beyond the city. I’d team up with another parent friend and we’d ride our kids out together, the journey itself a highlight of the day. Indeed, I choose sports clubs for my daughter as much for which parents I can ride and chat with along the way, as for the sport itself. I’m afraid she doesn’t have much of a say over her Saturday morning hockey. It’s the one time of the week I’m guaranteed to get some pedalling time with my friends.
Whereas before, every trip would have to be calculated with a traffic buffer and an extra 10-30 minutes to find a parking space, I know exactly how long each journey will take, whether for work or fun, taking so much of what I assumed was unavoidable, grown-up stress out of my day.
If this all paints a picture of some sort of idyllic existence, I make no apologies for it. As a way to live a family life, it’s as close to perfect as you can get. Sometimes, I’ll look back at the image I had of those parents riding around the city on their cargo bikes and laugh. I’m no more capable, hardy or skilled at multi-tasking than I was before. Every now and then though I think, maybe I look it, and that’ll do for now.