Bike Reporter

A Bike Ride in Orange

Written by Sven Eberlein

A few weeks ago I went to a presentation entitled Lessons from Amsterdam: How San Francisco Can Bicycle toward Greatness that featured President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors David Chiu and Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition Leah Shahum, who had both just returned from respective bicycle fact-finding trips to Amsterdam, as well as Bart van Bolhuis, The Netherlands Consulate General in San Francisco. It was a really inspiring event, just seeing how a safe and comprehensive bicycle infrastructure and culture is possible if enough people, from every day citizens to politicians and community leaders, put their collective mind to it.

I posted a photo essay entitled Amsterdam Biking Paradise Didn’t Happen Overnight in which I expressed my delight with how far San Francisco has come as a cycling city and reminisced about the biking oasis that is Amsterdam. Among other things I wrote that Mr. van Bolhuis struck me as “the classic super laid back Dutch official, the kind of person you’d see riding his bike from a coffeeshop to work.”

Sure enough, a couple of days after I posted the piece I got an email, first from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington D.C., expressing their delight at my referring to their Consul as a super laid back Dutch official and inviting me to join their ThinkBike workshops, then from the Dutch Consulate in San Francisco, asking if I’d like to join the Consul and his friends on a bike tour from the Dutch windmill in Golden Gate Park to Union Square in celebration of the Dutch Queen’s Day.

Well, who could resist the Queen (of Cyclists)?


So, last Saturday my buddy and fellow bicycle enthusiast Ray and I got our butts in gear early and on a picture perfect San Francisco morning pedaled from our Mission neighborhood to the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden at the western end of Golden Gate Park.


When we got to the windmill, the first thing we noticed was that it was decorated in red, white and blue flags and the blades were spinning, which hardly ever happens.


This fellow turned out to be the driving force behind the windmill magic, having lobbied the City to let him put up the flags.


Needless to say, the orange Chevy was his. And with both the Dutch Consulate moving to San Francisco and the Giants winning the World Series last year, the stars were aligned for an orange match made in heaven…


Pretty cool truck, but this is really about bicycles…



We were greeted by the Consul General who really just wanted to be called Bart and was as super laid back in person as I had surmised from the public event. Here he is (on the right) with Ray, though perhaps in a slightly understated shade of orange…


It was time to get our orange on. Here is Andy Thornley (left), the SF Bike Coalition’s Policy Director, quality-controlling the decorating process…


and Andy’s back, well, just because…


More ways in which the Giants are like the Dutch (google “let Tim smoke”)


I felt pretty adequately attired, windmill cookie, shirt, socks and all… (the socks were a major score from World Cup ’06, excuse the pasty legs, it’s been a long winter here)


…but the grand prize for authenticity obviously went to these ladies…


Some final instructions from the officials…




Get Set…




Through the park…


to the Presidio where our first pit stop was Inspiration Point (yup, that’s Alcatraz down there)…


Besides enjoying the gorgeous view this was a good opportunity to put some air in the tires…


Next, it’s all downhill through the Presidio…


It was funny, most bystanders thought we were Giants fans. One particularly astute person I overheard thought we were French (nice try, no cigar).

This little guy didn’t care one way or another…


Next up, Crissie Field…


where my bike agreed to pose for a tourist shot…


Then down the Marina…


and around Fort Mason (and yes, I was taking these shots while riding)…


Then back to urban reality…


and other realities (Stay classy there, LaRouchies)…


until we got to Union Square…


where we parked our bikes (in a proper bike parking lot)


and then it was time to party with the Dutch!


Of course, we had to have a Dutch herring


and some cold beverages… (I think the cups were compostable)


After spotting Bart at the beer garden upon our arrival, he reappeared a bit later, dressed as Consul General, paying tribute to the Queen and giving his official blessings for the party…


All pretty light fare, you say. What’s the moral of the story, you ask? Well, for one, there’s enough heavy stuff going on in the world to last several lifetimes. Just from an ecological perspective, we’ve got some huge problems to deal with. While we need big political and structural changes, they’re going to be difficult to implement unless we also change our mindset and lifestyles on a personal level. The way to do this is to understand that these changes aren’t fraught with sacrifice and hardship but will make our lives easier, healthier, and more fun.

What the Dutch can teach us is that while riding a bike doesn’t need to be a big deal we should also remember that such a seemingly small and mundane activity is part of a much larger shift toward the kind of world in which our energy consumption and ecological footprint are naturally more modest. The fear of scarcity is one of the biggest psychological barriers we’re facing in the call to lower our collective energy consumption, and in my view it’s largely unfounded. Riding a bike is no sacrifice to me. The opposite, it makes me happy and content each time I do it. I don’t get stuck in traffic, I’m not paying 5 bucks a gallon for gas, I always find parking, and it’s a great workout. And the more people do it, the better it gets. Just ask the Dutch.

Source: 2010 Benchmarking Report on bicycling and walking in the U.S.


The ThinkBike Workshops
A Dutch-US Sustainable Transportation Dialogue

The ThinkBike workshops bring together Dutch bicycle transportation experts, local transportation planners, engineers and cyclists to plan and discuss how large cities can become more bike-friendly. The workshops address bike safety, commuting by bike, biking to school, bike parking, bikes and public transport and law enforcement.

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About the author

Sven Eberlein

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    • Yes, c’est vrai, the French have had a long-standing love affair with the bicycle, just as the Dutch. I think it’s that kind of cultural and emotional connection that Americans can learn from and is such an important foundation of any of the big physical changes that are needed. Thanks for the links, antiphonsgarden, I have not seen Jour de fête, but I put it on my list. I bet they have it at Lost Weekend, my favorite neighborhood video store. : )

    • Thanks Chris. I really love doing this kind of stuff. Now if I could just find someone who would pay me for doing it, I’d be all set. 😉 Hope all is well in the great Pacific Northwest!