Journalists covering the start of this year's Giro d'Italia were given a rare treat by the host city of Amsterdam. Whereas we normally had to schlep around on foot (slow), by taxi or rental car (expensive), or public transportation (cheap but not always convenient), we were each offered use of a bike during our stay – completely free of charge.
Having ridden countless über-expensive super bikes over the past few years, suffice to say that this loaner was nothing to write home about in terms of high performance. Its mild steel frame was dead-feeling, heavy and flexy, the front and rear drum brakes offered about as much bite as stamped steel cantilevers with glazed-over pads, and the ratios on the three-speed internal rear hub were anything but tight.
Moreover, the saddle placed pretty much 100 percent of your body weight right where you didn't want it to be, the bolt-upright position encouraged neither spirited nor efficient pedalling, and it was about as racy looking as a cardboard box spray-painted red with Rust-Oleum.
And yet it was one of the best bikes I've ever ridden – simply because it was a bike, because all of the other transportation alternatives sucked, and because it reminded me yet again why bicycles are such a fantastic way to get around.
The prologue start and finish areas were roughly 2km apart, and time required to shuttle back and forth between them was cut to a mere fraction of what it would have taken by foot. The bike paths were clearly marked, surrounding cars knew what to do, and routes were well maintained. In fact, it was so easy and quick to get around that I ended up making the trip twice to gather more pictures and info.
Rolling across the tarmac at my comparatively leisurely pace, I'd even started to forget the banal nature of the bike I was riding and didn't for a second wish I could trade it for something fancier. I even caught myself grinning at one point, purely enjoying the sensation of flying across the ground – because in essence that's what cycling is – and forgetting the stress of the day.
At that moment, the only important thing was that I was on a bike. Which invariably is always better than not being on a bike, no matter what kind it is.