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Student stories: Bakfiets-ing around the city

Date:18 May 2018
Author:Kathir
Moving places in true student fashion
Moving places in true student fashion

I recently had to move to a new place in Groningen. Having been here for a year now, I have successfully convinced myself to stay on. Thanks to the city and its marvellous students for that! Well anyway, as I was sitting in bed one night not many moons ago, I was struck by the sheer amount of garbage I had in my room (Why do I have two tents and three sleeping bags? Whose shoes are those? I didn’t know I owned a guitar! Is that a live animal?!). Normally this would be worrying enough, but that day it really freaked me out because of one reason only:  

I have to carry most of this to my new place in the most affordable way possible (and without getting crushed by my own furniture).  

I had previously seen a few weird looking vehicles belonging to the times when the pyramids were built (or a little bit before that, who can say), being driven around by people in the city. They were bicycles, but their fronts were modified to have a large area where you can put stuff on (see exhibit A for reference). They usually had heavy looking cargo on them bring transported around. Sometimes there'd actually be another person on it, usually 5-year-olds grinning from ear to ear (wait till you have exams four times a year kids!). So, after asking around about these vehicles to a few of my friends, I go to know that these were the cargo bikes or ‘bakfiets’, in Dutch.

I was told I could rent them from a few places:

  1. IKEA
  2. Mamamini, and 
  3. Stadswerkplaats

Of these, IKEA requires you to buy something of a bakfiets-able (that should be an actual word I say) size from there to be able to rent them. That was a no for me since I wasn't in need of a new cupboard. Mamamini had similar rules, so I settled for the Stadswerkplaats bakfiets. I called to book for it one Saturday afternoon and I was good to go. 

The day arrived and I went to the place, which is beside the A-kerk, to claim what was rightfully mine for the next few hours. I was greeted by friendly staff, and the guy also taught me how to ride the bakfiets (it's not as bad as you might think).

Equipped with this knowledge, I got my fancy ride moving on the road. I learnt a few things after the first few hundred metres: 

  1. Don’t use both hands to steer, one at a time offers better control and flexibility. 
  2. These things are wide, get used the width in order not to knock side-view mirrors off parked cars.
  3. Never, ever let your feet be idle and cruise with your gained momentum like you do with your bicycles. You always keep your feet attached to the pedal and moving, unless you brake. 
  4. Don’t go too fast, obviously. 
  5. And last, be ready to hog in your newfound limelight! Trust me, everyone’s eyes are gonna be on you and your ride. 

I then loaded my stuff into the bakfiets (with some difficulty, but I managed) and then went about traversing the city to my new place. I did a couple of trips with the cargo bay fully loaded. Apart from wide-eyed kids and people who can’t decide whether they want to cross the road or not, I also once drove past another couple using the bakfiets. We greeted each other with the “Oh, you too eh. Nice!” smile and moved on. It was almost like we knew each other for one fleeting moment. At the end of the day, I returned the bakfiets, thanked the staff at the stadswerkplaats and went home to get a well-deserved rest.

As small as it sounds, I would say this was actually a very memorable experience for me. I was the king of the road for a while without even owning an expensive motorbike/car. More importantly, I also got all my stuff into my new room, without breaking any of it. I would definitely recommend this mode of transport for any student in the city who is interested in an environmentally friendly, affordable, and cool way to move stuff that can’t normally be moved by hand or a bicycle. 

Good luck! Kathir

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