Part 2: A thick bicycle with auxiliary motor

Written by Bert Plomp

After a series of years of hard work, my parents could finally afford to participate in motorized traffic. There was enough money saved to purchase a moped. Not just one, but two at the same time. Half of Napoleon Square gathered to witness the proud owners and their new, heavy machines. Both Solex mopeds were parked downstairs at the entrance of the stairwell, side by side, basking in the sun. My parents gave the neighbours ample opportunity to observe this marvel of technology from all angles. To avoid getting in people’s way, they had modestly retreated to their flat on the first floor. From the living room, positioned behind the curtain, they kept an eye on things. When the last interested person left, my father went downstairs and securely stored both machines in the storage room of the apartment building.

While initially accompanying the rest of their family on bikes for the challenging journey to the campsite, my parents now raced ahead, seated on their heavy vehicles. Before I could fold the stand of my bike, they had already disappeared beyond the horizon. These Solex mopeds were their first major purchases, and they were extremely proud of them. In fact, a Solex was nothing more than a bike with a little auxiliary motor. A thick bike with a little motor that drove a roller. As soon as the engine started, the roller began to rotate backward. After pushing the engine block down with a lever, the roller came into contact with the top of the front wheel. Because the roller exerted a propelling backward motion on the front wheel, the bike started moving forward suddenly.

When moving faster than one naturally can, humans are very vulnerable. To protect against all that motorized force, my parents had purchased sturdy clothing. After all, a Solex quickly reached a top speed of twenty-five kilometres per hour. Such a massive displacement came with a considerable “chill factor.” After deducting the cost of the mopeds, the savings balance had shrunk so much that they resorted to buying suitable clothing at an army surplus store. My father had once seen a tank commander clad in leather during the liberation of Utrecht. The man stood proudly in his turret, receiving cheers from crowds of admiring women. Such a leather suit seemed appropriate in relation to his new vehicle. For a reasonable price, my father and mother fully outfitted themselves in leather at the surplus store. Now, adorned in a long, heavy leather jacket and a leather headgear with ear flaps on their heads, they were about to mount their steel steeds for the first time. Once again, the neighbourhood gathered to witness this spectacle in person. When the engines started to roar, it was time to climb onto the machines. My father managed to sit on his Solex independently. Mother clearly struggled with the weight of her leather gear. We had to lift her into the saddle before she could push the lever down. As the motorized couple rode out of the street, there were no cheers. There was also no exuberant, female beauty present to wave them off. The departure was accompanied by some mocking laughter.

Because the leather headgear, apart from the face, completely covered their heads, my parents were all leather from their crowns to their ankles. Their heavy gear made a deep impression on many passersby. When they sped through Odijk, the local unruly youths immediately fled. This was clearly different from a vulnerable city boy on a bike with a chamber pot attached to his luggage carrier. To eliminate any risk, they also wore large leather gloves with cuffs. Gloves that allowed you to confidently stroke a tormented, fierce tigress over her head without any fear. At least, if the beast hadn’t already fled in terror with its tail between its legs. After all, you don’t see such an imposing, leather-clad creature every day. The entire outfit was also exceptionally wind-resistant. Once enveloped in it, you could confidently take a flight over the North Pole in a convertible version of an F-16 without the risk of catching a cold. I always watched in amazement as these two, despite the enormous weight of their leather armour, were consistently able to manoeuvre their hellish machines out of the square. They cared little about what people thought of their attire. Safety and health were their top priorities.


For all episodes, click on: Travel perils

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