3 min read

A thing that happened recently

On bringing the mountain to Muhammad

A year and a half ago I decided I wanted a Dutch bike. A few months earlier we had spent a few blissful days in the Netherlands, and the feeling of freedom of getting on a bike and being able to get around so effortlessly while still developing a sense of place had planted a seed in my imagination that was starting to germinate. Living in Mauritius, however, this was pure fantasy. I had two options: expensive European hobby bikes - road bikes, mountain bikes, etc.; or inexpensive Chinese transport bikes - similar in principle to what I sought, but fundamentally different in execution (that is to say, less well made and less ergonomical).

I was not so easily thwarted, however. I looked up several of the major Dutch bike manufacturers - Batavus, Gazelle, Sparta - to see if they shipped globally. They all directed me to their closest distributor, which was usually in Australia...which is not meaningfully closer than the Netherlands to Mauritius. But I knew what I wanted, and because of a good friend who has a habit of finding remarkable European knockoffs from Chinese manufacturers via Alibaba, I suspected I had at least one more recourse.

If you have not spent much time on Alibaba, then you may think it’s just the Chinese equivalent of Amazon. It is not. Alibaba connects wholesalers directly to manufacturers to buy and/or have custom designed damn near whatever they want. Did Alibaba have Dutch bicycles? Does Charles Bronson have a Death Wish? (Too obscure? Sorry. The short answer is yes, in abundance) within 24 hours I was in conversation with 4 different manufacturers, each of whom was ready to send me a sample bicycle so I could see the quality of what they would build for me when I was ready to order at least one shipping container full of Dutch bicycles, fresh off the assembly line.

Now, there was a part of me that said, “yeah! I could just pick one of these guys, pay for the sample bicycle, get it shipped to me, and then be done with the whole affair.” I’d have my Dutch bicycle, and I’d likely have a story to tell about dealing with customs in Mauritius. But a part of me also thought, “hey, I thought this was so wonderful. I bet other people would think so too if they had the chance to experience it. How many bikes are in a shipping container?” I had worked out a selling price and knew how many I needed to sell for the investment to break even (or, hell, make it so I got my Dutch bicycle for free...or even for a profit. Probably for a profit. Almost certainly), and then I got to the paperwork to register as an importer in Mauritius. And that’s when I remembered that I wanted a Dutch bicycle, not a Dutch bicycle import business that required a sustained engagement with a painful bureaucracy.

So the sample bike then? I responded to the emails from the very solicitous Chinese manufacturers, who all let me know that they had sample bikes ready to ship to me from their showrooms in the Netherlands, and if I just said the word they’d have them on a boat that would arrive to me in 8 to 12 weeks.

Could I wait that long? Just because I had spent my entire life waiting up until that point didn’t mean that I could wait forever. I lamented my plight to my wife, who listened with some hard earned sympathy and then went out a few days later and bought me a Cannondale road bike. It was the nicest bike I’d ever owned, and it was a pleasure to ride on the Mauritian roads, and I realized that it wasn’t just the bicycle I loved in the Netherlands but the whole cycling infrastructure that made it possible in the first place.

And that’s how I realized that if you can’t import a bicycle from the Netherlands to Mauritius, then the only other reasonable course of action is to export yourself and your entire family from Mauritius to the Netherlands.

All of which is the long way of saying, “sorry it’s been so quiet on here the last few weeks - I was busy moving 5 humans, 1 canine, and 700 pounds of luggage halfway around the world amidst a global pandemic.”

Should you find yourself in the Netherlands or planning to visit, let me know. I’ll help you rent a bicycle and then months later help you walk through the steps to emigrate.