Monday, October 13, 2014

Amsterdam, Where Bikers Rule

Gathering at a traffic light.
The bicycle culture here in Amsterdam is a strange combination of Dutch efficiency and derring-do. The bikers, in generally obey the rules, operate their bikes with an almost professional skill of handling and are courteous.

They also text while riding, whiz through tiny openings in negotiating other bikes, ride with hoodies through intersections not looking anywhere but straight ahead. It seems to be a situation made for accidents, but the riders don't even wear helmets, so the wreck must be the rare exception.

Trams and bikes co-exist.
I met an ex-pat American on a tram yesterday who talked about how the clean Dutch "drain the canals in the city every two months or so" and said, "You should see all the bikes they take out every time." I don't know if that means the riders accidentally drive into the canals or if they just get mad and toss them occasionally. The ex-pat did say, however, that "the canals look really clean, but they aren't. I pulled out a cup of water when they were newly filled once and it was darker than my beer."

Back to the bikes: I've never seen so many or such variety. The Amsterdam residents call themselves "the bicycle capital of the world" with good reason. I have no idea how anybody ever finds his specific bike because there are so many on so many racks, but they do. The variety is wild. Moms carry their babies--I mean BABIES--in cribs built into bikes, there are huge grocery bins at the front or back. There are comfy seats for doubling up and double-wide bikes for two people (side-by-side, not front-to-back). The colors form the spectrum with many bikes being obviously hand-painted and decorated

They have specific, and large, bike lanes on both sides of the street, each going one way. If you walk into the red bike zone, you'd better watch your butt because they zoom along at 15 to 20 mph and some don't seem to be looking for anything.

The one fact I have to remind myself of is that these one-speed bikes of all sizes, shapes and prices are not recreation machines. They are modes of transportation. I checked prices in a bike shop this morning on my early walk and they ranged between 129 Euro (about $1.50 to 1E) to about 1,200 Euro. The 129 Euro looked pretty stable, but not fancy. Certainly serviceable.

In any case, I've yet to see anybody hit anything, so maybe the subtlety escapes me. I expect so. These lovely people are quite skilled.

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