Biking in the Netherlands. It may beat hagelslag, old city centers, museums and the sea in terms of what I love about living here. It ranks right up there with affordable universal health care. I have so many anecdotes related to bikes and bike riding in the Netherlands that I decided to start a weekly series: The Bike Chronicles. Each week I will share a different aspect of this delightful part of Dutch life; sometimes just a photo that captures a moment, other times I might bite off a weightier, more thoroughly researched topic or share a longer story. Bikes will be at the center of each post, but really, through them, you will gain a much broader understanding of my daily life and Dutch culture in general. Enjoy!
Last week my father in law and I spent a day biking around Amsterdam. It’s always a wonderful adventure. Amsterdam, outside of the few streets and squares near Central Station that cater to the millions of tourists with chintzy souvenirs covered in a haze of pungent smoke, is a beautiful, vibrant city that never fails to make me happy. I remember my first visit with my new boyfriend Maarten in 2000. He had studied and lived there and was eager to show me his stomping grounds. We picked up his rickety old bike that looked like it had been fished out of a canal and he put me on his handlebars. Looking back he was obviously testing my mettle. I guess I passed because we are still together and I loved every bit of that day, except maybe the sore bum. Anyway, since then I have had many biking adventures in Amsterdam and even now there are always moments when fear makes my heart skip a beat and adrenaline tingles in my white-knuckled fingers as they grip my handlebars. It isn’t for the faint of heart, especially not when trying to keep up with a local. Here are some special biking rules Amsterdammers seem to follow that make riding there extra, umm, exciting (I would say that these all apply, to some extent, to all bigger cities here, but I’ve heard from Dutch folks that Amsterdam truly is known for it’s unique biking culture)
1. Go with the flow. You go, they go, we all go, just work with it and don’t get in anyone’s way. This might very well be the Golden Rule of Biking in Amsterdam and I could possibly just leave it at this. But I won’t..
2. Red lights are a reminder to look both ways when you cross the street, no more. ( I am constantly being left behind by my loved ones at red lights.)
3. Bikes have the right of way unless cars take the right of way, then cars have the right of way.
4. Cross tram lines at enough of an angle to avoid getting your tire stuck in them, but be sure to do so with seemingly no effort or thought – don’t look up from your phone.
5. Obviously don’t wear a bike helmet except maybe if you are a bike courier in which case you might want one because you ride around like someone from Amsterdam but then even faster. Even then, though…
6. Watch out for pesky tourists that ride slow and stop suddenly for photos. If one is in your way ring your bell and yell something guttural to scare them and make them understand that they did something wrong.
7. With around 30,000 bikes stolen each year, some folks go so far as to uglify their bikes to prevent theft and if you don’t lock it, expect to lose it.
8. By all means go out and enjoy a few drinks with friends at your favorite ‘kroeg’ but keep in mind that technically there is a law in place now against drunk bicycling.