I recently had the chance to spend a few days in the great city of Amsterdam. While there, I was completely blown away by the bicycle culture. Yes, I knew bikes were big in Amsterdam, but I really had no idea how big.
Did you know that there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam (779,000 people / 881,000 bikes)? And almost all of those bikes are either stereotypical Dutch Bikes or Long John cargo bikes. I think it might actually be a sin to ride a "normal" road or mountain bike in Amsterdam. They just don't exist.
I spent hours sitting outside just watching the bike traffic roll by. Not only are the bikes fun to check out, but the riders are equally amazing. It wasn't uncommon to see people going by with 2, 3, 4 passengers on their bike. For anyone who has tried riding a bike with even one passenger, you know how tricky this can be. The Amsterdam locals take this challenge in stride. For example, I watched a young guy carrying his girl friend side-saddle on his back rack. They pulled up to a stop light on a hill where there was no chance that the dude would be able to get rolling with the extra passenger weight. Therefore, when the light turned green, the girl simply hopped off and ran along side the guy to the top of the hill and then seamlessly and literally jumped on the back rack without ever slowing anything down or saying a word to the guy. She rode away looking around, hands free not hanging on to anything as the guy got up to cruising speed. They made it look way too easy and it was 100% obvious that they had been doing it ever since little kids and had a TON of practice. If that scenario were to happen in Minnesota, dude would be swerving all over the road, girl would be screaming with a death grip on duder's clothes, and then something on the bike would probably fail or they would simply crash and burn. Basically, people in Amsterdam have some amazing biking skills that I don't even think they realize they have. Oh yeah, and NOBODY wears a helmet.
I rented a bike while in Amsterdam to see what all the fuss was about over these "Dutch bikes". Full fenders, covered chains, stout frames, slack geometry, and a cushy ride. These bikes truely cruise. Your hands sit quite far back, almost at your sides, and your posture is quite upright. This position makes for super comfortable seated riding and pretty awkward riding while standing up. The slack geometry, overbuilt frame, and wide bars are the key to they cargo success of these machines. Even riding unloaded, I could easily tell that a couple extra passengers wasn't going to give this bike any problems. The bike was planted.
Of course, I had to see if I could wheelie it...
The bicycle infrastructure within Amsterdam is almost equally amazing to the bikes and riders themselves. For example, there are bike lanes on nearly every road. And not just lines on the roads indicating where the bikes should go, but independent bike lanes with medians separating them from the motor vehicle traffic and separate traffic lights specifically for the bike lanes. In areas where bike paths crossed roads, there was always a button to change the lights and stop traffic. We have buttons like this in Minnesota as well. But unlike Minnesota, when you push the button in Amsterdam, the lights change within about four seconds, no matter what the car traffic looks like. It is obvious where the traffic priorities are. On top of that, there are parks everywhere with free-way style back paths to move bikers through the city without ever dealing with any car or train traffic.
Overall, I was really impressed with Amsterdam and wish I could have stayed in the city more than a couple days. If you like bikes at all...at all... I highly recommend visiting. You will not be disappointed.
It also doesn't hurt if you enjoy hanging out in Amsterdam "coffeeshops". Those don't suck either.
Hats off to you Amsterdam! I am impressed and hope I can visit again.
Here are a couple other interesting bits I found in Amsterdam....
Aerodynamic umbrellas for riding bike in the rain...... http://www.senzumbrellas.com/
Rain jackets that extend over your handlebars to keep you dry.....