On Bikes

The Amsterdam transportation system is dominated by the bicycle. Regardless of the distance, weather, or time of day, there’s nothing stopping Amsterdam natives from pedaling their way to the next destination. These are just my observations as an American outsider. 

Kudos must be giving to the Dutch government for enabling this reality. Wide bike lanes run alongside almost every major avenue in the city and skinnier streets are usually equipped with signs that read bikes only. In Amsterdam, a shocking 38% of all trips are done on bike; from just seeing the masses of bikes it can seem like even more. 

From my first trip in a car it was obvious who rules the road in Holland. Drivers use the blind spot to check not only for oncoming traffic but also for rogue bikers; each turn is approached cautiously lest a bicycle come whizzing across the intersection. And during morning and evening rush hour the bikes come out in full force, commanding the flow of traffic. 

Even with young children, biking is a family affair. Instead of strapping kids into expensive car seats, the Dutch haul their toddlers around in a wheelbarrow or wagon attached to the front of the bike. It can fit up to three kids with surprising comfort. 

Another popular option is the kid’s seat attachments in front or behind of the rider. 

With the safety of bikes paramount among Dutch people, the cultural norm here is to haul kids around with pedal power. 

Of course before the kids are even too big to fit in their seats, parents have them training with a whole series of toddler bicycles. From the age of two, they’re spinning the wheels on foot-powered training bikes. 

By seven, they’re riding to and from school in cliques. 

As the weekend takes hold, you might think surely the teenagers and 20-something eschew the hassle of biking for the ease of Uber. Yet sure enough, vast swarms of friends cruise around the city by bike, navigating from one party to the next on two wheels. Not only does it save money, for most destinations in the jam packed city it’s faster than public transportation. 

But what happens if you over consume? Just leave the bike there and come back tomorrow

The practice of hauling someone else on the back of a bike is actually so common that there’s an unspoken cultural rule: boys straddle the back wheel, girls dangle two feet off to one side like a lady astride a horse. 

Finally, the Dutch have perfected multi-tasking while riding a bicycle. Here's just a sample of everything I've seen people doing while biking: texting, hauling their groceries, moving their apartment, taking their kids to soccer practice, taking their dog to the park, working for Deliveroo, anything really. Fine, still don't understand the scale of biking in Amsterdam? Take a look at the central station and keep in mind that this is a city with less than 10% as many people as New York City!