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    Report on biking in Amsterdam

    I was riding the train into SF and got talking with a guy who's over here on a couple or three weeks' vacation, a schoolteacher from Amsterdam. The reason he was in a pit like Sunnyvale was he was helping his sister move. Anyway, we got talking about biking, and according to him, the car drivers in Amsterdam are really aggro, and biking is much more dangerous there than here! He said American car drivers (at least we must assume in the Bay Area) are on the whole incredibly polite and considerate of bikes and peds compared to where he lives. Needless to say I was absolutely astonished at this news, but he seemed to know what he was talking about.

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    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Sounds like a case of the grass being greener on the other side.

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    Utter nonsense. I can honestly say from experience that the attitude of drivers in Amsterdam was very reasonable and far excedes the level of consideration that I have been afforded anywhere else in the world, including America. There were certainly a number of people who demonstrated a sense of urgency but were devoid of the bullying tactics common to the American driver.

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    Badger Biker ctyler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lilHinault
    ...The reason he was in a pit like Sunnyvale ...
    And why is Sunnyvale a "pit?" I used to live there and and found it to be a great place to be. Good city and area for cycling. I still have a lot of friends who live there. If it's such a pit, why are you there?

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    J E R S E Y S B E S T Jerseysbest's Avatar
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    Supposedly, everything is Europe is better then it is here. I even hear the streets are paved with gold...



    Quote Originally Posted by ctyler
    If it's such a pit, why are you there?
    I think he was just on the train goin into SF

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Seldom Kill
    Utter nonsense. I can honestly say from experience that the attitude of drivers in Amsterdam was very reasonable and far excedes the level of consideration that I have been afforded anywhere else in the world, including America. There were certainly a number of people who demonstrated a sense of urgency but were devoid of the bullying tactics common to the American driver.
    From what I understand, the motorist in Amsterdam is not expected to see cyclist on the roads for they use the bike paths. Maybe the OP was saying that once you step outside the path, the drivers get very aggressive.

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    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
    From what I understand, the motorist in Amsterdam is not expected to see cyclist on the roads for they use the bike paths. Maybe the OP was saying that once you step outside the path, the drivers get very aggressive.
    from my short experiences, that's basically correct.

    it's a good and bad thing:
    yes, there are bike paths virtually everywhere...
    BUT where there are bike paths adjacent to the road, you are EXPECTED to use them -- actually you are legally REQUIRED to use them.
    thus, car drivers are very agrressive to cyclists on the road if a bike lane is nearby as the cyclist is not supposed to be there.
    that said, in areas where there are no bike lanes and cyclists are expected to ride on the street with cars i found The Netherlands' drivers to be very nice.
    much of Holland has a 2-tier system of roads that are virtually completed segregated and separated: one road for cars and other for cyclists with their own intersections using overpasses and underpasses to go over/under car roads. (to get past one large car road in amsterdam the bike path takes a really long and route, circling around under one part of the road, then circling back and over another part -- i got annoyed and jumped the curb and used the car road and was agrressively "attacked" by motorists honking at me for being on the "car road")

    edit: oh, i forgot: if i remember correctly the Netherlands actually still has an archaic law on the books that CYCLISTS MUST YIELD TO CARS!! with the special addition that in the case of a car-bike collision the car is ALWAYS at fault (i find the logic in both cases very off) -the effect is that since a motorist is legally liable in the event of an accident he can only "act" aggressive but not actually do it as he will pay if the bicyclist does not yeild as he is "supposed" to.

    Germany is very much the same although the extent of bike lanes/paths is not as high.
    In Germany there are 2 types of bike lanes: optional (almost always next-to pedestrian walks) and REQUIRED (usually specifically designated for cyclists only)
    and if there is a SIGNED (so legally required bike lane/path) and you bike on the street drivers are often VERY aggressive, honking, driving too close, etc. (as you're legally not supposed to be there!) --- i of course choose the safest route so i often ride on the road even I am legally required to bike on the path: i hold my safety first and am willing to pay a fine in the event i ever get ticketed (doesn't happen as far as i know)

    then on roads without mandatory bike lanes drivers are generally very friendly and respectful of cyclists.

    and the main difference in Europe is that drivers are TAUGHT to look for cyclists in their driver training - e.g. look to the right before making a turn in case pedestrians or cyclists are coming. THIS is very astonding as an American cyclist learns to expect NO driver will ever look for a cyclist when turing right (the classic right-hook)

    i PERSONALLY do not like the "Holland" bike lane/path system for this reason: when there is a perfectly good street, it is usually safer to bike there than paths or bike lanes and i don't like being restricted from use (with exceptions for limited-access roads like Autobahn or Interstate) -- and MANY bike paths/lanes here in Germany are, like in the US, NOT safe: e.g. typically there when you don't need it (i.e. where there is space for one) and ending abruptly when there is not space (often "dumping" the cyclists on the road with only a sign warning the motorists to look out for bikes)
    why drive when you can ride?
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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    I think the way cagers treat you is somewhat dependent on the way you ride. NathanK and others pointed out that different countries or regions have different expectations of cyclist behavior. If you fit in with local laws and mores, you will likely be treated with consideration.

    For example, here in Lansing, there are no bike lanes and drivers are mostly kind to me on the streets. Next door in East Lansing there are a lot of (crappy) bike lanes, and drivers are less considerate when you are on the streets, whether or not there is a bike lane adjacent. It seems like they resent sharing the road if their tax dollars have built segregated facilities. That's one reason I don't care for bike lanes, at least as they're construed around here.

    Some people say university towns are "bike friendly," whereas industrial cities are the pits. That has not been my experience here.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  9. #9
    Dog is my copilot. GGDub's Avatar
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    My sis and best friend both live in Holland and spent a good deal of time there this summer and believe my this guy obviously hasn't ridden enough in N.America. Everybody's agro on the roads in Europe, the difference is they're used to bikes so it doesn't make them super-agro like over here. I've ridden quite extensively in Europe and feel totally comfortable on roads with no shoulder there. Here, it sometimes feels like a 4-foot shoulder ain't enough.
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    I'll live in the Netherlands but not even close to Amsterdam but in the southern part with no real big citys nearby. There are some pros and cons of bike paths that i see:

    pros
    - no cars rushing by on the roads between villages where cars have a maximum speed of 80km/h (about 50m/h).

    cons
    - bike paths are not maintained nearly as good as road (a lot of holes and trees roots in the concrete)
    - most accidents happen when bike paths and car roads cross
    - bike paths are owned by kids going to high school on their bike and the tend to take up the entire bike paths so you can't pass them and they ride VERY slow.


    oh, i forgot: if i remember correctly the Netherlands actually still has an archaic law on the books that CYCLISTS MUST YIELD TO CARS!!
    This is not true anymore if a cyclist comes from the right side a car must yield to him. Just as if it where two cars.

    with the special addition that in the case of a car-bike collision the car is ALWAYS at fault (i find the logic in both cases very off)
    The details about this are somewhat different the car driver is not always at fault this depends on the situation (just like any other country) but the car driver is required to pay the damage of the cyclist.

    In the netherlands we have optional bike paths too (which I almost never use).

    All together I don't think that the Netherlands is such a bad country to ride in but all those bike paths are not as heavenly as they seem.

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    I am not in Netherlands but can recount a similar experience. Here in Uppsala cars will pass often, pass close, and will go fairly fast down narrow roads. Yet, somehow I feel safer. Here:

    1) Drivers generally seem to be in more control.

    2) While drivers do the things I mentioned, they are NOT aggressive. They accept bikes on the road (since many more people commute). So they do not in general try to spook you or become all belligerent.

    3) Drivers are more AWARE.

    Three is the biggest point. While drivers in America will pass you with more space, and not pass as often as in Sweden, many of them simply never see you in the first place! There is this sort of mechanized approach to driving (well that is a huge generalization...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerseysbest
    Supposedly, everything is Europe is better then it is here. I even hear the streets are paved with gold...
    America has a few things that make it outstanding.

    1) Wilderness - it is hard, for instance, to stealth camp in Switzerland because people utilize almost every square kilometer of land. The nature I have personally seen in Germany is more buccolic than wild. Of course, Scandinavia has plenty of wilderness...

    2) Education - a lot of good research comes out of America, and it currently dominates my field of interest (mathematics).

    3) Vague notion of opportunity - many college-aged Swedes seem to want to work in America. Perhaps they get wet thinking about the low taxes there. But then, Sweden has a secret love affair with America in that American culture is sneaking it's way into everyday life.


    What I think upsets most people about America though is an unwitting arrogance and myopia many of its residents project. This is probably just because many of its residents do not spend significant time outside of the country, and you can happily live your entire life without ever interacting with someone outside of the country. There is also a love affair in America with the idea of independence and freedom, but not the bygone notions. It is a sickly version of freedom, one that holds production and growth over well being, one that promotes incredible consumerism (be it unwitting), and in general a fervent attachment to ideals for ideals sake. For example:

    1) People love their guns in an incredible way. Compare with Switzerland, where almost everyone has military service. They take a more practical approach to guns. (Again, generalizing).

    2) America is where the Intelligent Design movement started. Many Swedes cannot comprehend this movement, because religion is simply not as large a deal here, despite what statistics suggest.

    3) Cars. Cars are reverred.

    How many Smart Cars do you see in America? Apparently in Canada they are more common. Germany they are everywhere. You are very hard pressed to find an SUV in mainland Europe.

    Car commericles are ubiquituous in American media, but you rarely see them in Europe. If you ever analyze an American car commericial, esp. those for SUVs, you will plainly see that there is a great association of FREEDOM with the vehicle. The vehicle can take you anywhere, can let you live your dreams. This is probably why it seems so difficult for Americans to go car free. Combine such a strong association with a great reverence for so-called freedom and you have something more addictive than heroin.

    I sort of liken many parts of Europe to New York City, where one can go car-free their entire life and it wouldn't outside the bounds of reason. Almost all of my American friends own cars, but very few of my Swedish ones do.

    Honestly though, once you spend a significant amount of time in either place you realize that many of the purported differences are superficial. People are people, and most behave as society tells them. People confuse American VALUES with American people, and likewise with Europeans. Some of the VALUES are what scare non-Americans.

    As far as day to day life goes, you soon realize that people do, in fact, live healthy and fulfilled lives outside of America, just as they do inside of it. Some places in Europe really do have significantly different cultures, others do not. Like I hinted at earlier, you could transplant an American to Sweden and they would experience very little to no culture shock, but this would not be true about, say, Greece. In Sweden you have an abundance of American TV shows, American movies, English music dominates. Take a listen to most Scandinavian black (or death, doom, speed) metal bands. They aren't singing in Swedish, Finnish, or Norwegian!

    But damn, if you have a major medical accident here and you are poor, you welcome the social system!

    I apologize for the long wind.

  13. #13
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    hi refro,
    thanks for correcting me about the Netherlands -- the one has been changed and the other i got the details wrong, but the end result is the same: as the car driver must pay he REALLY doesn't want to have an accident with a cyclist even if the cyclist is an idiot!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Refro
    All together I don't think that the Netherlands is such a bad country to ride in but all those bike paths are not as heavenly as they seem.
    i think that sums it up pretty well.

    and i would say much the same about Germany - i often find the bike paths quite annoying -- as they intorduce dangerous intersections with cars where a cyclist is virtually impossible to see - or because of the SUPER SLOW cyclists on many of the paths, etc
    --> but all in all the motorists are much more AWARE of cyclists
    - partly because there are simply MORE cyclists so they expect to see cyclists (for example on a major street in Dallas Texas NOONE expects to encounter a cyclist!)
    - also because driver trainer is much more strict and awareness of cyclists is taught (there are pages in the German driver's handbook about looking out for cyclists, yielding to cyclists, etc!!)

    for example, the #1 reason why Portland Oregon is a great placde to cycle is because there are a lot of cyclists so people expect cyclists. the same goes for most of Europe.

    but cycling in Europe is not better BECAUSE of the bike paths!!!
    why drive when you can ride?
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  14. #14
    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    hi Satyr,

    i would agree with most of what you said...
    at the same time, as you probably know, you're touching on some very sensitive topics for Americans (guns, religion and cars).
    i would suggest that we limit the discussion to the last one (and bikes of course).

    you comments about the car being associated with FREEDOM in America are right on!

    although i would have to disagree with at least part of your "supporting evidence":
    "Car commericles are ubiquituous in American media, but you rarely see them in Europe."
    Car addiction in GERMANY is different but in some ways even worse than in the US.
    here cars are more or less only for the affluent and so are a real status symbol - and the Germans REALLY love their cars - and autos play a big part in the economy and also German pride in high quality engineering: BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Volkswagon

    i also agree with your statement that USA and Sweeden (or USA and Germany) are not that much different -- although there are obvious differences like language the underlying culture and values are very much the same - but as you started above there are suttle differences - many political - relating to guns, corporal punishment, taxes, the social system, "freedom", etc...
    oh, but i whould stick to my own recomendation to stay on the topics bikes and motorist behavior to cyclists...
    why drive when you can ride?
    now a fully certified German MTB Guide! (DAV)

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    I would say it's probably a case of the "grass is greener on the other side" the guy I was talking to may have been thinking that way.

    Also, Sunnyvale's not really a pit, it's just not anywhere special. It's decent, it's main allure is its central location in silicon valley.

    I was surprised to hear this guy say drivers in Amsterdam are aggro, and that drivers here treat pedestrians as holy, he'd said he'd had an accident back home and maybe that was coloring his views.

  16. #16
    Chicago Cyclist ViciousCycle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lilHinault
    the car drivers in Amsterdam are really aggro, and biking is much more dangerous there than here!
    When I stayed in Amsterdam, I stayed in one of the parts of the city that dates back hundreds of years. It would be very difficult to be an aggressive driver in these streets. The streets are as narrow as alleys, and you can't see what's coming up at the intersection until you get to the intersection, which means that a driver has to drive leisurely and cautiously.

    Amsterdam is the only place I've ever cycled where I felt completely safe riding without a helmet. I didn't see monster SUV's or other oversized vehicles... instead I saw people the trend was towards smaller vehicles.... some people drove cars no bigger than golf carts. Of course, trying to be an aggressive driver in the historic parts of Amsterdam is like trying to do jumping jacks in a row boat....

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Satyr
    I am not in Netherlands but can recount a similar experience. Here in Uppsala cars will pass often, pass close, and will go fairly fast down narrow roads. Yet, somehow I feel safer. Here:

    1) Drivers generally seem to be in more control.

    2) While drivers do the things I mentioned, they are NOT aggressive. They accept bikes on the road (since many more people commute). So they do not in general try to spook you or become all belligerent.

    3) Drivers are more AWARE.

    Three is the biggest point. While drivers in America will pass you with more space, and not pass as often as in Sweden, many of them simply never see you in the first place! There is this sort of mechanized approach to driving (well that is a huge generalization...)
    On our recent vacation to Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, France, England) I noted that drivers in genereal seemed to take more pride in their driving skills than I see here. I wasn't cycling, so I made that observation from a car.

  18. #18
    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nathank
    and i would say much the same about Germany - i often find the bike paths quite annoying

    Come on man. Are we comparing bike riding in Germany to bike riding in America? The Advocacy group is filled with threads on bikers getting slaughtered every day. That just isn't the case here.

    Where can one get bike fatality statistics comparing countries?

    (By the way, it's always a pleasure to see a Nathank post!)

  19. #19
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    Spending a week in Amsterdam one winter inspired me to experiment with substituting bike trips for car trips and eventually realizing that life is better without the car. I didn't intend to bike while there but they had a transit strike on the day I wanted to take the train to Haarlem. When I asked about renting a bike to ride there, the lady at the Hotel said "There is no place in the Netherlands that you can't bike to." The transit strike did not include the bike rental facilities at Centraal Station. Right near the station I saw a bike path signpost pointing to Haarlem, Rotterdam, Maastricht... unbelievable. I rode those clunky rental bikes for the rest of the trip.

    About the original post... from talking to Dutch people who come to America they seem to complain about the rigid rules in their homeland. I have to confess that I didn't know the rules so probably rode in the street when I should have used a nearby path. I walked on bike lanes when I shouldn't have too. The people were patient and polite with me when I did something dumb. On a rental bike in rush hour a car stopped and the driver waved me on with a smile when he clearly had the right of way- very different behaviour from DC rush hour. I still think the Netherlands was the most civilized place I've ever visited.

  20. #20
    loves rail-trails bikingbets's Avatar
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    [IMG]

    Amsterdam...where it's best to dress down your bike and take the air out of your tires so it's less likely to be stolen.

  21. #21
    Stooge thebankman's Avatar
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    My dad just returned from a business trip to Amsterdam. He said the streets are lined with bicycles. Many don't even lock their bikes. As well, there is a public system of "free" to the public bikes; they are painted a certain color, he's color-blind and said they were yellow, and are unlocked and free to use to get around the city. Pretty neat-o. Also he said the "coffee shops" are dyno-mite!

  22. #22
    pacifist-vegetarian biker
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    On Amsterdam specificly. The center is generaly pretty light on car traffic, and is a great place to ride your bike, you just have to watch out form trams/tracks and stupid tourists standing in the bike lines. In the suburbs there are wide bike paths parelleling every major road, with their own signals and crossings. But in between there is an area where the bike lanes merge on to the street where cyclists are forced to compete with trams and cars for road space. this can be downright scary, although it brings back nice memories of vehicular cycling in the states.

    One thing to remember about cycling in the netherlands, is that the cyclist is never at fault. Even if they are riding at night with no lights going the wrong way one a one way street. seriously.

    Cycling in the snow and hail isn't much fun, and the number of people on busses and trams (and in cars) goesup substaintly this time of year.
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