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Old 02-10-08, 05:03 PM   #1
craigdurkee
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a place where everyone rides

’D HEARD the stories about the Dutch Black, but nothing prepared me for
the alternative universe that is Amsterdam. It was clear from the moment
I stepped off the train that my wildest fantasies were about to become
reality.

I’m not talking about the sex and drugs; heaps of cities have that. It
was the bikes — they were everywhere and in every shape and size
imaginable: bikes for cruising, bikes for shopping, bikes for couples,
bikes for carrying a whole tantrum of toddlers, and even bikes for the
frail and wobbly.

Most people seem to have multiple bikes, including their Sunday best. I
asked one woman loading her shopping if I could get a photo. She blushed
as if I’d caught her in curlers and slippers, and then replied: “Oh, why
do you want a photo of me on this old thing? My good bike is at home!”

The Dutch Black is a solid, no nonsense single-speed bike that pretty
much rides itself such is the genius of its design. Of course, the fact
that there are no nasty hills probably helps, but the balance, torque
and gentleness on joints and squishy bits make riding it a joyful
experience.

You can hire the bike for a pittance, making the city and surrounds
instantly accessible. And we are talking here about a land where the
bicycle is king. Rather than being social pariahs, to be shouted at, cut
off and generally shunned by proper society, Dutch cyclists are … well,
the term is a tautology. Everyone rides.

You see old people, teenagers and toddlers as often as you see average
joes. Women outnumber men on bikes, unlike in Australia, where they are
only half as likely as men to cycle.

Rarities in Amsterdam seem to be stretch-fabric-clad cyclists and fat
cyclists. Helmets are non-existent, and when people asked me where I was
from, they would grimace and mutter: “Ah, yes, helmet laws.” These had
gained international notoriety on a par with our deadly sea animals.

Despite the lack of helmets, cycling in the Netherlands is safer than in
any other country, and the Dutch have one-third the number of cycling
fatalities (per 100,000 people) that Australia has.

They say the Dutch are born, married and die on their bikes, and it
isn’t hard to believe. Men speed along in business suits, with
briefcases tucked into their bike baskets. Stylish women cycle around
wearing long skirts, tight skirts, trousers, high heels — you name it,
you saw it on a bike. Of course, the climate in Amsterdam is more
conducive to wearing everyday clothes but, even so, such attire plays a
role in normalising the business of cycling.

If the Dutch Black is a valkyrie, then Amsterdam must be Valhalla. It’s
not hard to believe. The city has clean air and endless bike lanes.
Cars, vans, even taxis, give way to cyclists; pedestrians and cyclists
coexist in peace, without the endless conflict and bad behaviour on both
sides that dominates our interaction here.

It’s as though everything I knew as an urban cyclist had been tipped on
its head. Dutch traffic law regarding accidents involving cyclists
considers motorists to be wholly at fault, regardless of whether they
have right of way, because the courts require that motorists should
anticipate unsafe walking and cycling behaviour.

This applies even to illegal behaviour, and insurance companies pay
damages to cyclists and pedestrians automatically, regardless of guilt.

Of course, not everything is perfect, and bike theft is so rampant that
most cyclists appear to carry their own body-weight in locking devices
to foil the ever-crafty junkie thieves who try to flog hot bikes to
tourists along the Damrak.

Amsterdam’s sophisticated and progressive attitude to cycling is
symbolic of the city’s approach to an array of other environmental and
social issues, and as I spun my way along the canals I was reminded of
H. G. Wells’ comment: “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not
despair for the future of the human race.”

Debra Mayrhofer is a freelance writer.

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Old 02-10-08, 05:19 PM   #2
AndrewP
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I was amazed at the number of bikes parked in the middle of Lucerne, Switzerland, and the casual approach to locking them.
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Old 02-10-08, 07:22 PM   #3
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In Oulo Finland, it was quite incredible to experience much the same things you mention... Motorists stopping for me to prevent right hooks, and a fantastic network of bike paths that connected everywhere... really. Bike paths were often the shortcut, where motorists might have to go around a bit to get to the same destination.

Video of bike path: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgUkNxUE0wc

Oulu did not seem to have the theft problem... the bikes were often locked with a simple built in frame lock and sometimes not to any objects.
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Old 02-10-08, 09:12 PM   #4
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yep. imagine a place where bikes and pedestrians are valued more than in america's dystopian auto nation. autophiles like john forestor are probably FURIOUS bikes get such use in places like copenhagen-

to john and the rest of the gashuffers at the american dream foolation, it's 'bring on the lorry, the single occupancy vehicle, congestion, obesity, and pollution! ' I'm sure john thinks Denmark just hasn't a clue....
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Old 02-10-08, 10:15 PM   #5
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My sister's living in Heidelberg, Germany, right now. When we visited for Christmas, she had left her bike locked up along a downtown sidewalk -- unattended -- for a whole week. I think that we walked past it a few times, but I wouldn't have noticed it anyway, because it was parked along a curbside railing along with several dozen other bikes.

I never found out about the legal standing of bikes there, and the numbers weren't as dense as I've seen in videos from Amsterdam. Still, there were cyclists everywhere, bike paths everywhere, parked bikes everywhere... If more of my family rode regularly, I'd look at taking my own bike along next time I visit.

Last edited by BarracksSi; 02-11-08 at 01:48 PM.
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Old 02-11-08, 11:16 AM   #6
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"Of course, not everything is perfect, and bike theft is so rampant that
most cyclists appear to carry their own body-weight in locking devices
to foil the ever-crafty junkie thieves who try to flog hot bikes to
tourists along the Damrak."

Last I heard about 1 million bikes are solen anually, in a country with a population a little over 17 million. That is just astounding. The police auctions are popular places for people to buy their "beater" bikes that they use from the train station to their job... with theft rates that high is comes as no suprise. I never did much riding in Amsterdam as it is definitely a bit crazier than most Dutch cities. Even after we got our first car when I was 7 we'd use our bikes for going shopping or general outings as it was much cheaper, parking was way easier with the bikes. If attempting to reach the beach on a nice summers day, the bike was the only sane choice. The beach was only about 6 miles away, but by car it might take 3 hours to drive and find parking. The bike lanes would be packed, but it worked fine. I do recall at times my dad having a near death rip on my neck making sure In wold stay close and not get lost. Getting separated was proably the biggest real risk, it would be a bit like loosing a kid at Disney Land after the fireworks finish. A mass mob on the move.

This Summer I am finally getting a chance to take my daughter to Holland. I can't wait to go for a bike ride and let her experience whta I grew up with.

Happy riding,
André
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