Amsterdam’s Unwritten Cycle Rules – Prelude
May 2, 2008, 1:02 am
Filed under: amsterdamize, unwritten cycle rules | Tags: , ,

Just as much as I enjoy riding my bike around town, I love the fact that most people visiting Amsterdam try to do the same. I use the word ‘try’ on purpose.

More than once I see cycling out-of-towners stumbling along, despite the designated bike lanes. To us locals it’s easy to dismiss that in the same way we dismiss binge drinking by the Brits, zealous pot smoking by the French and Americans or sex tourism by many (wink, wink): “Do whatever you wanna do, but keep away from me.”

I focus on the bicycle, because it’s at least as much of an attraction as the items mentioned above. The Dutch use their bikes everyday. To go to work, to the supermarket, to go out, etc. We go from A to B, no fuzz, no thrills and we certainly don’t change our attire to do so.

But let me address the obstacles for first timers:

Amsterdam has relatively narrow streets, but high traffic volumes, containing pedestrians, commuting bikers, mopeds, moped-cars, cars, vans, trucks, trams, busses and a great deal of unidentifiable moving vehicles. Buzzing around you like a hornest nest, or Hannibal’s stampeeding army, if you will. At speeds that would make a grown man, albeit a visiting one, cry for help. At a minimum, a lot of tourists on bikes look bewildered, intimidated, scorned, alienated. This situation doesn’t help the natural flow of something as organically sound as Amsterdam traffic. More importantly, there’s a significant chance people will never try it again, and that would a shame.

It’s often excruciating to observe, breathtakingly counter-productive and outright dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for helmets. You can decide that for yourself.

I’m well aware of the difference between a Dutchman (that would be me) and, let’s say, an unexpecting average Joe from Kentucky. I was born in a country that has a profound biking culture. Denmark is on par, but not many more are. Certainly, bike usage worldwide has risen significantly, but most are fighting uphill battles in dominant car cultures.

The reason for this topic, of what I hope will be a concise series of helpful pointers…correction: UNWRITTEN rules, is to go beyond the obvious facts surrounding riding a bike.

The Amsterdam(/Dutch) bike experience is not about getting on (for the first time since you were 10), keeping a straight line and be on your way. I wish it was. Even for me, someone with a biking pedigree as long as the Bill of Rights, it takes some effort to avoid some form of disaster. No, my posts will cover details that seem odd, but are intrinsic to surviving your biking endeavors in Amsterdam.

Hopefully these posts will genuinely prepare/help along any non-cycling aficionado and if all goes well, enabling you to soak it all up, while grasping the essence of what the Dutch take for granted. Bike liberty for all. You’ll feel so much better.

Stay tuned for Unwritten Cycle Rule #1…

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