Clogging up the roads
Recently, I’ve been to Amsterdam, and miraculously, managed to spend at least some time on matters not pertaining to Heineken Extra Cold. Bikes. The Dutch are a famously cycling-mad nation, and it was interesting as a cyclist to see just how the bike is positioned in society there.
What strikes me is the figures. In Holland, we are informed, 26 percent of all journeys are made by bike. The veracity of this figure is questioinable, it being culled from the internet. But in the cities, the percentage goes up well into the 30 percent mark. And you do get that impression when walking around the city – you are literally dodging bikes from all angles when crossing the road. You’d think the accident rate must be considerable when you factor in the stoned Brits wandering around, trying to navigate a meteor storm of cyclists as they stumble to the next cafe. However those crafty cloggies also have the lowest accident rate per capita involving bikes!
What struck me most though was the sheer gorgeousness of the bikes. Dutch bikes are a design apart, really. Few people in the cities ride ‘modern’ bikes such as MTB’s or road bikes. Instead, the tend to ride the traditional ‘sit up and beg’ type of bike, as seen below:
These bikes are utilitarian machines, tough and basic with hub gears and often the old-fashioned rod brakes as well. But there seems to be no limit to the variation that has been carried out to this basic template. Witness, for example, the Bakfiets utility bike, below, with luggage/child carrying capacity aplenty. And this isn’t just some wild prototype – these bad boys are everywhere, ridden typically by Dutch women carrying a full complement of children.
The bike becomes part of the street furniture in the city. Witness the picture below of the line up of hire bikes outside a particularly interesting bike shop on the Voorburgswaal. The only reason that cycling buddy DeHudt and myszelf didn’t take a bike on hire is that we were too hung over to even consider negotiating the tramline-marked cobbled streets!
In the front window of the shop, though, was a truly gorgeous model, no price visible sadly. It is powder-coated in a matt finish with black finishing kit, a Shimano Alfine hiub gear, and a lovely vintage Brooks saddle.
The bike-related interest extended to the whole weekend really. But the most horrific sight for a cyclist was found late on the Saturday night in the Damraak, where we found a brutally murdered shopping bike….