North Americans can learn a few things from the cycle culture in Amsterdam and its residents. The first visible lesson is the benefit of cycling around a city and what that does to your waistline.
During my recent visit, I noted that most people – young and old – were slim and fit. I felt like the lumbering, big Canadian gal in their company.
Amsterdam has long been known as a city of cyclists. Statistics from 2003 showed that 85% of Amsterdam residents rode their bike at least once a week.
Aside from the regular cardio workout, cycling is preferred for a number of other reasons:
- It’s cheap: no huge insurance required; gas power is not needed, only human power; a bike is much less expensive than a car; no need to pay for parking.
- You can always find a spot to leave your bike in Amsterdam – from bike stands to the many bridges along the canals.
- Amsterdam, and other cities in The Netherlands, are not huge. You can easily cycle to work in about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the “bike traffic” during the morning rush hour (8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.).
For tourists visiting Amsterdam, you can rent out a bike to see the city like the natives. MacBike, with their red bikes, makes it easy to spot a native. You may want to get out of their way if you are on foot – it all depends on how comfortable they are with the rules of the road.
Amsterdam natives who cycle are a varied bunch – from the single person riding alongside a friend, chatting; the mom with a baby in a cloth sling wrapped to her torso; the young, fashionable working gal with stiletto heels; to the 70 year old plus granny with a storage space at the front wheel for her groceries.
For me, the most shocking images of cyclists were the father with a young toddler sitting in the back seat, waving at people passing by, and the young men and women, puffing away at a cigarette while cycling away. Some decorate not only themselves in garish colours, but also their bikes (think pom-poms, scarves, silk flowers etc.). Most bikes are beaten up, rusty and simple with footbrakes and one speed – definitely not worthy of stealing. Nobody wears a helmet while cycling – not even little kids.
A few tips about cyclists for tourists walking on foot in Amsterdam:
- Keep an eye out for the bike lanes when crossing the bigger roads. You will see them clearly marked out with bike signage on the ground. Look both ways, just in case.
- Always look when crossing any one-way street. Just because it’s a one-way, sometimes you will see a cyclist going the wrong way and they may smack right into you.
- When walking along the quieter canal streets with small sidewalks, if you venture on the road, glance back to see if a cyclist isn’t right behind you. Otherwise, they may just run right into you. Also check at corners when crossing to get to the bridge as you may not see a cyclist turning into your path.
Probably the best pastime in Amsterdam is to sit at a corner cafe and watch the many different types of cyclists ride by. Good times while having a cup of coffee!