Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam is like cycling in any major city with the exception that the city has more cyclists than you can imagine and about 400km of cycleway. There are parked bikes everywhere you look, fastened with one or often two heavy chains to street furniture. There are manned bike garages at some railway stations where you can leave your bike guarded or have it serviced while you travel up to town. Fietser (cyclists) zoom round the city, scattering all before them, up and over canal bridges, the only hills this side of Nijmegen, in their own lanes. Most of the bikes are Oma fiets (grannie bikes) single or three geared sit up and beg vintage 28” wheeled transport machines, some with just back pedal brakes. Second hand bikes are easy to come by. You can pick them up at street markets along with the important heavy duty chains. These bikes are real beasts of burden. We have seen them carrying a week’s shopping, one or two children, cellos or lawn mowers.

At rush hours the cycle lanes resemble the Charge of the Light Brigade. If you are a pedestrian crossing a zebra crossing as soon as the lights change you need to pick up your feet and run. Nobody wears a helmet apart from the shaven legged men and women on road bikes, often carbon fibre sculptures costing several thousand Euros. Nobody includes another problem on these cycleways, the Broomfietser (scooter or mopeds). These characters weave their way across the city, ignoring red lights, speed limits and pedestrians. In spite of the 400 km of cycleway some cyclists will jump a red light, cycle the wrong way down a road or across pedestrian zones to save a few seconds. It makes a pedestrian’s life interesting. After a while I developed paranoia both about cyclists and the expletive deleted Broomfietser. It probably kept me alive though. If it sounds like chaos it is, but it works. Bike traffic flows and in the main most of the cyclists are good humoured. 

We didn’t cycle when we were there. The friends we met there, were worried by the sheer volume of two wheeled vehicles. If you ever decide to cycle there, the best advice we can give you you is to get off the cycleway when you decide to stop to look in a shop window or your knowledge of Dutch will increase by leaps and bounds. 

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