Amsterdam: Finally Riding a Bike!

15 Sep

After five days wistfully watching the bicycle riders in Amsterdam, I finally got to step through the frame of a Dutch bike and go out for a spin. It was heaven–and a little bit of purgatory.

Renting a bike was super easy. We just asked at the hotel desk, and the clerk gave us keys to bikes parked outside the front door, explained how the locks worked, and sent us off. We were both surprised how the same frame size could accommodate Dick’s long legs and my short ones with a quick adjustment for the seat height.

Our hotel was adjacent to the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park, so we had a gentle start to get used to the bikes. But before too long we hit the city center and had to ride tight cycle paths with the men in suits, blondes on cellphones, mothers with toddler-filled cargo bikes, plus motor scooters. Then there were the cars, streetcars and pedestrians, all crossing the cycle paths at regular intervals.

The myth of separated pathways is that it isolates users by group. In practice, there are so many places where paths cross and people turn that it’s carefully orchestrated chaos. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the tune. Sometimes there were separate signals for pedestrians, bikes and cars, but not always. And if you don’t move right away on a green light, expect a tongue lashing in Dutch just as you would a car horn in Boston.

Nontheless, we made our way across the city all the way to the Central Station, then out to the ferry dock, into the Westerpark. We had no agenda, so it really didn’t matter where we rode. After getting a bit of advice from a friendly Dutchman, we stopped for ethnic food in the Oud West, got completely turned around and miraculously found our way back to the hotel.

In four hours out on the bikes and we probably covered 12 miles. But we saw some unique areas of the city, got some exercise, and learned a little about how to navigate the city (and how not to).

When was the last time you felt like a complete newbie at something you consider yourself experienced at?

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Around Town, Travel


10 responses to “Amsterdam: Finally Riding a Bike!

  1. velogirl

    September 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    this is really interesting. so, how do the Dutch learn the ins + outs of cycling, Janet? birth? school? family development? I hope you ride again. it will be interesting to see how quickly you learn the etiquette. very cool!

    • Niels

      January 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      A very late reply but kids start riding a bike with training wheels when they’re about 2-3 years old, then it’s kind of tradition their father teaches them riding a bike without training wheels, usually when they’re 3-4 years old. Then parents start taking them onto the big roads with them alongside them. And at some point, usually when they’re 5-6 I think they also learn traffic regulations at school. By the time they’re 7-8 it’s normal for kids to go to school by themselfs on their bikes.

  2. velogirl

    September 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    LOL! did you notice what’s sitting on the ground in the yellow bike photo?

  3. ladyfleur

    September 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I guess like everything else, the parents teach by example, then give 1:1 coaching. Most of the little kids I’ve seen were in the cargo bucket bikes or on seats either in front of or behind the parent. I also saw some weird tandems with older kids in front. As for coaching, I saw a 3-4 year old on his own bike riding alongside his parent, crossing a fairly busy road. The parent was obviously coaching him carefully.

    Oh, and in the yellow bike photo, I think someone lost a seat, eh?

  4. velogirl

    September 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    given all that, imagine the immensity of the cultural/societal change for us to bring this type of infrastructure to the US.

  5. ladyfleur

    September 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    The city center, with its canals and tight spaces, definitely was tricky, but it wasn’t so hard as you got into the neighborhoods. The big cultural difference I noticed was that bikes, not pedestrians or cars, are top dog. Also, the personal zone on the street is smaller, everyone cuts it closer.

  6. Brian

    September 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    The last time I felt like a total newbie was trying to ride Don’s Remedy at Waterdog.


    • ladyfleur

      September 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      My problem wasn’t the bike, it was more with the environment and culture, like switching from road biking to mountain biking or vice versa.


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