One of the most fascinating things about Amsterdam is the use of bicycles as transport. Bikes are E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. It's especially awe-inspiring when you see them all together like at this bike-park near Amsterdam Central Station. I'm assuming these bikes belong to folks that ride their bikes to the train station where they then travel to their day jobs outside of Amsterdam?
When we visited Amsterdam 10 years ago, we remembered lots of bikes, but not this many, and the lady that owns the Bed & Breakfast that we stayed at was telling us that there's definitely been an increase since then. And scooters are becoming popular as well (we didn't remember those 10 years ago in Amsterdam.. the only place I remembered a lot of scooters was in Italy, mostly in Rome).
I googled some statistics on bike-use and over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 38% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area. Here are some more statistics:
- In Amsterdam there are about 550,000 bikes and 215,000 cars.
- According to estimates, 15% of the bikes in the street are never or rarely used.
- The lost bikes depot holds 12,000 bicycles.
- About 40% of these bikes are eventually being picked up by their owners.
- About 50,000 bikes get stolen every year, which is 8% of the total amount of bikes. The rate for bike theft is going down fast.
- In 2001 16% of the bikes were stolen.
- 6 out of 10 people who live in Amsterdam have a bike parked in the centre which they don’t use.
- 55% of the Amsterdam people consider orphan bikes a major problem, because these bikes take up parking space and make the streets look messy.
Really interesting, eh? As tourists it's definitely more fascinating and entertaining to us to see all of the bikes, but I can imagine the logistics of dealing with that many bikes in one city can be quite difficult.
As Americans we are also used to wearing a bike helmet (how many times have you reminded your child, "don't forget to wear your helmet!".. although as a child of the 70's/80's, we never wore helmets, but I'm thankful for that safety feature). Pretty much *no one* uses a helmet in Amsterdam. Ethan and I were talking about it and we were thinking that these people probably exit their Mother's womb riding a bike (ha) so accidents must be pretty rare! The way these people work the streets on their bikes - it's just amazing to watch.
And of course, I loved the really colorful ones. I saw those little candy colored wheel thingies at HEMA (store post coming soon!).
The look of the bikes vary from death-warmed-over to tricked out and colorful. I can imagine the daily wear and tear on these bikes doesn't motivate owners to keep them all bright and shiny. It's just too hard. Maybe having a crappy looking bike keeps the bike-snatchers away, too? ; ) But some people put a lot of love into their bikes: adding brightly hued plastic flower garlands, colorful panniers or bike bags, or even painting them in bright colors or patterns. My favorite were the little "plots" of plastic grass they'd attach to the back rack.
One of the CUTEST things we saw though were all of the kiddos hitching a ride with Mom or Dad! Their were front-seats (by far the most adorable sight were the chubby little babies sitting in the front! I.DIE.), rear-seats and even these cargo seats/carriers:
After having admittedly several "omg-i-almost-just-died" moments when we went on our own bike ride through the city, I was curious how many deaths occur from bike accidents (because they share the road with cars and scooters, this is something that definitely enters your mind!) and I'm not surprised that bike-related deaths are very, very rare - only 6 people on average per year. And I don't even want to know how many tourists have accidents. After being one myself, it can be quite intimidating working the streets as a cycler if you aren't used to it. A lot of the roads are super narrow too and I'm not exaggerating when I say several times there was only maybe a foot of distant between me and a car and the curb. And they don't break for bikers.
If you are planning on visiting Amsterdam and would like to see the city by bike (which I still VERY MUCH recommend!), here are my tips:
- BE CONFIDENT. Don't let them see you sweat. Just stay with the flow of traffic. The bike paths are usually clearly marked.
- Don't break for pedestrians! Ha. That may sound crazy, but the locals are used to dodging bikes. If you slow down to let them across, chances are the bike behind you might run into you. I don't think the pedestrians expect you to break for them. It seemed to be important that the flow of bike traffic just keep moving.
- If you see that car getting really, really close to you, DON'T PANIC. This happened to me I could see my life flash before me. But I kept my cool. Trust that the car will pass you before you know it! If you panic, you'll crash.
Ha, you really want to go biking in Asterdam now don't you? ; ) But seriously. It's a must if you visit. Even better? Take a ride outside the city to the more rural areas. That is what we did and it's definitely much less stressful. More on that in another post.
Maybe some of my Dutch readers could share some tips for we bike-riding tourists in the comments section?