Oh yes, there is a dark side to all those uber-fit, uber-green Amsterdammers and their bikes. With more a million bikes in the city, more than one per person, bike theft is a big deal. Every year more than 54,000 bikes are stolen and the canals are dredged regularly to haul more than 15,000 bikes back to dry land.
Arguably a small price to pay for this environmentally-friendly and healthy mode of transportation? For sure.
The real dark side is the danger they present to the pedestrian tourist.
In Amsterdam, over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area. These trips are made by busy Amsterdammers on their way to work after dropping off their children at day care while talking on phones, talking to other cyclists, balancing groceries, briefcases and all manner of things and looking impossibly stylish while doing so.
As is common in Dutch cities, Amsterdam has a wide net of traffic-calmed streets and world-class facilities for cyclists. All around are bike paths and bike racks and several guarded bike parking stations crammed with more bikes than you can imagine (Fietsenstalling) which can be used for a nominal fee.
Amsterdam’s small size, the 400 km of bike paths, the flat terrain, and the arguable inconvenience of driving an automobile: driving a car is discouraged, parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or are one-way for motor vehicle traffic (but not for cyclists, note to pedestrians). Amsterdam’s bike paths (Fietspad) are red in colour, in order to differentiate them from both the road ways and footpaths.
Fresh-off the plane visitors to Amsterdam must quickly learn to stay out of the Fietspads and to look all ways before navigating across streets. Amsterdammers just want to do their thing, get to work, buy tulips, go to the bar for an Amstel, eat waffles, look amazingly well-dressed and so Euro and not have to cope with the many, many, many visitors and their lack of bike lane etiquette.
First morning in Amsterdam, everyone is asleep but I need a coffee and it’s bike rush hour. The lovely house we were staying in is near Vondelpark, a popular cycle route into the city and I need to cross one road at the entrance to the park to get to the caffeine. Bikes are streaming by with no break and I wait for my chance to cross and wait and wait and wait. An Amsterdam pedestrian just goes for it and the bikes stop. Too chicken to do the same I wait some more until a sympathetic cyclists stops and motions me across. I won’t even talk about the return trip but the coffee made me less hurried.
Many tourists discover Amsterdam by bike, as it is the typical Dutch way to get around the city but even that takes some guts. To blend in with the bike traffic flow bring your A game.
These guys have mad skills. Picture the tallest, handsomest blond dad you have ever seen riding to work propping up his adorable napping baby’s head with one hand as he deftly navigates a bridge ramp and makes a sharp right.