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Asia de Amsterdam: Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

May 17th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  5 Comments

I’ve written recently about the sweet, sticky smell of peace around Amsterdam (now that they are wholly post-empire). But I should say that Amsterdam has other outstanding qualities, one of which involves their ever-astonishing modes of transport.

Let’s start with the fact that there are two types of motorbike licenses: blue and yellow. The blue license plates mean that the bike is somewhat underpowered (though still a motorbike) and can therefore ride on… bike paths/pedestrian paths. Which is to say, ride your tallbike down any Amsterdam bike path or sidewalk and you may turn a corner to find a motorbike headed straight for you. And while the yellow-plated bikes aren’t supposed hop onto the sidewalk or bikepath, they often do.

This introduces some peril, which my friends with kids there navigate with bravura. The sidewalks, demarcated by often-bent bollards, are narrow and quite often blocked. Bikes and motorbikes ride and park on them, and the streets themselves aren’t often wide enough for a car plus a pedestrian. So walking there with a two-year-old boy, the wildest and most ignorant of all humans, is a masterclass in the repetition of hey! come back! stand still!

Cargobiking from the train station

Yet, there’s something great about watching massive, fair-haired Europeans bike around like Asians. That is, a segment of the inner-city biking population does its part to pile as many kids on bikes as the Indonesians, carry as much furniture by bike as the Vietnamese, and forsake bike helmets like the Thais.

This is, by the way, great fun for kids. We got picked up at the train station by our old friend, who came wielding a local’s handiest creation, a cargobike, in which we put luggage and then kids on top. They were pretty pleased to be sherpa’d around like that. Same goes with the day we spent biking out to the garden house. And though in general I’m in favor of bike helmets, I’m also in favor of exceptions. The littlest kids had helmets, the five and six year olds didn’t, and it struck me as a bit strange how illicit this would seem in New York.

I spent most of the rest of the time as a pedestrian, holding firmly onto my two-year-old’s hand to keep him from stumbling into the street, but I did manage to take a few other pictures of the Amsterdam bike culture, which includes beautiful little kid-perches on the back of bikes, teak cargo bikes with babyseats attached, and frontside cargo-racks that can also hold a kindergartner when needed. Echt goed.


  1. Carly says:

    May 17th, 2011at 11:27 am(#)

    I love this! (I may repost to bikejc.org if ok.) Not the no-helmets part but everything else. Do you think helmets become less necessary when bikes rule the road? Any stats on bike accident/injury rates in Amsterdam? And what happens when it rains? Does everyone just gear up?

    I really want to be bad-ass enough to do this in Jersey City. I’ve seen a couple cargo bikes around, but they are mostly to get from one small street to another. Some people have modified their bikes to have two nice wooden seats mounted over the back wheel. It takes some serious calf muscles to haul 80+ pounds of kid up our local hill though (the one you Manhattanites can actually note well just by looking west). We have to traverse several major roadways and that hill to get anywhere we wouldn’t just walk. So we need more bike density and lanes before I’d put my kids in a cargo bike and take on the buses/SUV’s/drivers honking at me because I’m in their lane/or worse, not honking and trying to hit me (all of which is not uncommon). I do currently take one kid on the bike in a kidseat, which somehow seems safer. No idea if it is. So back to working on the lanes . . .

  2. dadwagon says:

    May 17th, 2011at 12:08 pm(#)

    One thing we at DadWagon really value is our editorial consistency: http://www.dadwagon.com/2010/08/09/biking-the-horror/#comment-6822 –Theodore.

  3. dadwagon says:

    May 17th, 2011at 12:08 pm(#)

    Carly–repost like nobody’s business!–Theodore.

  4. Nathan says:

    May 18th, 2011at 2:09 am(#)

    Carly — that is the classic problem with trying to transplant a good idea from abroad. There’s a larger ecosystem that needs to feed bikes in order for them to work, and cute little cargobiking, a la central Amsterdam, barely even works in TriBeCa, much less Jersey City. But thanks for the push to get some stats. I do believe there’s a new post in there somehow…


    Some Stats about Bikes, Death and the Dutch | DADWAGON

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