Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The Dutch love their bicycles. I’m sure the country has many more bicycles than cars; it sure looks that way visiting Amsterdam. During a walking tour I got to experience the Dutch bicycle culture from a pedestrian perspective, and it ain’t a pretty picture.

When we managed to make it to Amsterdam in time to catch the boat, it also gave us time to take the walking tour of Amsterdam. The ship puts on a walking tour as part of the package in every place we stop. These tours utilize local guides, and so far they have been very good. They all speak English and use an in-ear audio system that allows you to hear them clearly from quite a distance. I’ve used these systems previously, and they are not always that good, but Viking’s system works great.

Bicycle Parking
As soon as we got off the ship we were warned about the Dutch bicyclists. Our guide cautioned us, “Do not cross when bicycles are coming, even though it is a crosswalk and they are required by law to stop they will not.” Following his lead we waited for a break in the bicycle traffic, and rushed across the bike lane.

Walking through the downtown of Amsterdam bicycles are everywhere. Most streets have long bike racks and these are crammed with bicycles, sometimes with additional bikes on top of others. The official bike racks do not come close to accommodating all of Amsterdam’s bicycles and every fence, railing, post or anything solid is covered with bicycles, chained there with massive bike locks. Walking down one street bordering a popular museum, I asked for a translation of a sign posted to every window, and discovered that is was a dire warning against locking your bike to the window bars. I then noticed no bikes on this street.

An interesting note about Amsterdam’s bikes is that they are all old and shabby looking; you see no fancy 18 speed bikes or slick road racers, these are all very solid utilitarian bikes. Our guide explained that everyone owns more than one bike, and indeed everyone has a fancy bike that is used for rides where you return home immediately, but the bikes parked downtown were used to drive to work and you never left your good bike here or it would be stolen, so everyone had a “beater” that was carefully aged, rusted and battered to be used everyday.

Personalizing your Ride
We were told to notice the stickers on some of the bikes. They were put there by the city and noted how long the bike was there. Anything left for too long was cut free and trucked about 15 klm out of town to a bike compound where you had to go ransom you imprisoned bicycle to get it back; an effective deterrent to long term storage on public property, but certainly necessary judging by the massive bike jams downtown.

I noted that the Dutch have adapted to cell phone use on bikes very well. I saw  many one handed bike-texters. Apparently there is a law against “Texting while driving” in Amsterdam that applies equally to bikes, but it is universally ignored, (Sounds familiar)

Walking back to the ship, we were again warned about crossing the bike lane carefully, and our guide deliberately challenged one biker by stepping into the marked crosswalk, but the rider refused to slow down and swerved around him uttering something in Dutch that our guide declined to translate . . .

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