Observations from the canalside

Today I have been mostly trying not to get run over.

36 hours into the Netherlands and I’m still standing in the middle of the road/cycle path/wheelchair user crossing point (yes, they have these too) shouting at my husband to ‘look look!’ at yet another person on a bike. The natives must think I have some sort of disorder as I’ve been grinning inanely at each one on a bike like we are kindred spirits.

And it’s not just me that is feeling the Amsterdam allure. The Husband suggested that we move here; he thinks it’s rather like Copenhagen but without all the awful Danish people (the Husband is Danish, before you start getting all offended).

Anyway, if you want to see the glorious diversity of people on bikes in Amsterdam you should check out Amsterdam Cycle Chic as they are clearly a far better photographer than me. Everything that’s important about cycling in the Netherlands has already been said by David Hembrow in great detail with actual evidence and statistics and based on years of living here. But, whilst standing around not getting run over today, I noticed the following:

There is extreme disregard of the National Standard in Cycle Training (the UK one) techniques

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Instead, a whole set of new skills is on display – cycling whilst smoking, drinking tea, carrying heavy shopping, putting spare clothing into a basket, pushing another bike along, holding onto another person (on a scooter). Most impressive is the cycling whilst texting, which seems to be a favourite of young Amsterdam residents as around half of the people on bikes I saw were doing it.

You don’t need a cargo bike to carry stuff

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I’ve been experiencing crippling cargo bike/bakfiets envy for some time, probably since we hired a Gazelle Cubby in Philadelphia last year. They are like cycling a sturdy armchair, which is comforting when you are carrying your tiny, beloved child through city centre traffic. However, it transpires you don’t really need one, you can carry most objects/offspring/friends on a solo bike with a few accessories – extra seats, extensive bungee cords – and making full use of the front cargo carrier that bikes here seem to have as standard.

Flipping on your hazard warning lights are licence to park where you like here too

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I saw several drivers looks slightly apologetic, whilst bumping up onto the curb, through the cycle path, and parking. This explains why the Dutch flower lorry driver that parks every week in the cycle lane on my commute looks unfazed when I shouted at him about it (‘It’s normal in the Netherlands’ he said ‘Hmmph!’ I retorted in a disbelieving tone). My son is much more direct and shouts ‘naughty car driver on the pavement!’ at anything he sees as a parking infringement..

Finally, the most obvious but indefinable feature is the way people move around the city, the ‘bicycle chaos’ – an organised anarchy based on patience, whilst trusting that people won’t just run you down. Streetfilms have produced a great little film that shows it in action, but I’d recommend you come and experience it for yourself. I certainly couldn’t take a photo that did it any justice.

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