Amsterdam Bicycles

Submitted by Charles Frost on Wed, 06/06/2007 - 06:46.

(82 pictures of bicycles taken during 73 minutes on 9/12/06 in Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Background & Explanation: I stopped in Amsterdam, Netherlands on my way back from a 2006 europe motorcycle trip. During a 73 minute period on 9/12/06 at one corner of Nieuw Markt (a nice open square in Amsterdam), I took the following 82 pictures of bicycles.  Why?  Because sitting there I noticed how remarkably different the whole Amsterdam bicycle scene was from my home, and at the same time certain very clear "Amsterdam Bicycle Trends" appeared I thought might be interesting to point out.   I am from the San Francisco area, California, USA.

Categories that Show Differences between Amsterdam Bicyclists and San Francisco Bicyclists:

Here are a few of the differences I wanted to point out, with examples:

1. Formally Dressed Bicyclists - A whole set of Amsterdam bicyclists can be seen dressed very formally, like suit and tie for men, and dresses for women.  NOBODY in San Francisco ever bicycles in a suit and tie, or in dress.  But during this one hour photo shoot, I saw 20 or more incredibly well dressed bicyclists meander by.

2. Multiple Riders on One Bike - With or without any extra seats or foot-pegs for the extra riders, you will see 1 or 2 or even 3 extra passengers side-saddle, balancing precariously, standing, sitting, whatever it takes so they can hitch a ride with a buddy or parent.  This is so common I had to stop taking pictures of it because it would prevent me from capturing some of the other trends.  Almost 50 percent of the bicycles I saw had more than 1 person on them.  In San Francisco the only time you would ever see two passengers is a small child on the back in a $300 government approved safety chair, and the child would be wearing a helmet (because it's the LAW).  Click here for an unrelated rant on helmet laws

Which brings us to the next difference......

3. No Helmets EVER - It is amazing to me coming from San Francisco, land of 100 percent helmet covered heads, but in all of Amsterdam (population 750,000) there is not one bicycle helmet found anywhere in the city.  Not ONE!!  Contrast this with San Francisco, for anybody under the age of 18, there is a Mandatory Helmet Law, and everybody above 18 wears helmets anyway.  Now faced with this shocking disparity, I think any reasonable person must come to the conclusion that either the people in Netherlands do not value the safety of their children, or San Francisco bicyclists are clumsy pansies with soft heads and weak minds that must be protected from hurting themselves no matter how much it infringes on individual rights.   Click here for an unrelated rant on helmet laws

4. Dogs on Bikes - Amsterdam bicyclists seem to commonly bring their furry friends along with them on the bicycle rides.  I think that's nice.

5. Human Powered Generator (Dynamo) Bicycle Light - This one really does mystify me, some of the other trends more more sense to me.  EVERY bicycle in Amsterdam is outfitted with a dynamo powered head lamp, where the rider has to pump extra super hard and the head lamp shines dimly.  If you are younger than 35 years old, you probably have never seen one of these in the USA, we have very bright headlamps for bicycles that add much less weight and do not increase resistance.  I haven't seen a single dynamo powered bicycle in San Francisco in over 20 years.   Once I saw a "Simpsons" (animated comedy) episode where Bart turned on his dynamo bicycle headlamp and could barely make forward progress-> in the USA these dynamo powered headlamps are considered a JOKE, but almost a quarter million bicycles in Amsterdam all have them.

6. Spectacular Gigantic Unbreakable Security Chains - Almost all of the bicycles in Amsterdam are what I would call "beaters", which means they are beaten up, scraped, bent, out of tune, and have bad paint jobs.  At the same time, all these beaters have these GIGANTIC security chains that look like they should be the chain on the anchor of an oil tanker ship. The ton of high tensile, military hardened steel in each security chain must be worth more than the bicycle it is keeping safe! The only other type of bicycle lock was a type of sliding circular rear wheel lock that was once sold in the USA (I owned one when I was 10 years old).  The circular sliding read wheel locks lost popularity in the USA because they offer almost no security at all: 1) the criminal can always lift the bike and walk away with it, and 2) it is always easy to "guess" the combination.  Strange dichotomy of lock choices in Amsterdam.

7. ....And More... - Several other trends are shown in the pictures below, including bicycles are commonly painted one big bright aftermarket color, Amsterdam residents like using their cell phones while riding their bikes, many bikes are outfitted with big buckets on the front for serious industrial deliveries, and there is a whole trend of this "small frame" bicycles with "untraditional" proportions (very small wheels and then very tall seats to make up for it).  You can view the pictures below to get an idea.


Great photos and commentary at:

BicycleTaxi Service

Thanks for making my day with these happy photos.  I would love to subsidize a bicycle taxi service in Cleveland, if Daniel Ray and Jim Sheehan are on board.


If you have ever been to Key West, you have seen the pedicabs on Duval Street. I suggested these for Cedar-Lee a few years back when the parking garage behind the Cedar Lee Theater and the condos at Lee and Meadowbrook and the Library were all to be under construction simultaneously. I suggested that they could transport customers from the old Zagara's parking lot and from the Methodist Church parking lot to and from the center of the business district.

Yep, you guessed it... laughed out of Dodge! I loved flagging down a pedicab while in Key West. On another trip we stayed at a B&B where the bicycles were included as part of the room fee. If you stayed there you were offered a bike and a shady place to leave your car parked during your stay. Moving a car around in Key West is a joke. There is no parking!

I had suggested an ad for biking in conjunction with RTA showing a guy in a suit grabbing his bike from the bus rack and bounding up the steps of a downtown building. Again laughed out of Dodge -- in America we have to have spandex bike suits and a change of clothes and showers and helmets, gloves, special shoes, etc. No wonder it is so difficult to get biking to be a way of life here!

I do dream sometimes of moving our empty nest to a downtown building, riding a bike with a big basket to market and having access to a CityWheels vehicle for special trips. I rode a bike for two years from the Heights to Case (up and down that portage escarpment) daily while I had no car. Flatter terrain (a la the lake plains geography) is better for me at this juncture because of old injuries sustained during my dancing years, but I still dream of it.

 They even have pedicabs in NYC.

Oh look... no helmets...

Thanks for posting this Bill. I enjoyed it very much.

Great posting and photos

Sometimes I see interesting bicyclists in Cleveland - downtown and Ohio City areas - homeless moving lots of possessions is pretty common... and the ticket scalpers on the little BMX bikes around E. 9th and Huron are funny - but not as interesting as Amsterdam. Great posting!

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new day for cycling in Paris

Love the pictures!

Thanks for all the great bicycle pictures. I have some more pictures on my amsterdam city breaks blog if you want to have a look.

Alex : )

Cool Amsterdam site

Glad you found us here - I know lots of our readers are in Amsterdam regularly - I will look you up when I am there

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