Ever wanted to learn about how Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and other cities became the cycling cities they are today? Every year many study abroad courses include Amsterdam in their program and focus specifically on bicycling.
It’s fair to say that creating these bicycle-friendly cities didn’t happen over night, and it wasn’t easy. There also wasn’t just one single plan that paved the way. History, policy, culture, social movements were all parts of the equation. If you want the 6-min version, check out this video by blogger Bicycle Dutch. Coming later this summer is a mini-MOOC (massive online open course) produced by the Urban Cycling Institute at the University of Amsterdam.
If you need university credits and are looking for technical courses then check out those offered by DIS Copenhagen, Northeastern U, and UW-Platteville. The course offered by Texas A&M provides a unique political and knowledge-building curriculum. These courses spend from 1-2 weeks in the Netherlands, and some (like DIS) are based in both Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
If you’re up for a challenge, go for Planning the Cycling City – also known as #PCCAMS. This is much longer than the others (3 weeks – June 17-July 5), includes academic knowledge, and it’s also not “taught” in the traditional format. Participants use the city of Amsterdam and specific curated experiences (laid out by the directors) to inform their learning, then come to class each day ready to apply their experience to theory. This course is for graduate students and entry level professionals. (Application deadline: 15 March)
Finally, if you’re looking for a more quick and dirty experience then a Masterclass might be a better fit. These are usually 3-5 days and are aimed at professionals and politicians. To our knowledge, the 3-day Copenhagenize Masterclass based in Copenhagen is the closest you can get (next class: June 25-27). Or, if you’ve got the budget, there’s the Danish Cycling Embassy’s Bikeable City Masterclass (May 14-18). Of course you can stop by Amsterdam and give us a shout on your way in or out. We’re always up for a ride and a coffee!
(Know of more courses? Tell us in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!)
(photo: Copenhagenize Design Co.)
Couples who cycle together are more likely to stay together: we have absolutely no proof to back this bold claim up, but we like to think it might be true. It’s Valentine’s Day (in case you didn’t know) so we at Amsterdam Cycle Chic thought it would be the perfect time to celebrate our love for cycling.
Today’s date has provided a great excuse for the Amsterdam Cycle Chic team to reveal what we love most about cycling. We’ve also dug through the archives to bring you some of our favorite ‘loved up’ shots. Over the years we’ve snapped many special moments on the city’s streets, capturing everything from newlyweds to stolen kisses.
Lily: My favorite cycling moment in Amsterdam… summer evenings, cycling home during twilight, with a warm breeze as the last bit of sunset drifts away. When cycling home along the canals after a fun night with friends, you get to see the city in a totally different vibe than during the rest of the year. It’s a magical moment. (Bonus: if no jacket is required!)
Merida: I love the childlike freedom of cycling. You can go anywhere, make your own route, race the trams (even if they don’t know it), and I love the rattle of my bike when I hit a bump. When I cycle with my boyfriend, it’s less of an “aww look how cute we are, romantically cycling through the city” and more of a “what’s the best method to get to where we are going as quickly as possible?”
Klara: Cycling is an essential part of my daily routine. It’s the best way to clear your mind and when you’re gliding along the city streets, you feel truly free. I love pedaling along side by side with my friends, stopping on corners to catch up on the gossip before you go your separate ways. You can’t beat it.
Margarita: I love cycling because it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s invigorating and it lets me explore and see more of the city than I otherwise would. I can go anywhere! I love being among other people who are cycling. Getting more people out of cars and onto bikes gives local policy and decision-makers leverage to keep improving our streets.
Meredith: I love cycling in Amsterdam because it makes me feel so independent – I can come and go as I please, feel the fresh air (or rain!) on my face, and stop at my favorite shop at a moment’s notice. At the same time, cycling in Amsterdam makes me feel part of the community. In the rush hour swarm with hundreds of others on their bike ride to work, we pedal together, everyone giving each other energy, challenge, and speed. Of course I love to ride with friends, my husband, and my daughter (who just learned how to ride) – but in the end, I really love to ride with the swarm.
Want to share your cycling pictures with us? We always love to see them. You can reach us on Instagram & Facebook @amsterdamcyclechic and Twitter @AMSCyclechic.
We are excited to be recognized by Amsterdam Diary as a contender for the
2017 Fiets Blog Award!
If you have a moment give us a vote and while you’re there check out some of the other great bike blogs they are featuring.
Our 2017 Best Nine via Instagram
Seth is a graduate student at the University of Oregon (USA) studying urban planning. Last summer, he took a study abroad course and biked through Copenhagen, Malmo and Amsterdam. The trip made such an impression on him, that he often thinks about his time in Northern Europe. He reached out to us and asked to share his lessons from the experience – and we are happy to share!
In America, when I tell someone I ride my bike to school, I’m generally met with a warm “good for you.” Like I’ve done my part to curb carbon emissions for the day. Like I’m one of the good ones. Biking in America is perceived as a sacrifice of time because driving a car is easier and faster.
But most Americans don’t know what they’re missing. Last summer, I biked through Copenhagen, Malmo and Amsterdam to study bicycle planning with fellow students from the US. Not that you should drop what you’re doing to go there and bike, but it’s pretty fantastic.
Now that I’ve been back home for a few months, I had time to reflect on my experience and I’d like to share my six lessons.
#1 Make space for people
We began our trip in Copenhagen. On our first day, we were thrown on the road after a series of careful instructions. I felt 16 again. Shaky with a new driver’s permit in hand. At first, I felt anxious, but soon that feeling subsided. Because after the initial shock passes, I realized that bicycle users aren’t really cyclists; they’re just people. They’re riding to work, dinner or a beer with a friend. They’re just normal people, doing normal things.
The bike infrastructure in Copenhagen is special, too. Most streets are lined with designated bikeways buffered from cars. When you do encounter a normal (mixed) street, car drivers are generally courteous. How empowering it felt to have the space I needed and to be recognized by people using other modes!
#2 Every cycling city has its own rules
The Danes like their rules. If you obey the rules, everything works wonderfully well. Like the single-file lines on the bikeways. Or when you pass a slower rider on the left after a polite bell ring, then resume your place in line. Riding at rush hour is stressful, but still manageable. Amsterdam has its own madness at rush hour, but after a while you get used to the chaos. Unlike Copenhagen, rules aren’t obvious, but they do exist. You get used to the ‘chaos’ by simply being in it – over and over and over again. The system works for thousands of people, I kept reminding myself. Stay alert, keep pedaling and focus on the ride.
#3 Communication can be different I quickly got used to sounds of bells in Amsterdam. Most Americans consider honking as an affront – a signal that we’re doing something wrong. In Amsterdam, it’s simply a notification. “Hello, I’m behind you. I’d like to get by, so kindly move.” No one’s angry or even disgruntled. It’s simply communication.
#4 Cultural differences in the bike lane
In Amsterdam, stopping at an intersection feels like posting at the racing block. Bicyclists swell into clusters waiting for the signal to turn. You’re side by side next to other cyclists. At first I felt claustrophobic, but with time that eventually transitioned to mere discomfort. As an American, I’m used to having loads of space. Maybe with more time, I’d come to appreciate the closeness.
Also, Amsterdammers are either extremely skilled or simply less fearful of disaster. I think people here just worry less about consequences – and they know the system works for them. A traffic engineer we met in the Netherlands told us that parents expect kids to get scraped when learning to ride. Less than 1% of people wear helmets. They believe if a helmet law is passed, fewer people will ride. The law would be a barrier for riders. Wrapping children up in pads and strapping on a helmet gives them false security. Forget the training wheels; ditch the pads and let them fall. The pain teaches them what to avoid. This logic seems counterintuitive to Americans, but I get it.
#5 No matter how much you build bike lanes, it’s about people
The mass numbers of people on bikes was intimidating, but that’s what made it magical. The number of users is testament to the system’s success. The bikeways in Amsterdam resemble blood cells flowing through veins. Thousands of cyclists stream past cafes, office buildings and restaurants. Unlike Copenhagen, riding shoulder is allowed, and also commonly practiced. Cyclists routinely pass on your left with inches to spare. And somehow the mopeds discover gaps between bicycles that seem impossible. Nevertheless, every trip was filled with excitement.
#6 Bicycling is not an alternative mode of transport; it’s a way of life
I’m used to viewing bikes as “alternative transportation.” Bikes are alternative because there are always other options available. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bicycles aren’t just a way to get around, they’re a part of life. The bicycle is so immersed within the culture, it’s impossible to think of these cities without it.
The trip opened my eyes to what’s possible. I discovered more than what a quality bike lane looks like (and should look like) – I learned what’s possible through collaboration. When people work with a shared purpose, just about anything can happen. People who disagree with one another can cooperate and achieve collective objectives. That’s fairly radical thinking for most Americans.
I expected my study abroad trip to be insightful and entertaining, but not life changing. This isn’t to say I’ve become an activist, but I now understand how it’s possible to influence society with the right motivation.
Everything is easier when we work together.
That seems to be the greatest lesson I learned from this trip, and likely the greatest challenge for other cities.
Thanks for sharing Seth! We love hearing from readers and followers, near and far. Feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments.
It’s that frosty time of year again and Amsterdam has been hit with more than a generous dusting of snow! From Friday to Monday, winter’s magic descended upon the city and disrupted travel across the country. Up and onwards, Amsterdammers cycled on, showing that neither rain nor wind nor snow will keep us off our bikes!
Anoma is a working mum and Creative Producer who landed in Amsterdam with her family after living in London and New York. When she isn’t exploring other corners of the globe, you can find her cycling around the city, often with her two silly, adorable kids in tow. I met up with all three of them along the canals to chat about raising a family in our bike-friendly city.
How did you and your family end up Amsterdam? We’ve been here for nearly three years now and time has flown by in such a good way! We have hosted so many of our friends and family from around the world, introducing a lot of them to Amsterdam. My husband, Damian’s work brought us over for a period of time and then we decided to stay for a bit longer. We lived in Brooklyn, NY for many years before this chapter and have a deep-rooted love for New York. Amsterdam has been a healthy and fun place to live.I’m a nature loving city women, so Amsterdam is a great place to live in and raise a family. I don’t compare the cities, as we live different chapters of our lives in different places.
Tell us a bit about your family and how you make the most of Amsterdam’s bike-friendly lifestyle. We love cycling together here! They love it less when it’s raining. Sometimes, we drive and Damian has a motorbike, but my go-to choice is always to cycle first. We never got a bakfiets because I like to take up as least amount of space when moving.
Isa is five years old and she has just conquered learning to ride her own bike. It’s such a prideful moment for her and us! Etienne is eight years old and learned to ride a bicycle quite early on while we were living in Brooklyn. He has a BMX and he wants to do tricks all the time, he also loves skateboarding. The kids enjoy going to the skate park on Olympiaplein. We also have a big dog named Lake, who wants to be out and about with us at all times, but she is a bit slow when running alongside the bike, and I like moving fast.
For us, the kids are a bit too young to cycle alone at this point, but it’s great to see so many children independently cycling to and from school. The bike rules the road and nearly all drivers drive with that in mind.
How does cycling fit into your daily commute as a working mom?
My life in Amsterdam involves the bike, rain or shine (or rain and rain!). I do most everything on my bike and ride super fast from place to place. In the morning, I head to meetings, yoga or my studio to get some computer time in before squeezing in another meeting. As a Creative Director, I share a studio space with a film director in the Jordaan, which is not only centrally located but also a wonderful bike ride! Of course, there are challenges such as trying to look presentable for a client meeting when it’s a 20-minute cycle and dumping down with rain. That can be a bummer, any day.
In the afternoons, I ride quickly to the grocer to grab food and usually end up getting way more than I actually can fit into the bike basket. Then, I head off to school to get the kids and we go park for more wheels and playtime and walk the dog.
Do you have a favorite area to cycle through?
Anywhere at night, when the sky is clear, is stunning! I try to cycle through the Rijksmuseum tunnel as often as possible, as it’s magical! I don’t scream at the tourists, instead, I ding my loud, happy sounding bell, and say, “Look Up” nicely.
How does cycling contribute to your life?
There are moments when I am really grumpy or pissed off about something and then, after seven minutes of riding my bike, I start feeling absolutely happy and energized! Cycling allows me to shake off all the internal negativity, it’s that simple.
Interview and photography by Lily Heaton
Margarita is a transportation planner and cycling advocate who has headed the blog Palm Beach Cycle Chic for a number of years all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida so naturally she was a great fit. Welcome to the team!
How did you end up in Amsterdam?
I’ve been to Amsterdam a couple of times before and fell in absolute love with the city and its various cultures, including of course the cycling obsession. I saw a great learning opportunity so I finally made the big jump across the pond to get a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam focusing on bicycle mobility. Loving every minute of it.
What’s the big difference between Amsterdam and South Florida when it comes to cycling?
For one thing, cycling is still mostly seen as either a fringe subculture activity or as purely sport. It’s pretty popular for roadies and recreation, but abysmal for developing cycling as a utilitarian transportation mode. Florida continuously ranks the absolute worst in the U.S. for pedestrian and cyclist casualties, owing to decades of intense growth, land-use development policies favoring suburban lifestyles, lack of leadership, and a natural dependency on automobiles for mobility that’s hard to break because of all the above. Though it’s as flat as the Netherlands, almost all cities in Florida (especially South Florida) are night-and-day compared to Amsterdam. There are a lot of advocacy groups now and interested politicians who are interested in encouraging cycling and are devoted to developing the infrastructure changes needed to make it safer. I worked for a small city where I got to see this firsthand and pushed it through, so I’m excited to see the progress!
Were there any surprises when you started cycling in Amsterdam?
I am absolutely blown away by what people can carry on a bike here. Additionally, I am always amazed by the renegade-nature of the cyclists here, going every-which-way in direct defiance of traffic controls. Cycling is so efficient here as a transportation system that it naturally dominates. Reading about the history of Amsterdam cyclists, I definitely have an appreciation for it. The laws here also protect the most vulnerable users, which also owes to the cycling culture developing here the way it has. I hope that will start to develop in the States as well.
Tell us about your bike.
I bought this bike in Amsterdam last year, actually, and took it back to Florida with me. I’ve always loved Dutch bikes and since they are fairly rare back home, they always spur dialogue from curious people. I’m fairly short, so I wanted a smaller frame bike than the larger one I already had. So of course I brought it back to Amsterdam with me. It’s like it went on holiday to Florida for a year! I outfitted it with a front rack and some rear panniers I got for cheap so I can carry loads of stuff! I wrapped some cute battery-operated lights around the frame for pizazz and slapped some stickers on the rear fender so I can find it in the seas of parked bikes. I have 2 seat covers simultaneously on it because I don’t want a wet butt. It’s also got a wobbly front rim that nobody but me notices, but that’s part of its charm.
It’s officially Autumn here in Amsterdam- cold, crisp, and a tiny bit wet. The sandals are disappearing and the scarves are coming out.
One of my favorite parts of my morning commute is watching in awe as women weave in and out of the other commuters, pedaling on pointy toed pumps. And I recently realized I had taken quite a lot of heels on wheels photos. So in order to savor the sunshine of summer we are posting a our favorite Feets on Fiets; our new reoccurring seasonal round up!
I hope you enjoy these stylish stilettos and funky socks sneaking out of a suit cuffs as much as we do.
Klara got in touch with us a few weeks ago and we knew immediately she would be a great fit with our team. She’s been an ACC follower for years – but from her home in London. Now, she is living and working in Amsterdam. We’re thrilled to have her on board!
How did you end up in Amsterdam?
I originally moved here from London for a job, a great opportunity came up with an airline alliance and as I love travel in all forms, from two wheels to airplane wings I jumped at the chance. When I came to visit during my job interview a friend (who already lived here) picked me up to show me around the city. Immediately I was told to jump on the back of his bike. Despite my protests, it was made clear that we weren’t going anywhere unless I got on the bike. My love affair for Amsterdam and its cycling culture started right there.
So what’s the big difference between Amsterdam and London when it comes to cycling?
Cycling in London is growing and in the five years that I cycled in the city I saw a considerable change, with more people riding on the roads, investment in cycle lanes and some great initiatives starting to form. But as soon as I moved to Amsterdam I realized that it’s about more than just cycle lanes, it really is a way of life. Everyone is more relaxed, the pace is slower, and you don’t need to change into Lycra to charge across the city. I love that it starts from a very young age here, and that it’s the most inclusive form of transport, young old, rich and poor, all hop on their bike – making this city accessible to all. Who wouldn’t love that?
Was there any surprises when you started cycling in Amsterdam?
After being in London you think I would be used to the rain, but I’m not, especially when you add strong winds into the mix. My first few weeks in Amsterdam were gloriously sunny but then I learnt the hard way, although the stronger winds are great for the thighs. In Amsterdam it’s all about that perfectly timed cycle dash to the shops, that quick trip from café to home. And even when locals are caught in the rain here, they carry it off with such style and grace, whereas I still very much look like a drowned rat.
Tell us about your bike.
My bike, known to me as Betty, made the journey with me across the channel. Like me, she suffers a bit in the rain, a few rattles here and there but I think she’s holding up quite well. She’s been the best companion for exploring my new home and I hope she’ll be with me for a while. There’s nothing like discovering a new city from the cycle point of view. You have the time to soak in the sights around you and experience all that this city has to offer. The absolute best thing about cycling in Amsterdam is how close everything is, that and the wonderful people you see and experience. I’m so excited to join the team at ACC and start documenting the amazing culture and lifestyle I’m experiencing from the saddle.