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!
At AMS CC we like to celebrate all aspects of on the bike life in Amsterdam- from the old Dutch bike that clanks as it rides, to carting 3 kids, all the groceries and a puppy while making it home for dinner, to urban speed cyclist, and everyone in between. This past Sunday we met up with the women of the Rapha Club House Amsterdam who where headed out on their Women’s 100km ride through Amsterdam.
[Photos by Amsterdam Cycle Chic]
What started in 2013 as a small group of female riders in the UK, has grown exponentially ever year and expanded over 6 continents (Antartica has yet to report in). The best part of Rapha Women’s 100 is it’s not a competition; it’s about connecting a community of women cyclist around the world through a shared adventure and love of the road under two wheels.
According to Rapha’s website over 7,000 women across the globe joined in and rode together on Sunday the 23rd. More than 100 of those women were riding in Amsterdam!
[Photo courtesy of Maaike Steenwijk]
Unfortunately, my little Dutch bike wouldn’t have made it through 100km (yes, Im blaming the bike) so we only have photos of the beginning. Maaike Steenwijk followed the cyclist along the ride and was kind enough to loan us a couple of her photos. Thanks for letting us join the fun!
Where are you from and why did you move to Amsterdam?
Im originally from the East Coast of the US and my family lives in the middle-of-no-where Mexico. For the past 5 years I was living and working in Baltimore, MD at Under Armour as an Apparel Concept Designer. This January I relocated to the European HQ in Amsterdam and have no plans of looking back. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the world and I can finally say ‘I’m home’.
What do you love about cycling in Amsterdam?
This is going to sound so cliche but literally, everyday I see or experience something that makes me smile, I truly can’t get enough of this city. I love the intimacy that cycling gives; you’re at life level with everything and as you whizz by you get just enough of a glimpse to see into someone’s story- Or just enough to create a new one in your head.
I also love seeing the city’s style up close. I’m constant in awe of the women who are flying past me in the morning rocking 5″ heels, meanwhile I have to concentrate to keep my boots on the pedals. Amsterdam is so effortlessly chic and cycling never seems to get in the way of someones outfit; just enhances it.
What is your bike like?
She’s just a classic, used, back pedal bike. It says “Roady” in some peeling off letters on the frame but I’m not a brand name kind of girl, I chose this one for the color. I love adding little bits of pop; I was secretly thrilled when my original bell, just a plain silver one died because that meant I got to buy this new minty fresh one! I just found this new bike paint that promises a “no drip, no professional needed” coating, so who knows what color or colors she’ll be by the end of the year.
Is there anything you don’t like about your new no-car life?
Aside from the fear of my wheel involuntary flying off while I’m cycling at great speeds; I haven’t figured out the best cupcake transport system yet. I love to decorate and share cupcakes co-workers and friends, but the Amsterdam roads are not so forgiving. So in the mean time I’ve started the #BikeNowFrostLater movement. If anyone has any possible op de fiets solutions- please send them my way!
Why did you want to join the Amsterdam Cycle Chic team?
I love how engrained biking is in the city, from toddlers learning on the balance bikes- to the guy doing wheelies under the Rijks Museum Tunnel, everyone is equal when in the bike lanes. And there is something so magical about the morning commuter rush, like a flock of swallows, each an independent being but the flow never falters. I want the opportunity to share those moments with the rest of the world.
From a professional standpoint part of my job is sending street recaps of things I’m seeing in Amsterdam and other travels back to our US based design teams. I’m already cycling about admiring the city’s finest and freshest, sneaking photos of anything that catches my eye. I’m known for leaving a friend mid sentence to chase someone/ something down the street snapping away, trying not to crash my own bike.
Pictures of Mérida by Lily.
Amsterdammers are so very happy to see winter behind them. The days are now longer, brighter, and we can wear less clothing. That’s always a good thing!
At Amsterdam Cycle Chic, we are constantly taking photos and we end up blogging or gramming only a handful. So we thought we’d give you a purge of our winter collection. Enjoy!
Meet Awura, a 29 year Amsterdam local and law student turned creative entrepreneur. She joins us on International Women’s Day to share more about life on two wheels and the inspiration that led her to found the Creative Women Collective.
What is a day on two wheels like for you?
I cycle everywhere so, the morning starts with me jumping on my bike heading to the gym, the market or making my way to the office for a meeting. At lunch, I love getting outside for some fresh air. After a little break, I either head back to the office or my next meeting. It’s easy to do errands on my way back home because I have a basket on the front of my bike. I like to grab something fresh to make a delicious dinner at home.
What’s your take on cycling here in Amsterdam?
In Amsterdam we can do so much by bike I cycle every day for work and leisure. Overall, I love it but cycling can be hectic during rush hour traffic and I’ll be honest, sometimes that brings out a bit of my aggressive side (sorry, tourists!)
Cycling can be a relaxing experience too. When the weather is nice, I love cycling around the city in the early evening with my friends. We always bump into the most interesting people – young and old- along the canals of Amsterdam, have a chat and learn something new. Cycling opens the city up to us!
Aside from the quintessential scenery, why did you chose the Bloemgracht as the the location of our shoot?
This area is great source of inspiration, the logical reason being that my workspace is located here but I also experiences a really impacting internship during my time working in entertainment law. Every time I ride my bike along this canal, I take a trip down memory lane. This reflection on the past, makes me super grateful for the life I am living today. That includes my current work space at Ide Fix where I am often working on new plans for the Creative Women Collective.
Tell us more about the Creative Women Collective…
Based on the idea that we are stronger together, the philosophy is to create your own opportunities by growing your network and knowledge. I wanted to create a network that will help motivate women to share their strengths and challenges with each other. The Creative Women Collective is a network of ambitious, energetic women from different creative industries – from food to fashion, media and the arts. The aim is to motivate dreamers to get off the couch and keep professional entrepreneurs hungry for growth no matter how well their businesses are already going. We launched in September 2016 with our first event and it’s been amazing to see how many women are excited to join us!
What inspired you to launch the Creative Women Collective?
I started the Creative Women Collective after three years of practicing law and prosecuting for creative individuals and companies. I was ready for a change and began CWC because I was inspired by the women in my life, especially my amazing mother who is also an entrepreneur. My best girlfriends we are also an inspiration, I see them as epitome of collective strength and creative power. Without them CWC would not be here today!
You were born on International Women’s Day (March 8). Tell us more about why that’ s significant to you.
My birthday wasn’t a coincidence but is a part of my purpose in life. I discovered the desire to start CWC through my experiences and when I tapped into this desire, everything started to make sense, like a puzzle on it’s way to completion. Even my birthday was a piece to that puzzle.
Due to the changes in the political climate, recently a lot of women marches have taken place around the globe. Women – but also young girls and men – collectively stood together to let their voices be heard in favor of women’s rights. Although the circumstances which have caused these marches are unfortunate, these marches have sparked hope and promise for the future. On international Women’s Day a lot of amazing events are organized to put a spotlight on women, in order to stimulate female empowerment and to address female inequality.
The past couple of years, this day has become more and more important in The Netherlands and around the world, and I am glad to see it!
How does it feel to be a part of a group that supports and inspires hard working boss ladies?
The first word which comes to my mind is fulfillment. This experience is fulfilling in ways I could not have predicted. The energy during our events is full of inspiration, purpose and determination. The collaborations which roll out of our events are the icing on the cake, and the continued support afterwards amongst our women is the cherry on top!
What advice would you give to other women who want to follow their passions but aren’t sure where to start?
Start with self-reflection: why do you do what you do? The “why” is important because it is the foundation of your business. The foundation these women will need to fall back on in times of struggle, or during times of lack of inspiration.
Also, surround yourself with entrepreneurs and inspiring people. These people have knowledge and experience to share. They have been there and can help you get started or be there for you when you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.That’s exactly what the Creative Women Collective events are made to do.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Awura! Happy cycling and Happy Birthday!
Here in Amsterdam, it’s getting pretty darn cold. It’s a biting, bitter, wet cold. This is the kind of cold that creeps into every crevice that is exposed and then laughs in your face.
No, there’s no snow on the ground – and it’s not even THAT cold, according to the thermostat (or Northern Scandinavians, for that matter). I’ve read -4C (25F) as the lowest temp recently. But for some reason, and maybe that’s the Californian in me, it just feels cold.
We’ve gotten a few emails recently asking about the cold weather and cycling: “What do Amsterdammers do in the winter?” So, Henri and Maria: this is for you.
It’s a habit.
You see, when you live in Amsterdam, you become so used to your bicycle as your main way of getting around. Your whole life starts to revolve around your bicycle. Your routes become habits. The grocery stores, cafes, shops along your routes become daily destinations. Out of habit (and probably laziness, too). On your daily routes, like to and from the office, you get used to being able to zone out, to think about other things, and to let your mind wander. You know your route that well. It’s that predictable, and dare I say, boring but relaxing at the same time.
You probably even know small, particular details about your route, things that you think only you know. (Like the small patch of uneven pavement that you knowingly swerve around.) You’re so used to it – the route, the swarm of cyclists around you, the mind-wandering thoughts – that you need this time, even if unconsciously. It’s the moments of your day you get to just be, and you even sort of forget that you’re peddling. It’s this critical nothingness in your day, and at the same time maybe the best part of the day, that becomes a deeply ingrained habit.
Next to the ride itself, you are used to your “usual” stops – for groceries, bread, coffee to go, the corner post box. You have different preferred places for different routes and directions. You know where you like to park your bike at these places. You have your favourite part of the bike rack or sidewalk (remember, Dutch bikes have kickstands!) and you park there almost every time. It’s second nature.
So what happens when it gets cold? When it rains? Snows? When the streets are frozen? In extreme conditions like snow or frost, the City ploughs the bike lanes at 3am – before they plough the rest of the street. That happens a handful of times every year. So that’s helpful for safety reasons.
Other options exist – tram, bus, walking, even car – and some do people opt out. (Stats show only a small percentage opt out in the winter.) But for the most part, Amsterdammers are only continuing their time-honoured, ingrained habit: using the bike.
We all know habits are hard to break. So Amsterdammers are no special species when it comes to cycling in the winter. There’s only one thing we do: wear a warm coat. After all, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.
Amsterdam Cycle Chic
Jonathan is an Amsterdam based designer from the UK with a passion for all things retro. He loves working with his hands to make his creative visions come to life – whether it’s designing shoes for international fashion brands, reconstructing vintage furniture or working on his collection of vintage bicycles.
Welcome, Jonathan! We’re glad to have you as our December cyclist of the month! To get started, tell us a bit more about how you ended up in Amsterdam.
I’m originally from the UK, more precisely from where Hobbits live. Yes, that’s right. Lord of the Rings was actually written in my hometown. After visiting Amsterdam for a long weekend, I fell in love with the city! One month later, I found myself moving over. That was about two years ago… and here we are now, enjoying a crisp, cool day in the lovely Nine Streets neighborhood.
As an expat, what was your first reaction to the Dutch cyclists here in Amsterdam?
At first, it was all so unique and quite startling!Now, cycling has become a major part of my day-to-day routine here in Amsterdam. The Dutch are known as the kings of cycling but it was a totally new concept for me after living in London for 10 years. Unfortunately, in London there’s a lack of forward thinking towards cyclists which makes it quite unsafe.
In your opinion, what makes Amsterdam so special for cycling?
Now that I have adapted to life-on-bike, I absolutely love it! Cycling around the Jordan with friends is one of my favorite areas because of course, the scenery is lovely. Plus, it is more peaceful and less crowded than the rest of the city center. Riding my bike has become a bigger part of my life. Cycling in Amsterdam really inspired me to start buying vintage bikes and do them up, which is now one of my favorite hobbies.
How did you get into collecting vintage bikes?
I love the hands on process of fixing up vintage bikes. Plus, of course the bike loving vibe of Amsterdam is an inspiration. A few years ago, I bought a bike black, vintage Peugeot. It was from 1975 in like-new condition, just beautiful! Once I got my first vintage bike there was no looking back, I was in love! Now, I’m a vintage bike enthusiast. At one point, I did have seven vintage bikes so, perhaps you could call me a “collectomaniac”? At the moment I am down to only three, including the Carlton pictured here.
My other prized bike is a 1982 Peugeot Centennial Edition PH12, this was one of the first bike to consider aerodynamics, it has only been ridden twice since 1982! At the moment, it’s hanging on the wall of my apartment. My third bike is a Peugeot that my dad bought brand new in 1975, when he was 13.
What’s the story behind the unique, vintage Carlton that you’re riding around the Nine Streets today?
The one pictured here is a Carlton criterium custom which I built myself after bringing it over from the UK.The bike was owned by a family friend who bought it new. He was a long distance rider so, I have had it the bike has undergone some changes and I still want to change it further and make it into a single speed.
This is the first bike I built myself and added a Basil bell and Brooks seat. I’m very proud of it!
Carlton is up there as one of my favourite brands. My dream is to one day I have a Bianchi Pista too, they’re absolutely beautiful. So far, I have yet to find one the is in good enough condition… Hopefully some day!
What’s your favorite aspect about cycling in Amsterdam?
My favorite aspects of cycling in Amsterdam are the people you run into along the way. When biking around town, I often spot a friend cycling by and we wave or shout, ‘Hello!’ You often see the most random scenes pop up out of the blue. It’s fun to capture a quick snapshot of wacky moments on my phone and share them with friends for a laugh. I get so much enjoyment from riding my bike everyday in this wonderful city. Thank you, Amsterdam!
And a big thanks to you Jonathan for joining us here at Amsterdam Cycle Chic! You can follow along with his vintage bike adventures via Instagram. ‘Til next time…
Interview & photos by Lily.
With grey skies looming over Amsterdam, my mind easily drifts back to sun soaked Barcelona where I recently spent a weekend sipping sangria at the beach, eating tapas and of course, exploring the unique culture and architecture on offer. While not traditionally associated with urban cycling, the popularity and infrastructure for bicycles was evident everywhere in this Spanish city.
In the last decade, Barcelona has seen a significant jump in riders with the city’s recent investment in new infrastructure such as bike lanes and traffic lights. Accustomed to Amsterdam’s bicycle-friendly layout, I was happy to notice all the chic people on bikes – and riding on some nice bike paths.
From fixies to mountain bikes and even Dutch cargo bikes, cyclists filled the busy boulevards, city squares, parks and quiet streets. Here’s a peak at the eclectic mix of cycle chic-sters in Barcelona…
As a daily cyclist myself, I was keen to try out Barcelona’s bike share program Bicing. While deemed as shared public transport and highly popular, it’s only available for locals with an annual subscription. So, instead of taking a spin on two wheels, I instead had the pleasure of snapping photos of cyclists as they whizzed by. I spotted plenty cyclists of all ages commuting along the city center’s tens of kilometers of cycling paths.
Looking for more? Check out the Barcelona Cycle Chic blog!
We were lucky enough to take a ride and have a coffee with esteemed Professor, lecturer, and researcher Ruth Oldenziel, co-author of the latest and greatest book “Cycling Cities: The European Experience.” It’s 200 pages are carefully researched and thoughtfully describe how cycling came to be (or not so much) in several European cities – with Dutch cities as a backbone story of cycling decline, automobility, then incremental change towards what are now urban cycling “success stories.” Of course every city has its own story, culture, and responses to change, and this work delves into those stories from 14 cities in 9 countries. From Budapest’s bicycling revival to Manchester’s “standstill”; Lyon’s corporate enterprise to innovations in Malmö – we can read about diverse trajectories in urban cycling but all with the same goal: to get more people on bikes. Ruth tells us more…
RO: I was in NYC in 2009 – the year that marked the 400-year anniversary between New York and Amsterdam. I was going to give a speech and then take a group ride down the Hudson. I rode up to the venue on my Batavus granny bike with high heels and they just looked at me like, what are you thinking? Everyone was wearing Lycra and riding fancy bikes with helmets. I didn’t have any of that stuff, so they didn’t let me go on the ride! I was shocked. But what was interesting was that we were both shocked – at each other’s cycling cultures. I couldn’t explain it to them; I couldn’t explain why I was on this type of bike and why it was ok that I was wearing everyday clothes and high-heels while biking. I couldn’t explain Dutch culture around cycling. That was when the first thoughts about this book started.
ACC: Are there other books like this?
RO: Not really, no. In 1999 a book [by the co-authors] was published in Dutch, called “Fietsverkeer” (or bicycle traffic). And in it was a graph showing cycling levels across several European cities. The graph became quite famous, but because the book was only in Dutch it didn’t take off in the same way. So one of our goals was to translate the book and incorporate the most relevant research in the new book – and update the graph. The other main goal was to create a narrative through lots of images and graphics in order to make is as accessible as possible to everyone – policymakers, advocates, the everyday reader.
ACC: What surprised you most during the research for this book?
RO: When we looked at the cycling data – the numbers – it varied so much. Especially within the Netherlands. Variety suggests that the Dutch are not special people when it comes to cycling – really, it was just a perfect storm of events that lead to this “success story” – if you can call it that. Factors like the car coming a bit later, mediocre public transport systems, the oil crisis, and the social movements of the 70s – all these events came together and created a perfect storm for cycling.
ACC: Is there another city’s story that sticks out in your mind?
RO: Basel is an interesting case. The percentage of trips by bike hasn’t changed in decades. Everything is done so well there – the highways are pristine, the historic city centre is car-free and walking is a high priority, public transit is flawless, efficient and affordable, and bicycle infrastructure is also good. All these modes compete, so one is not really better than another. That makes it difficult for the city to push forward the bicycle share. Biking there is nice, but no where near as fun as in Amsterdam.
ACC: What’s your favourite thing about cycling in Amsterdam?
RO: I love the Weesperzijde (where we are now). Not only have I lived here a long time – I was born and raised in Amsterdam – but I love that this street has no cycling infrastructure and yet it’s a preferred route to and from the city centre. And of course it is – look around, it’s just beautiful.
ACC: Tell me about this bike of yours.
RO: I’ve always had 2nd-hand bikes, but this is my lucky bike. I’m a klutz with bike keys, always losing them. I can’t even tell you how many bike keys I’ve lost – it’s pathetic. I’ve had this bike for six years and never lost the keys!
For more information and to purchase her book, see the website: www.cyclingcities.info