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
After visiting Amsterdam a few times as a tourist, I came back in 2009 to work as an au pair for a year. That’s when I first learned how to ride a bakfiets! Through the ups and downs, something kept pulling me back to Amsterdam…many adventures and one master’s degree later, I’m still here, cycling around the city on the same yellow bike.
What’s the story behind your colorful bike?
I love that the Dutch cycle as part of their every-day routine and suspected it would become a passion of mine too. So, I figured that a sturdy Dutch bike would be a smart investment and a fun souvenir of my time in Amsterdam. It was winter time when I first arrived and the bright yellow reminded me of the sunshine I desperately missed back home in Orlando.
So far, I’ve encountered plenty of adventures with my trusty omafiets but funny enough, she never made it back to Florida permanently and neither did I! At first, I added various colorful, flowery accessories but everything was stolen over time. Now I keep it simple with a colorful bell, flowery panniers and of course, a huge lock.
How do you find living in Amsterdam?
I absolutely love Amsterdam! My expat chapter became longer than expected but now that I’ve completed my master’s degree, finished Dutch integration and launched my freelance creative business, it’s really feeling more like home.
Name three things you love and one thing you loathe about cycling in Amsterdam:
- The convenience! Getting around the city center is faster by bike and fortunately, safe too.
- The scenery! Nothing beats cruising along the historic canals on a quiet evening or passing over the Amstel with a warm breeze in my hair.
- The weather! Let’s be honest, it’s never fun to get pummeled by hail, blown over by wind or caught up in a surprise rainstorm (Confession: I eventually gave in and purchased that typical HEMA rain suit out of necessity).
Why did you want to join the Amsterdam Cycle Chic team?
Amsterdam is a utopia for everyday cycling and while living here, I’ve adapted to doing as much as I can by bike. Growing up, I loved riding my bike but unfortunately, Florida doesn’t have the safe, organized cycling culture that we’re so lucky to enjoy here in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Cycle Chic showcases the city’s bike friendly initiative offering a view of how convenient and fabulous everyday biking can be! I hope other cities are able to learn from Amsterdam and offer both safety and scenery for everyday cyclists in the future. Plus, I’m often snapping photos around the city to share on Instagram and my travel blog so, joining the ACC team is a perfect fit.
We all love seeing what others can fit and balance on their bikes… umbrellas, pets, babies, shopping. And there there are times where your breath is taken away. The Dutch certainly know the fine art of ‘getting the job done’. Movers?!! Pffft! On your bike! He’s clearly happy with his achievement!
Google Netherlands has finally released it’s much-talked-about self-driving bicycle. “It’s the best invention since the bicycle itself,” says the director of the Dutch bicycle advocacy group, the Fietserbond.
Check it out for yourself:
Saw this lovely burst of colour whizzing by, delivering a parcel, and I just had to stop him! He spent the day riding through snow, sleet, rain and finally some sunshine. Didn’t seem to phase him 🙂
I caught up with American Amsterdammer, Breean, on a typical February afternoon – rainy, cold, and generally miserable outside. But her energy and enthusiasm made up for it. She took me for a ride in her Johnny Loco cargo bike and we had a nice chat about everything from bikes to love, dancing, and yes, Gyrotonic.
Breean used to dance professionally in New York City; she was trained as a classic dancer and danced with a contemporary dance company. But then she fell in love with a handsome Dutchman (a doctor with curls, no less). She moved to Utrecht in 2011, and then Amsterdam in 2014. She’s a mom of 2 kids, an entrepreneur, and a busy, busy woman. Here’s a snipet of our conversation.
What do you like about living in Amsterdam?
Compared to New York, life seems so easy and much slower. I’m still very busy of course – with two kids, a clothing line, fitness instructor – but somehow there’s time for everything. And I still manage to spend plenty of time with my family and friends and just exploring this gorgeous city.
Do you ride this [cargo] bike every day?
For sure. This is my SUV. I love this bike. It’s falling apart, but I love it. I take my girls to school in the morning, and our new thing is stopping to get croissants and a latte (for me obviously) before the bell rings. They sit in here and eat their croissants and play with their fake cell phones. It’s ridiculous but I love it.
What do you like about cycling in Amsterdam?
In New York everyone is looking for a fight – and New Yorkers are known for their screaming matches. Why they like yelling, I have no idea. It doesn’t help anything. Here, people just mind their own business when they’re on the bike. If I accidentally bump their bike – which happened to me a lot at first – they just glance over and smile, or they don’t even do anything at all.
How long did it take you to ride like an Amsterdammer?
I’m glad I started out in Utrecht, where it’s a little calmer on the bike path. Amsterdam is totally different. It’s busy and stressful – there’s a lot of people on bikes here! At first it was terrifying. Every time I’d get on my bike I’d tell myself: Ok, just DON’T die. I wouldn’t look at buildings or anything else but the bike path. It took me probably a good two months to get confident. Now I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine any other way of life.
Ok, so tell me about this Gyrotonic stuff…
The Gyrotonic method was developed by an injured dancer who healed herself by developing this method. It’s an amazing combination of rhythmic, circular movements flowing with your breath. It’s a very adaptable exercise, so anyone can do it, but it’s more of an experience with your body. Come try it out at Full Circle Studio in Amsterdam!
We’re a small little company with a big vision. At BuBae we design and produce girls’ clothing and give a percentage of the profits to organisations that empower women and girls who are less fortunate than we are. Our fabrics are designed by women from all over the world and then produced by women as well. We’re all about radiating beauty from within. Right now our current line is available on the website.
Thanks for the ride Breean!
Just when you think your weary legs can’t cycle anymore … you spot what we like to call a ‘Chic’er’ – a super chic cyclist with some fashion on board! Gameboy backpack + faux fur coat + pink gloves and grooving to tunes, en route to somewhere fabulous for sure. Arriving with style people!
Thank you everyone who commented on the People’s Poncho giveaway post! At our team meeting other night, we put all the comments in a hat and we’re excited to announce that Walton is the winner!
He said: “My favourite thing about biking in the rain is surprising people! Ride with a huge smile and give people a friendly wave while they grimace in the drizzle. Enjoy it, embrace it, and feel like a hero when you arrive at your destination. Chase that rainbow!”
Congrats Walton! And thank you again to The People’s Poncho for working with us on this giveaway.
Want to work with us on a giveaway? Let’s talk!
Get ready for the rainy season (here that’s every season) with a bike poncho! Thanks to The People’s Poncho for working with us on this giveaway.
This poncho has it all: slick waterproof shell, sheltering hood with drawstrings, snap clasps at the sleeves, and even handle bar grips to prevent flying away with the wind and rain! There’s a little waterproof zipped pouch for valuables. And the piping is even reflective. Retailing for €75 – but worth every penny.
The only thing you need to do is comment below telling us your favourite thing about biking in the rain.
Comment by Thursday, we’ll announce the winner on Friday!
small print: only open to UK/EU addresses – sorry!
I love seeing old photos and footage from back in the day. The Eye has a great collection of these old films and this one caught my attention.
A little history lesson: this was when about 80% of all trips were made by bike. Now about 60% of all trips are made by bicycle in the city center. Amazing right?
And look at the people. So simply chic with their hats and jackets. Sitting upright on their oh-so-Dutch bikes. Love it.