Ride This Way

29 Apr

I really dig me some Queen. And lately, with the possibility of spring it’s hard not to think of the song “Bicycle Races”. I’m pretty sure that the lyrics don’t have that much to do with biking, otherwise why would Freddie Mercury take time away from praising his 10 speed to tell us that he doesn’t like “Star Wars”? Still, when he sings “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like,” he makes a whole boat load of sense.

Bike parking at Amsterdam's Centraal Station. Yes, really.

You could also make the claim, and I think I’m gonna!, that this song perfectly fits the Netherlands. Not only does Holland love their two-wheelers, they are a festive home to some of the best gay pride parties in the world. (You know, cause Freddie was gay?) The country is known for being tolerant of different religions, ethnicities, sexual preferences and some mighty enthusiastic pot smokers. “Tolerant” is not a great word because it brings to mind a person suffering through something. Like, I tolerate the bad music played at the gym. That doesn’t infer that I respect it or that I understand that it might be different from music that I like but I still believe that it has a right to happily coexist with Aretha Franklin. No, it tells you that I grin and bear the “nnt, nnt, nnt, nnt” because that’s part of my going to the gym. But that isn’t really what I came to blog about today. I want to talk about bikes.

The Dutch are crazy pants about their bikes. That makes a lot of sense as their country is at sea level and the more cars there are in the world the more likely that they will be under sea level. Most of their land is also pretty flat. When they reclaimed the land from the sea (or did their best to keep what they had from being mermaid territory) they didn’t add a bunch of hills to it. Dutch bike lanes also rival those in the States because they exist between parked cars and the sidewalk. The risk of being thrown off your bike by a driver opening a car door is eliminated this way. Some bike lanes are not anywhere near streets. And some streets have been made pedestrian and bike only paths. The Dutch even have streetlights just for bikers.

With all this ease of use patterned into their lives, it’s not a surprise that 65% of people in Holland ride their bikes three or more times a week. The average person owns two bikes. And they are rewarded when getting across the city takes an hour in a car and only 30 minutes in a bike. Parking prices can be as much as $8 an hour and every year there are few spaces available. Some canals were paved over in the ‘70s to allow for more car traffic but that kind of thinking is over now.

As a visitor to Amsterdam, using any of the public transit systems gets you where you need to go with little hassle and little cost. Still, if you want to live like a temporary local á la Rick Steves, then it might be good to rent a bike. Major train stations have easy check out and there’s parking for your bike everywhere. From what I read, the bikes you rent aren’t going to win beauty contests but this is due to the risk of theft. Full time city workers fish the thieves’ rejected bikes out of the canals, so even if your bike isn’t a looker it’s still a great idea to follow the instructions that your rental company gives you about locking up. It sounds like you can expect not one, but two locks to accompany your rental. That’s a little inconvenience for some of the safest biking this planet has to offer and a chance to sing Queen in your head… like I need an excuse.

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