This post is inspired by MarcoRecorder, who is a bigger cycling fan than I am, and wrote of his experiences cycling in Brussels.
I grew up in a city with a lot of hills, so cycling was a challenge, but it had the advantage of giving us freedom, it extended our range as teenagers. I went to University in a city full of bikes, I lived in Beijing – full of bikes, and then I moved to Amsterdam. Of all those places this is the most bike-friendly of cities. Here’s the good and the bad.
Not only does Amsterdam have cycle lanes, clearly marked, and often separate from traffic, cyclists have their own traffic lights.
Traffic Lights for Bikes
An intersection for bikes and cars
Signal – you want to cross the intersection
Mostly drivers are aware of cyclists and take care to give them space on the road. There are three reasons for this;
- If there’s a traffic accident between a driver and a cyclist; it’s the driver’s fault.
- If you sit a driver’s licence in the Netherlands one thing the examiners must see is that you look for cyclists at every intersection.
- Most drivers are also cyclists, and so they’re aware of cyclists behaviour and look out for cyclists.
Of course the cyclists tend to regard road rules as a recommendation so I’m sure drivers do get frustrated – but they don’t seem to take it out on cyclists on the road… see #1 above.
It’s the most common crime in Amsterdam – to the point that when my bike was (inevitably) stolen, Dutch friends said “well now you can say you’re an Amsterdammer”. That was a while ago, when I replaced the bike I bought a new lock – it’s a massive heavy chain, that’s what you get when you ask for an “Amsterdam Lock”.
The anti-theft mechanisms have gone up a notch, I noticed last week that you can now have your bike engraved for free to make it easier to find the owner if it is stolen.
Expensive Bike Market
A second-hand bike at a reputable shop will cost anything from 100 – 300 euro depending on the bike. I’ve heard you can buy bikes on the black market for 25 euro but I’ve never tried. Bikes aren’t a fashion item, so haven’t succumbed to the hipster inflation Marco notes in Brussels.
Most people do basic repairs themselves, but there are plenty of repair shops all over town. You’ll often find them near the larger train stations, but I prefer my local cycle repair place. They have never charged me more than about 15 euro for repairs (plus more for parts). They also advised me to stop getting my last bike repaired because new parts would be more than the bike was worth.
Not only are there lots of repair shops, you can buy bike lights and city cycling maps from a vending machine at Central Station.
Parking your bike
There are large parking areas around central station and bike racks all over town, even so it can be a challenge finding a good place to park, at least if you prefer to lock your bike to something (as I do).
If you leave your bike parked in the wrong place or even one place too long you risk having it removed. If this happens you have to go and claim it back – and buy a new lock.
This is a frequent challenge when cycling here, particularly in tourist areas. Tourists frequently stroll onto the cycle lanes unawares, but that’s why bikes are equipped with bells here.
These are the lights I bought from the vending machine, they’re designed to be easily removable from your bike, they’ve got a flashing setting and an “on” setting. Decode the logo on them – the three “x”s is from Amsterdam’s coat of arms. Amsterdam loves bicycles.