Our next guest post is from the fabulous Dave of Portlandize, whose cycling advocacy is a huge inspiration. Today he’s giving LGRAB readers a glimpse of his recent trip to Amsterdam. More on the European cycling scene through American eyes is coming later this week as Dottie and I overcome jetlag and post about our time in France.
Folks in the U.S. bicycle scene often talk about what markers distinguish an established bike culture in a city or country. We talk about infrastructure and percentages of people riding to work and that kind of thing. But I think one of the biggest indicators is a slight (but rather important) perception shift from bike fun to fun by bike, and the idea behind that shift.
Portland is notorious for its bike fun, and people even internationally know us for organizing rides at the drop of a hat for the most mundane or silly kind of events. We have huge bike-related festivals and events and a lot of typical Portlandy events have emphasis on bike themes. There is nothing wrong with this, bikes are fun tools, and these events give people a chance to use them in creative ways and people really have fun with them. But to use these events as a marker of an established bike culture isn’t really accurate, in my opinion.
We were recently in Amsterdam for about a week, and one particular day we spent running around the city with Marc from Amsterdamize. As we were riding around and later sitting at a cafe, we saw hundreds of people riding by dressed in more-or-less religious themed attire (with some notable exceptions, like broccoli). We were probably seeing people go by for an hour and a half. We learned later they were all on their way to a huge party where the dress theme was religious attire.
What stood out to me is that they were not out to have fun on their bikes, they were out to have fun, and it just so happened that the way they were getting there was by bike. It wasn’t a deliberate decision, just like it’s not a deliberate decision for most people in the U.S. to hop in their cars to get somewhere. It’s just a given. When you
have to get somewhere that’s beyond easy walking distance, you hop on your bike.
Amsterdam has its share of bike fun, too – fixies and bike polo and tall bikes and the whole works, but what really marks it as an established bike culture (among other things), is that pretty much everyone uses their bike(s) without thinking about it. There are a lot of things that go into making this the default choice for people, and that’s a theme for many more posts, but there is no doubt that in Amsterdam, the bicycle is as usual as bricks, glass, and humans. It’s a natural part of the everyday flow of people, whether it’s to work, school, restaurants, parties, shopping – whatever the destination, the bike gets you there.
Read more about Dave’s trip to Europe and his everyday Portland cycling life at Portlandize.