The leggy blonde who just banged her bicycle onto me was certainly not asking for a polite forgiveness. She was neither sympathizing at my sorry state. After all, it was me who dared ignore her frantic “Tring” “Tring”. Later, I realized that I was not walking on the privileged pedestrian track, but encroaching upon a bike track.
Welcome to Amsterdam – A Pedalling Power-station.
Amsterdam is the bicycle capital of Europe where BMWs and Limousines are sidelined by this pollution-free and healthy alternative. This city with a population of around eight lakh people boasts of around six lakh bicycles and it is easy to spot a white-collar executive cycling to work. Tourists continuously get troubled by never-ending onslaught of bikers in the Netherlands, zooming ahead in close proximity. Looking at a never-ending sea of bikes once a tourist exclaimed, “Lord has probably unloosed a plague of bicycles upon Holland for some national sin”.
Cycling is such a preferred mode of transport that civil authorities had to build a three-story bike parking stand and even that remains jam-packed most of the time. It has forced authorities to plan several of such stands.
If multi-level car parking of rest of the Europe has metamorphosed in multi-level bike stand here, car thieves of the rest of the Europe have got re-incarnated as bicycle thieves in Amsterdam. For the readers passionate about statistics, forty percent of these thieves are professionals, rest thirty percent are junkies and the remaining thirty percent are occasional stealer. Some of these thirty percent are victim cum adventurer who are quick to learn the tricks of the city.
These bicycle thieves are a big headache for the local police. The used-stolen bikes are later thrown into canals and around eighteen thousand bikes are retrieved from the canals twice a year. Throwing of used and stolen bikes in Amstel river is so common that there is a local saying, “if you are drowning in canals of Amsterdam you might get a bike for company”.
Are there traces of Indian genes in these bicycle thieves? The practice of throwing bikes in Amstel River seems similar to our habit of washing sins by taking dip in holy rivers.
If you own or hire a bike in Amsterdam there is a need of extra protection. Simply locking the rear wheel is not enough. A biker here needs at-least three locks, one for the frame and two for the front and the rear wheels. And the cycle needs to be locked to a fixed object. There is a high possibility that when you return to a parking stand to claim your bike back, you may notice that someone has parked his bike adjacent to yours and in search of a fixed object he has locked it to yours. After-all need is the mother of all inventions.
Even if you own a beaten-up old beauty which has probably never been oiled after exiting the bike factory, don’t take its security for granted. The Dutch believes in an egalitarian society. The city has an overwhelming population of kindred spirits who are unperturbed by the condition of their bikes. It is not uncommon to see a suit and tie clad businessman, and other pretty souls riding their well-worn bone shakers unabashedly.
A glance at the roads of Amsterdam and it becomes clear why bikes are so popular. Running in almost the middle of the road and cutting it down in equal halves is the tram line. Each half is further divided into bike lane and pedestrian lane. So if you are planning to drive in Amsterdam, the remaining portion is for you! But, drive only if you must, have to and dare to.
However, historically this love for bikes also had its peaks and troughs. Amsterdam started the cycle-race at the same time when rest of the Europe was also embracing this new mode of transport. In 1890, Holland completed laying dedicated bicycle pathways. By 1911, the Netherlands had more bicycles per capita. The world war II brought the winds of change. Motorized vehicles quickly replaced this healthier and pollution-free option. In the unfortunate year of 1970 around five hundred kids died in road accidents and the loss of so many innocent lives due to rash driving brought most of the Dutch on streets demanding “Stop De Kindermoord”. It revived the Dutch romance for the two-wheelers, which continues even today and brought back the cycles in vogue.
The bicycle is the most civilised conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. – Iris Murdoch, writer.
Today cycles are every where in this biking heaven. The picturesque inner cities hold the charm of spotting men, women, and kids joyfully riding their cycles with grace and fluid sophistication. The Dutch delight for bikes can be understood by the fact that the Netherlands has around fifteen thousand Km of cycle track. The bikes also represent typical Dutch personality, which is frugal, efficient, sporty and environment conscious. It’s no surprise that the headquarters of Greenpeace international is in Amsterdam.
If you are a cycling enthusiasts and often dream of a world where motorized vehicles yield to bikes, where even the trams are vigilant of the two pedals, you might already be planning to include Amsterdam in your next travel itinerary.