Archive for the ‘Bike Friendly Cities’ Category

Damn Near Lost My Fr8 Bike

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Reenactment of the scene of the crime that could have but didn’t happen… except that P1 is happy in this photo instead of P2 going full-on tantrum boneless.

To cut to the chase I allllmost lost our beloved Workcycles Fr8 bike. In most every other alternate universe it would have been stolen.

Monday morning I couldn’t find the Fr8’s keys. I never, ever lose keys, so of course I assumed it must have been the fault of “she who misplaces keys”. We checked all the likely jacket pockets but with four year old already ambivalent about going out to play and quickly losing patience I just grabbed the Cargobike keys instead. But just before heading downstairs I looked outside to see who rode the Fr8 last. We park it in one of several racks in front of our house, usually where it is in the photo below.

bike racks outside our home in amsterdam.
Two of the five bike racks in front of our home. Fr8 is in the upper left of the image (with light blue carriers).

But wait, I could see from the window that the saddle was adjusted for me, not for “she who sometimes misplaces keys”. I was thus the last one to ride the bike so its keys are wherever I put/left them a few days ago when the Fr8 was last ridden a few days ago. The plot thickens. P1 and I go the three flights downstairs to the outside world and before unlocking the bakfiets we check the Fr8. Could he who never, ever loses keys actually have left the keys in the bike? Yep, there they were just hanging in the rear wheel lock. The (very protective when actually locked) Abus Granit City Chain was still wrapped in its bundle around the child saddle frame. It’s the perfect place to keep your chain lock by the way. So there it is: I left the keys in my €1500 bike for several days in the middle of Amsterdam, one of the bike theft capitals of the world… and nobody took it. I’m guessing nobody noticed it.

How could I pull such a boneheaded move? Well, firstly I’m just a bonehead sometimes. Just ask the trainer at our Wednesday evening track racing classes. But also anybody with young kids understands the general scenario: You’ve just arrived home with 2 year old daughter who you picked up at daycare after work. It’s the Friday before the Christmas vacation so the kids are partied and danced out. On the way home we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items. Maybe papa refuses to buy some strategically placed holiday item that little girl wants, or perhaps little girl is just hungry and tired. In any case little girl does just what any self respecting two year old does when they don’t get their way: Tantrum! Turn instantly into a desperate, crying, writhing, wriggling invertebrate creature. After succeeding in wrestling the writhing, now screaming invertebrate two year old into her bike seat you ride the couple minutes home in the driving rain hoping she won’t somehow manage to Houdini her way out of the five point harness. Needless to say the child saddle behind the handlebar is NOT appropriate under such conditions.

Upon arriving home you find an empty spot in the bike racks, carefully release the now frantic storm of a child from her seat, holding her securely around the middle. You grab your bag and the groceries from the bike’s bin and dash inside, out of the rain, of course carefully picking your way across the bike path thick with the evening’s bike and scooter traffic. You get inside warm home, remove wet clothes and shoes and two year old usually snaps seamlessly back into normal child mode. Family sits down for dinner and all is fine. Except that your bike is unlocked outside with the keys hanging in the lock.

I assume this sounds familiar to most every parent because I hear it all the time at Workcycles, usually while discussing the details for a new bike to replace the stolen one. People say “It was my own fault; I left the keys in the bike.” No, that’s total BS. Keys in the bike or not it was stolen. Yes, you made the job much easier but the asshole who took your bike is still a thief. An honest person would leave it alone. A good Samaritan would find a way to help you, perhaps locking the bike and leaving a note with their phone number or email.

Anyhow I’m tremendously relieved that we still have our Fr8.

Road Rage in Holland?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

workcycles-bakfiets-lijnbaansgracht 2

Visitors and readers of Dutch cycling blogs might be getting the impression that the Netherlands is a sort of parallel, heavenly universe where every man, woman and child cycles around safely on perfect bike roads, blithefully tossing their rusty, black omafiets into a five story tall structure packed with thousands of other rusty, black omafietsen. And further that motor vehicle drivers are largely banished to inconvenient, circuitous routes around the cities and when actually allowed to drive near real, vulnerable humans they proceed cautiously and with the utmost courtesy.

That would be nice but alas the Dutch are human too. Like other members of this species they get impatient and angry, they sometimes have crazy opinions, they break rules, they can just be malicious asses for no apparent reason. Cycling really is usually quite fantastic here; The images you see on this blog and Amsterdamize really are representative of our daily travels. The extensive explanations of cycle infrastructure and cultural factors David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur write about in A view from the cycle path really are true. Nonetheless, a couple times a year I have an “incident” not entirely unlike the more frequent unpleasant or even dangerous encounters one has cycling in most other places. I’ll describe the most recent examples.

Safety First! Hong Kong Style

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Workcycles rider Matt Ransford sent this photo from Hong Kong. He added that there aren’t many bikes to be seen in Hong Kong but those you see look like they’ve been around for a long time and they all have rod operated brakes. Thanks for passing that along Matt!

I seem to recall Hong Kong being David Byrne’s pick for World’s Worst Cycling City.

This delivery bike, with its big basket type front carrier affixed to the frame is just like old English delivery bikes. This, of course, was way back when it was still commonplace for tradespeople and delivery boys in the UK to move their goods about by bicycle. This connection is no great surprise given that Hong Kong was a British colony until recently.

Scooters and a Daycare Center Terrorizing the Bike Paths

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Kids Lodge golf cart kiddy bus train. Photo from Algemene Dagblad.

All is not perfect in the land of bicycles, tulips, cheese and more bicycles. In the middle of hyper bicycle friendly Netherlands sits Houten which was actually planned and built as the ideal bicycling town. Amongst probably many other honors Houten was as recently as 2008 awarded the prize of Best Bicycling City. In Houten auto traffic is directed all the way around the city on a ring road with limited access to the interior city. Bicyclists, on the other hand, enjoy a network of wide bike paths throughout the town.

Meanwhile “Kids Lodge” after school daycare center in Houten has introduced a novel concept: They bought ten old golf carts to ferry the kids from their elementary schools to the daycare. Behind the golf carts they’re towing trailers, also loaded with kids. Their explanation: It takes too long to drive the kids all the way around the city in buses so instead they ride directly through the city on the bike paths with their golf cart trains. Why not use special bikes such as the KDV Workcycles sells to dozens of other daycare centers in the Netherlands? “We’d rather cycle but that’s not possible with so many kids. Too dangerous.” Dangerous? We’ve hundreds of KDV’s in daily service throughout the country and have yet to hear of even a blister or pinched finger. Too many kids? The KDV carries eight kids, about as many as each golf cart plus trailer rig. Maybe “We got a great deal on the decommissioned golf carts. ” and “We’re too lazy to pedal.” are more likely explanations?

Dutch Bike Parking: There’s Never Ever Enough

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Somehow it just warms my heart to see thousands of city bikes lined up in endless rows. That requires about as much space as a supermarket or a small office building. Sometimes I wonder how big a parking facility for that many cars would be. I suppose the answer is that it would look rather like the vast sea of asphalt and cars that surrounds a big shopping mall: Occasionally full but usually mostly empty blackness… what a waste of space.

A Dutch bike parking facility, on the other hand, tends to remain remarkably full. Only after business hours does it thin out considerably. When I used to park my bike daily at the Amsterdam Fietsflat I almost always ended up walking all the way up to the upper level since I came in toward the end of the “rush hour”. The lowest level was perpetually crammed with crappy student bikes, often two or three per “official” space.

Of course there’s bike parking all over the city but most of the really big units are at train stations since lots of people ride their bikes to take a train to another town. That might be to “commute” to a job in another town, but it’s often also students who move back and forth between the university in one town and “home-home” in another. They might even keep an old bike at each end. I suppose one could say that this is a misuse of public space, but it could be easily argued that it’s really very, very little space. Any other means of transport also requires some use of public space and resources as well.

Snow, Amsterdam Style

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

amsterdam snow 5
Note the controlled slide with one foot as outrigger, as well as the smile and look that says “What’s the big deal?”. Dutch folks know how to ride bikes.

The coastal climate keeps it from snowing in Amsterdam as much as you’d figure for a place quite far north and with a reputation for considerable rainfall. Some winters it hardly snows at all while some winters it begins in November and snows regularly until spring. Still it almost never snows more than perhaps ten centimeters and then it usually warms up a couple days later, making a slushy, dirty mess and gradually disappearing.

This winter, however, it’s already snowed more in November and the first half of December than we usually see all year. No matter; we have our bikes to get around and today’s snowfall was just what I needed to remember that. This morning I had a plan to train at the Velodrome with my friend Toon. Yes, I still do that sort of thing and no, there is no conflict between being a cyclist for both transportation and fun/fitness. The Amsterdam Velodrome is great way to stay fit when it’s like this outside. It’s just warm enough to wear shorts and even in a snowstorm there are 30 or 40 riders in a training session paceline.

Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Pieten and their Workcycles Transport Bikes

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

sinterklaas intocht amsterdam 2010 7

The Sinterklaas “Intocht” (arrival parade) needs no introduction for the locals who began chasing Sinterklaas and his many “Zwarte Pieten”along the Amstel river and through the streets of Amsterdam as toddlers. It goes approximately as follows:

Sinterklaas is the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus. While they’re both apparently Saint Nicholas only Sint’s white beard bears any resemblance to the fat “Ho Ho Ho!” fellow in the red snowsuit who flies his reindeer driven sleigh from the North Pole. Sinterklaas is tall, skinny, serious and righteous. He comes not from the north, but by ship from Spain. Sint himself is not actually Spanish; he’s Turkish. I suppose it’s all really a lot less weird than flying a reindeer powered sleigh from the North Pole.

Some Loads Just Fit Better on a Bakfiets Than in a Car

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Yes, though the photo doesn’t show it the bike was actually ridden with the crib like this.

A family in our neighborhood sent this photo to me today nicely illustrating something most people in the Netherlands take for granted: A bike is simply an amazingly convenient way to move stuff around the city. A bakfiets makes it safer and easier, and increases the load capacity but isn’t really necessary. Watch the cyclists ride by for a couple minutes (especially on a Saturday) and you’ll see somebody ride by carrying something unusual. it might be secured into a “bak” but then it might also just be balanced on their rear carrier and steadied by a hand, propped onto the handlebars or in one hand. Below some more examples, mostly from Marc at Amsterdamize

Stretch Limo Bakfiets Ride

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

pascal rides in the big bakfiets
Pascal the little prince in his cool ride.

Last night I loaded our freshly refinished (in RAL 2004 “pure orange”) dinner table into one of our big, classic rental bakfietsen in order to bring it home. This morning I was then faced with the dilemma of how to both return the bakfiets to the shop AND bring Pascal to his “creche” (daycare center), both about a kilometer or two from home. Do I dare let an almost two year old sit in the 190 x 85cm box untethered, unhelmeted, unpadded, unrollcaged…? After some deliberation with Mama-en-meer we decided that it should be OK, particularly since Pascal has logged enough thousands of cycling kilometers to not have much urge to do anything stupid and terrible-twos-toddler-like. Besides, we figured, the bakfiets has a top speed of about 10km/hr and everybody (even taxis!) gives it a nice, wiiiiiiide berth.

Oranje Fever

Thursday, July 15th, 2010


OK, the fairy tale didn’t work out perfectly but 2nd place in the 2010 World Cup isn’t bad for little Netherlands. As an American I was only a little disappointed while the rest of the country takes matters of football much more seriously.

Why football (“soccer” for my countrymen) on bakfiets en meer? Because practically everything here has something to do with bikes. I snapped these photos an hour or so before the final match with Spain. Bicycle traffic jams, folks, all over the city! Everybody was cycling or walking somewhere to watch the game with friends and party; at somebody’s house, on one of the squares with giant TV’s, at a cafe… Central Amsterdam was one wound up, vuvuzela tooting, orange wearing, Dutch flag waving, case of beer on the rear carrier near riot.