Copenhagen-Amsterdam War in the VogelVrije Fietser

Some Danish guy on a WorkCycles rental bike in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by Amsterdamize.

I usually flip through the “VogelVrije Fietser” (literal translation: “Birdfree Cyclist”) in about 30 seconds and then pass it to my toddler son for shredding but this issue (January 2010) had a few bits worth sharing… before Pascal gets his way with it. The first interesting piece is the latest salvo in the imaginary Copenhagen-Amsterdam war of cycling supremacy. The Copenhagen ambitions to achieve or already have achieved the coveted, self appointed title of World Cycling Capitol are already all over the Internet and the BirdFree Cyclist even made the trek up there to the great white north to see what all the fuss was about. In a nutshell they made the great revelation in the previous issue that the crafty Copenhageners were just as busy improving cycling facilities in their city as in most Dutch cities, and that they’re being more vocal about promoting this fact. Whoopee, the Danes also see value in a city where many people cycle!

Now after a flood of backlash from indignant and competitive Dutch cyclists the BirdFree Cyclist interviews a number of Dutch lawmakers about the Great Copenhagen Question. Amongst other things they ask about the Copenhagen ambition to have 50% of all commuters on bikes by 2015. Being an Amsterdammer (OK a transplanted New Amsterdammer…) I’ll focus on and translate some comments from Hans Gerson, Amsterdam city Alderman from PvdA (Labor Party):

Hans Gerson (who’s sitting on a bike while carrying a folding chair in one hand in he accompanying photo):

“I know Copenhagen a bit. I think there’s much less cycling there than with us. But fine, let’s assume they want to compete with us. Fifty percent is completely no task. In the center of Amsterdam more than 50% of all trips are already by bike. I would want to set the bar higher. For the entire city already more than 38% of all trips are done with the bike. I find fifty percent a nice challenge for 2015.”

Gerson’s emphasis here seemed to have beeen missed by the interviewer: The Copenhagen goal is to have 50% of commuters cycling. This is certainly a worthy goal but commuters represent a relatively narrow segment of the population: working adults in their prime years. Thus we’re comparing apples and oranges. Which translates to more cyclists: 50% of commuters or 38% of all trips within the city by all people. I’d guess the latter but…

a. I’d have to dig through the CBS statistics to prove it.
b. Who cares anyway? The Dutch and the Danes are hard at work improving what are already the best cycling facilities in the world by an enormous margin.

But just because it’s fun to poke our Copenhagen friends I’ll add some more of Gerson’ comments:

BirdFree Cyclist: You totally don’t see Copenhagen as the winner?


I was there recently. It’s a really pretty city OK, but the number of cyclists there could be counted on one hand. Thus I can’t imagine that it even comes in the neighborhood of being a our competitor. And wherever I go in the world we’re always prized for our bike policy. But we’re not resting on our laurels. Lots must still be done.

Ooh, ouch Copenhagen! That hurt, and then to think that Amsterdam is only one of dozens of Dutch cities that take cycling so seriously. Darn, now I’m getting all into this competition thing too. Sorry folks.

amsterdam sunday 4

But for those not so into this international intrigue there was also something fun for the tech weenies. The BirdFree Cyclist used an SRM power output meter to test the effects of various maintenance and component choices on the effort required to cycle. I’m assuming the test wasn’t executed to nano-precision standards but a few of the results are nonetheless interesting:

  • Shimano hub dynamo – 1 watt
  • rusty chain instead of clean, new chain = 1 watt
  • too tight chain = 12 watts
  • Hebie Chainglider chain cover = 4 watts (regular chain-case = 0 watts)
  • Shimano Nexus 7 speed hub in 4th gear = 12 watts
  • heavy city bike tire vs. racing type tire = 15 watts
  • tire pressure 2 bar instead of 4 bar = 25 watts
  • What can we learn from this?

    Well, fixing flats in cold rain sucks so racing tires aren’t practical for urban use but pumping your regular tires up is worth the effort. Also the considerable difference between the tires suggests that smooth running tires such as Schwalbe Marathons are worth the small additional cost.

    Ride a bike with a full chain case because not only does it not cause drag, your chain stays clean, lubricated and happy inside. But don’t pull that chain too tight. Still, I suspect that the chain test would have shown a much greater difference had he compared the new chain to a real Amsterdam chain.

    Our feeling that Shimano’s Nexus 7 speed hubs are factory filled with crunchy peanut butter seems to have more scientific basis now. Early Shimano 8 speeds suffer from this problem in the 4th gear too but that’s a number of years ago now.

    old gazelle bike crank in amsterdam 32

    13 Responses to “Copenhagen-Amsterdam War in the VogelVrije Fietser”

    1. Nick Says:

      Seriously? A Shimano 7 speed takes more power to turn than other hubs? Just in 4th gear or throughout the range? How/where do I learn more about this? In your opinion, other hubs are more efficient?

      What about smooth running tires? This is a new concept to me.

      I’m happy with my Shimano 7 speed and Bontrager tires, but if riding other stuff was easier I could change them.

    2. Todd Edelman Says:

      The best – if not the only – thing that cities, their authorities and interested cycling actors should do is be the best they can be with additional inspiration from elsewhere. End of story.

    3. ten Says:

      +1, competition deflects attention from the real issues (and wastes internet time on trivial squabbling), cities should cooperate together to raise ALL of our cycling levels.

    4. henry Says:

      It is true that internal gear hubs and the various gears within them have varying levels of efficiency. This is mostly a function of how many planetary sets (the actual little gears inside that enable the ratio changes are being driven through in a given gear. Three speed hubs have just one planetary set so you either pedal in direct drive (2nd gear), underdrive (1st gear) or overdrive (3rd gear) thus 2nd has only hub bearing friction, and 1st and 3rd have just the losses of one planetary set. Hubs with more than three gears often require driving through multiple planetary sets simultaneously thus it’s critical that the friction caused by each planetary set is minimized. Sram/Sachs gear hubs tend to have efficient innards with awful shift mechanisms. Shimano hubs tend to have a little more friction but excellent shifters and reliability. Current generation Shimano 8 speeds are efficient enough in all gears that friction is not noticeable.

      Tires vary widely in rolling resistance. Unfortunately some of the features that make a tire durable and puncture resistant also cause rolling resistance. Amongst city bike tires we’ve found the Schwalbe Marathons, Vredestein Moirees, and various Continental models to balance the needs nicely. We just don’t fit the Conti’s because they tend to dry out and crack prematurely. It seems to have no functional effect but it’s ugly and customers complain about it.

    5. Todd Edelman Says:

      Why such an emphasis on modal share of cycling? It is certainly something good to keep track of and improve, but I think non-private car mode share is the most important, or at least just as important as cycling share, plus also collective public transport and walking shares.

      But then again this is all so reductionist. Are people cycling because collective PT is too expensive? Because distances are so long that walking takes too long? How about multi-modal trips? There are so many fine points, for example how far are people cycling, are they happy while cycling, to where are they cycling, e.g. stupid jobs which counter the sustainability of cycling?. What is better, four people carpooling to a “green” job in a small car or one person cycling to their job at some military arms manufacturer or a firm lobbying for private electric cars, GMO food and (insert thing you hate)?

      I am my own world’s cycling capital.

    6. Todd Edelman Says:

      Clarification: “Non-private car mode share” means all modes EXCEPT private car.

    7. Mikael Says:

      Haha… negative slagging off of competitors… you must LOVE this, Mr Cutler 🙂

    8. henry Says:

      I do enjoy a little senseless drama and competition… and am not too proud to have admit having honestly and tactlessly spoken my mind a few times, Mr. Colville. 😉

    9. henry Says:

      Thanks for clarifying even more strongly why this whole thing is nonsense. It’s just a classic example of how statistics are often distorted and misused to prove whatever interest somebody wants to promote. The once the statistic war begins people often lose sight of the real underlying points.

      Would getting cycled on a rickshaw powered by slave labor to your job making weapons to defend state owned tobacco plantations in an oppressed land run by a maniacal dictator be worse than driving driving a Hummer alone at illegal speeds through school zones to work?

    10. Mark Says:

      Just a comment on your translation of: “VogelVrije Fietser” of which you say: (literal translation: “Birdfree Cyclist”)

      That is not quite right, “vogelvrij” simply means “outlaw” so the literal translation is ‘the outlaw cyclist’. They started in a time that even in the Netherlands cyclists were seen as such. But the pun is in the fact that vogel and vrij together can also mean ‘free as a bird’.

    11. henry Says:

      Haha Mark, Mijn nederlands taalvaardigheid is ook wel goed hoor! Ik schreef “literal” en niet “figurative” of “real” vertaling. Als je tussen de regels leest zal je zulke “naïve” (niet dus) misverstanden vaker in mijn blog tegenkomen. Probeer bijvoorbeeld:

    12. Branko Collin Says:

      ‘Vogelvrije fietser’ means ‘cyclist at large.’ It means both ‘free as a bird’ and ‘hunted prey.’

    13. billcrandall Says:

      A certain lengthy, southern rock guitar solo comes to mind. One that I slow-danced to in junior high school in the late 70s.


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