Snow, Amsterdam Style

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.

Here’s a picture I coincidentally found of Toon at the Velodrome. See? Nice and warm and dry and fast; sure beats sitting on a stationary trainer at home.

The only challenge today was that I had my track bike at home, not in the storage at the velodrome. Carrying a bike while riding a bike is no big deal; usually I do it with the bakfiets. The front wheel comes off and I strap the handlebar against the back of the box. The rear wheel stands on the front edge of the box and a pair of straps hold the whole rig upright. Looks a little funny but it works like a charm. You might be thinking “Why doesn’t he just ride with the track bike rolling alongside like most normal folks would do?” Or alternatively “Why doesn’t he just ride that darn track bike like the entire world population of skinny-jeans with U-lock wearing, butt-crack showing hipsters. And there is a reason: At a wooden velodrome it’s not allowed to ride on tires that have ever been ridden outside. They can pick up debris that would damage the track surface.

Anyhow Kyoko needed the bakfiets to bring the kids to the daycare this morning and for reasons to mundane to explain our Fr8 city bike was at the shop. That left me with my Brompton folding bike, which actually sucks in snow much less than you’d expect. It is sketchy handling on the slippery, squishy stuff but it’s also very low to the ground making it really easy to do the one foot “outrigger” or tripod thing. So for lack of a better option I set the saddle a few cm lower than usual, tossed the track bike on my right shoulder and set off through about 10cm of unplowed snow holding the Brompton’s handlebar with my left hand. Comfortable it was not but neither was it dangerous; I just had a few kilometers to ride, almost entirely on separated bike paths. I didn’t fall until I tried to dismount at Toon’s house. Then I discovered that the neighborhood road I’d been cycling on was as slippery as a greased pig and fell immediately on my butt with two bikes on top of me. So much for grace.

I did consider the other transport options this morning:

Car: Well, we don’t have one of our own. I could probably have borrowed a friend’s car but it’s parked about half as far away as I had to ride anyway. In any case auto traffic around the city was a mess. The few snowplows they have here were running way behind the heavy snowfall and cars were stuck everywhere.

Tram: There’s a tram that runs between our two houses, with just another few minutes walk on his end. Problem is that the trams and buses were all getting stuck behind the floundering cars and trucks. One of my Workcycles colleagues spent half the afternoon trying to cross the city by tram and finally ended up walking most of it out of frustration. The trams that are running smoothly are jam packed so I also wouldn’t have made any friends carrying a bike frame and a pair of wheels.

Taxi:That would be convenient aside from sitting in traffic while watching the meter tick away at the alarmingly fast Amsterdam taxi rate. Oh, yes, I’d still have to disassemble and reassemble the bike to fit it in the trunk. Basically we only take taxis in Amsterdam when headed to deliver a baby or return home with that baby. Four times thus.

Walking: The distance was just too far for a reasonable walk. It would have taken well over an hour.

amsterdam snow 2

This evening after work I rode the Cargobike (bakfiets) to the daycare to pick the kids up. By then quite a bit more snow had fallen and it was either packed down into ice on the car roads or half packed and half sliced up into zig-zag tracks on the bike paths. The bakfiets is actually quite good in such crappy cycling conditions. Though the front wheel is lightly loaded and slides fairly easily the low center of gravity and long wheelbase make for very forgiving handling. Kyoko and I both prefer it to our city bikes when it’s slippery. When it’s as slippery as it was this evening falling is more an inevitability than a bad scenario. Falling with the children under a tough canopy in the wooden box of the bakfiets is annoying for you but probably just funny for your kids. Falling with kid(s) on child seats on a regular bike will result in at least one snowy, screaming kid.

I did drop the bakfiets once this evening; After successfully navigating the paths, roads and sidewalks (hey, whatever works when it looks like this out) to our home I once again today fell on my butt after dismounting at my destination. Two year old Pascal’s response while on his side under the canopy? “Bakfiets Boom! Bakfiets Boom!”

13 Responses to “Snow, Amsterdam Style”

  1. Norms Says:

    Being a fairweather cyclist myself I admired those commuters on bikes in the Sarphatistraat from behind the window in the warm comfortable line 10 during the blizzard yesterday. I thought of this blog when I saw a man on a cargobike passing by. Newspaper Het parool has some nice pictures of Amsterdam during the blizzard too

  2. Dottie Says:

    In Chicago there is so much snow in the winter, riding in it is inevitable. I have studded tires for the ice, but when there is snow on the road as pictured above, I do not ride. Not until the plows come through and clear it up. Unfortunately, slipping in Chicago means a very good chance of getting run over by a truck or SUV, since they are always right next to or behind me.

  3. henry Says:

    Dottie, that’s a huge advantage of cycling in a city that’s intrinsically cyclist safe. We’re almost always riding on either separated bike paths or quiet/calmed neighborhood streets. In the few cases where the bike lane is only separated by a painted stripe we’re still dealing with a population of drivers who mostly have a healthy respect for cyclists… because the they’re mostly cyclists themselves.

  4. Todd Edelman Says:

    There is this girl I liked, she’s in town but her bike has been sitting outside for two weeks (I even cleaned the snow off it once late at night while walking my dogs)… sigh…

    Not sure about Amsterdam, but whereas Copenhagen has a 80% figure of cyclists who continue to ride in the winter, in Berlin it must be 20%. I am sure many want to, but many of the paths cannot be cleared since salting them is illegal, for pro-tree reasons. The paths are in the wrong place and drain into the tree beds. They could re-design the streets and/or use a different method which would be more labor intensive and expensive, but this is Germany, and only the roads get totally cleared by the next morning. So a fair proportion of the remaining 20% of cyclists ride in the street. This is legal but of course the last half-metre or so next to the cars is not cleared.

    The other nice thing about the snow – when walking old dogs – is that almost no cyclists ride on the pavement.

    Are things any better in Munster or Munich or Bremen or?

  5. munich cyclist Says:

    Living in Munich I use my bike for commuting to work – except if there is snow or ice. I did plan to buy studded tires this year – but now I’m in a condition where it is medical advised not to do sports where its easy to drop (like skiing, ice-skating – and I think cycling in winter conditions counts as such, too).

    But postpartum the baby might be a good excuse to buy finally a cargo bike 🙂

  6. munich cyclist Says:

    @Todd: the sorry excuse they call cycle path in Munich are of course not cleared of snow. Good excuse to ride the street which is in most cases more secure anyway. I’ve seen and used good cycle paths – in Maastricht, in Kopenhagen …. but can’t remember a real good one in Germany 🙁

  7. henry Says:

    Guys, in all fairness the city of Amsterdam hasn’t done crap to clear our bike paths of snow and ice. Now the forecast is to remain below freezing most of the week and snow some more here and there.

    But if if it makes it any more fair they also haven’t done much to clear the car roads either. The whole city is a big skating rink now.

  8. John . Dublin Ireland Says:

    It was really bad in Dublin two weeks ago with the Snow then a Week of a very slow thaw. Most People just gave up Cycling unless you had a Mountain Bike with thick Studded Tyres. I slipped and fell coming out of my Housing Estate in the Ice but was alright on the main Road into Town,then afterwards it got so bad I just gave up for a Week Cycling.

    This time round the Snow gradually crept back from the European Continent but we were OK in Dublin City with no Snow for a few Days. It came back on Monday at 4.00pm when I was in the Supermarket. I slipped on the Icy Road no Gritting on side Roas on my way Home on the Bike and I just walked to the main Road before Cycling Home then walked once I got to my Housing Estate.

    It is Dangerous if you Slip and fall on our Roads,you could be Hit by a Car. You have to keep out about 3Metres from the Curb to Escape the Snow and Ice but it is still Icy,very bad Infrastructure here.

  9. Roger Says:

    What i LIKE about this weather is that so many noisy, busy cities all over
    central Europe slow down so much. Life gets a different heart beat for a while
    even if cycling can be less fun, but i can still pick up my old Christiania trike
    from the garage, and back home once, i saved the time in the gym…

  10. HeleenH Says:

    Unitll yesterday cycling was great, on the flattened snow. Slippery if you slide, but nice when you walk or cycle withhout fear, but with care. Today however was Not Fun. Gemeentes (local government) are running out of salt so streets are half-salted and that makes for a terrible messy sandlike snow to plow through. I had to walk the worst bits with my carbogike loaded with nearly 6 year old and groceries.
    Here in Amstelveen the cycling paths are plowed and salted, as long as there is salt…. They don’t plow or salt small streets, only the main roads and cycling paths.

  11. DrMekon Says:

    My usual commute is a 60km round trip, and I’d planned to keep it up by using some studded ice tyres. Unfortunately let me down and “in stock” became end of January. Fortunately, we recently swapped out cargobike for a cargotrike:

    Drifting around downhill hairpin bends in 8th gear, employing opposite lock to stop the trike spinning out is about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a bike. Even when it did spin, I just slid along sideways. I admit though, I didn’t take my usual route, and it was a mere 25km round trip the days I did it.

  12. henry Says:

    You commute 30km each way on a Cargotrike, even in the snow? That’s hard-core! My “commute” is pretty typical of the people I know here: It’s maybe 2km each way, plus perhaps 700m to the daycare not quite along the way. I’ve always been under the impression that once it gets significantly more than that few people will be willing to cycle.

  13. Jennifer Says:

    We use our cargo bike in the snow here in Chicago too. We choose our routes pretty carefully, especially on our rush hour school ride. This will be our first winter with studded tires, with a couple of hiccups and lots of great help from Vince at Dutch Bike Chicago. I am curious about how it will handle with studs. We’ve been using an Onderwater lots this winter with the studs on and we haven’t had any wipe outs, but I am relieved to get the bakfiets out. I think the wipeout is much kinder on it! The trike looks like lots of fun!

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