As of recently, I have a new side-gig – I am writing for Bike Citizens Magazine. Bike Citizens develops its own cycling-related products and offers a platform to the community of urban cyclists. To celebrate this latest development in my writing career, I wrote the following summary of why Amsterdam is a cycling hell.
Amsterdam has a reputation of a cycling paradise. In the 12 years I live in the Netherlands, I’ve been to Amsterdam countless times. Yet I have never been tempted to cycle in the Dutch capital. Because Amsterdam is not a cycling paradise – its a cycling hell. Let me tell you why.
Yes, cyclists in Amsterdam can be a part of the problem, too. Its just that the amount of cyclists in the city is absolutely staggering – over a million of them! They blatantly disobey traffic laws and park their bikes on every possible (and impossible) spot, contributing to the traffic mayhem. In Amsterdam, cyclists actually make it worse for themselves.
The cobbled streets look nice on pictures. But cobble stones are the reason why the Paris–Roubaix race is famous and feared. Cobbles are a bicycle-killer. Amsterdam is full of stone pavements, and they are not fun at all to cycle on.
There are tens of thousands of scooters in Amsterdam. Theoretically, they are allowed to use bicycle paths if the scooter is restricted to 25 kph. In practice, the speed restriction is easily removed and enforcement is lacking. The result is that scooters that are 2-3 times heavier than the cyclists, are also 2-3 times faster. Since the formula for kinetic energy, as you undoubtedly remember, is E=1/2 mv^2, scooters have about 10 to 30 times more kinetic energy than cyclists! Consequences of even minor collisions can be devastating.
Taxi drivers are a plague for cyclists everywhere, in busy capital cities most of all places. The ones in Amsterdam are (understandably) especially frustrated by the million bicycles constantly cutting them off in the narrow streets. Taxis and cyclists are engaged in a decades-long struggle for control of the streets of Amsterdam. Trust me, you really don’t want to get into that fight – it is a fight that has only losers.
First of all, tourists are the worse cyclists. When you see a bunch of them coming at you on those rented bikes – run and hide! For some reason, they think cycling drunk and/or stoned along the deep canals in the chaos of Amsterdam is a safe and enjoyable activity. Pedestrian tourists, who are not used to the amount of bicycles are a menace, too. And I don’t need to explain you why in all likelihood a Darwin award will soon be issued for the use a selfie-stick while riding your bike.
Don’t get me wrong, I love trams. But for cyclists in Amsterdam, trams are a nightmare. They are fast and furious, and are relatively quiet – in the busy city traffic, you don’t hear a tram coming until the last moment. Trams use a big chunk of road space, pushing cars into the bicycle lanes. Most unfortunately, tram tracks are a death trap for a bicycle – not only are they slippery when wet (and its often wet in Amsterdam), they are of exactly the right size to catch you by the wheel when you least expect it.
The good part
Let me finish on a bright note – its not like ALL of Amsterdam is a cycling hell. There is some truth in the city’s reputation as a great place for cycling. Its just the downtown that is a horrible place to pedal. On the whole, Amsterdam is over 200 square kilometres. Of these, only the city centre, just 10 square kilometres, is filled with taxis, trams and tourists. Outside that small area, cycling in Amsterdam is every bit as fun as you can imagine.