Category Archives: cycling

Papa, Do You Have a Bike Helmet, Too?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I now write for the Bike Citizens Magazine. My first article has been published, here’s a little intro – click on the link below to read the full version.

“Papa, do you have a helmet, too?” my two-year old daughter asked. For a brief moment I did not know what to say. Because while she wears a bike helmet every time I take her on the bike, I am not wearing one myself, not when I’m bringing her to the day-care nor on my commute to work. As parents often do, I rescued myself by telling a half-truth – that I wear a helmet when riding my race bike.

In fact, by not wearing a helmet, I am making a wise, rational, scientifically supported decision. Wonder why? Read my article about it in the Bike Citizens Magazine!

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear

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Filed under cycling, Work

Amsterdam is a cycling hell

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.

Cyclists

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.

Bicycle parked - check! But where are the pedestrians are supposed to walk?

Bicycle parked – check! But where are the pedestrians supposed to walk?

Cobbles

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.

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on

Scooters

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

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.

Tourists

If you see these - run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

If you see these – run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

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.

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists

Trams

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.

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell - cars, trams, cyclists and pedestrians all move at once

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell – cars, trams, cyclists, scooters and pedestrians all at one picture

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.

 

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Filed under cycling, Small European things

Tour de France, the biggest traffic hindrance in the world, defines the boundaries of Western Europe

This weekend, the biggest annual sporting event is coming to my small European country. I’m talking of course about the Tour de France, which will start in the city of Utrecht. This small European country a record-holder – its the 6th time the Tour starts in the Netherlands, more than any other country (except France, of course).

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The Tour caravan passing Rotterdam in 2010, when Rotterdam was the starting point

Now, I am going to be brutally honest about it – I really don’t care about the Tour de France, or, in fact, about professional cycling all together. I find it an incredibly dull sport to watch. Its like watching waterfalls on the Zen Channel. For endless days, there’s nothing to see except a bunch of guys on bicycles. Sometimes they crash. That’s it. The only thing more boring to watch is car racing, with the NASCAR at the glorious top as the most boring thing ever on TV. Seriously, I would rather watch the broadcasting of Latvian Parliament during the summer recess than NASCAR. There’s a bigger chance something will actually happen.

But I digress, as usual. Back to cycling – not only is the Tour extremely boring to watch, the outcome is also set from the start. The favourite will win, and a few years later he will be stripped of his victory due to a doping scandal. He will, as usual, claim he “had to do it”, because not using doping would have made him helpless against the opponents who all use it and he would have had to “give up the sport he loves”. The notion that by using doping he already gave up sport as a concept, that he might as well have ridden a motorcycle and that he has damaged the sport he claims to love beyond repair is too difficult for his dope-laced mind to grasp. To me, the Tour is certainly not a sporting event – its nothing more than a big traffic hindrance. But it does have a practical use.

In Europe, there is a constant bickering about the definition of the regions of Europe. Since the West and the North are the richer parts, countries do not want to be labelled as “Eastern” or “Central” European – the ones further to the East claim to be Central, and the more centrally situated countries strive to be known as “West European”. Other continents have a very useful tool to decide which country belongs to which region – the continental football association regional scheme. Wondering whether Birma is a South Asian or South-East Asian country? Check the map – its South-East. Does Mexico belong to North or Central America? North, of course, since its in the North American Zone.

Asian Football Confederation countries (

Asian Football Confederation countries – see how easy it can be? (source: Wikipedia)

The UEFA, on the other hand, is not divided into sub-regions, which opens the door to a debate about which country belongs where. Europe is divided into sub-regions by various authorities like the UN Statistical Division or the CIA Factbook, but these divisions are rather arbitrary and are too debatable.

Europe sub-regions according to the CIA World Factbook (source: Wikipedia)

Europe sub-regions according to the UN Statistical Division (source: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

That’s where the Tour de France comes in handy. Since the 60’s, the Tour has been visiting countries other than France on a regular basis. Put them on the map, and you’ll see a very distinct geographical limit of the Tour. I find “countries visited by the Tour de France” a very fitting definition on “Western Europe”. Portugal is the only exception here, but I think this map is a clear call to the organizers of the Tour to correct this obvious mistake and to include Portugal in the Tour route as soon as possible. All we need is a similar set of tools to define other regions of Europe. Anyone has a suggestion?

Countries visited by the Tour de France over the years

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Filed under cycling, Europe