Bicycles: A Cultural Thing?

Call it Dutch, call it environmentally friendly, call it what you like but bicycles are everywhere in Amsterdam. Hundreds of them line the streets, move faster than their counterparts, automobiles, and crowd the entrance of many eateries and shops throughout the city. This two-wheeled form of transportation takes on more meaning in the Netherlands than any other country in the world; it is the way of life, a priority!

But riding a bicycle in Amsterdam is far different than what you might be used to – a lackadaisical jaunt from point A to point B. Rather, the Dutch put the bicycle to far different use. Whether they’re dropping a child off at school, picking up groceries from the local market, cycling to work with a briefcase in hand or heading to a wedding reception, these cyclists are on a mission.  They rush down narrow streets and through busy intersections. Traveling at high speeds and making sharp turns, cyclists watch out for no one! Aside from a friendly ring of their bicycle bell, if you’re on foot, move out of their way or you will be flattened.

Bikes of all shapes and sizes

And speaking of flat, you won’t see too many cyclists wearing tennis shoes. Instead they pedal in high heels or platform shoes because it’s all about fashion. And I should mention, helmets are far from fashionable!  Protecting their noggins is not part of the dress code but formal dress wear is popular among many – you will see cyclists meandering by in anything from skirts and dresses to suits or ball gowns.

While the cyclists ride in style, so do the bicycles. Bright yellow, blue, orange and pink bicycle frames color the city streets. Woven baskets are attached to the front of the frame and carry anything from purses and backpacks to fruits, vegetable or potted plants. Pets accompany their owners in milk crates secured to the back of the bicycle. Babies and toddlers are strapped in bicycle seats while other small children and adults ride on foot-pegs. Aside from carrying multiple passengers, multitasking on a bicycle is very common – you will see anything from texting or talking on the phone to eating, drinking or smoking. When it comes to riding, the Dutch never keep two hands on the handle bars!

Amsterdam – cycling capital of the world?

So during my stay in Amsterdam I decided to watch all of this bicycle commotion rather than become part of it. Even though I was eager to immerse myself into the bicycle culture present in this city, a visit to the hospital was my last resort. But after two days of dodging bicycles and steering clear of any possible run-ins, I learned how to stay safe while walking the busy, bicycle infested city streets; look both ways multiple times before crossing, jump out of the way when you hear a bicycle bell, stop in your tracks to make room for oncoming bicycles and always use the sidewalks. And since bicycles are the most popular form of transportation in Amsterdam, always stay on high alert because you never know what direction they will come from!

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