Early yesterday morning, as I sat on the banks of a canal in Amsterdam assembling the boxed-up pieces of my bicycle, I realized I had completely underestimated what I was getting into.
Rachael and I had come to Holland to ride around the most bike-friendly country on the planet, and see how our hometown of Portland, Oregon compared. Rachael, whose family is Dutch, had tried her best to prepare me for what to expect, but coming from the most progressive cycling city in the US I figured I knew a lot about how substantial a role cycling could play in a community. Yet once there, pedal wrench in hand and eyes wide at the scene around me, I was beginning to understand that I had a lot to learn about just how deep cycling goes here.
Even to one familiar with the Dutch reputation for bike infrastructure, arriving on the streets of Amsterdam for the first time is astonishing. Bike racks, bike signals, and bike paths run along nearly every street, until many begin to look less like automobile throughways than bike routes with a car lane. Everywhere, the sturdy steel Dutch bikes-known as Nederlansefiets, with upright seats and step-through frames-stand chained to the railings, perched on bridges over the canals, and leaned up against shop windows. This I had expected. But ten thousand bikes stacked two-high in a parking lot spanning an entire city block? That put the term “bike-friendly” in perspective.
The reason for all these bikes, of course, is that everyone in Holland rides a bike. On the brick-paved streets of Amsterdam, we pedaled alongside men in fine suits and women in knee-high leather boots with three-inch heels. Down narrow village roads, we passed mothers ferrying their children in the wheelbarrow-like cartons of their bakfiets, while out in the country, we rolled past slowly spinning windmills in the company of white-haired septuagenarians.
In the days ahead, our journey (which we’re calling The Dutch Commute) will bring us to the four corners of this small country. Along the way, we’re hoping to meet many of these cyclists and share some of their stories (and ours) on thedutchcommute.com. Swing by and check it out, or, better yet, hop on a bike yourself. It’s a positive change we shouldn’t underestimate.