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the dutch commute

Posted by Alex | July 13th, 2009 | Filed under Uncategorized

dutchcommuteEarly 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.

7 Responses to “the dutch commute”

  • July 14, 2009 at 9:30 am | Diana says


    How nice to hear that you are visiting my home town. As a native Dutch speaker of course i need to give you a little course in our language: it’s not ‘Nederlansefiets’ but Nederlandse (which is dutch for ‘coming from the Netherlands’). In this case you are saying ‘a dutch bike’… “een Nederlandse fiets’.

    When biking in Amsterdam you will need to ring your bell a lot to get people out of the way. In dutch we say: “Aan de kant!!”

    Have fun and welcome to my country. If you need help in Amsterdam… send me an e-mail. (And let’s have a cup of coffee ;-) )

    strategic advisor for Michael Braungart

  • July 14, 2009 at 10:10 am | Amy says

    More bikes makes for happier people and planet.

  • July 14, 2009 at 4:10 pm | gabriel romeu says

    I intend a similar trip soon, as half of my family is from Nijmegen and there is a consideration of a reunion (and i was born there).
    When you go to Nijmegen, stop by city hall and ask to see the stained glass done my Joan Collette…he was my grandfather and if you enjoy the USA’s WPA work of the 30′s, you should enjoy the series as they depict the different industries of the area and are quite beautiful. If you are so inclined, there is a catholic church that he is responsible for the mosaics, stained glass and paintings in Nijmegen as well…

    and btw, as i understand, your will be in Holland for a circumference around Amsterdam, beyond that, you are in the Netherlands.
    have a grand trip, gabriel

  • July 15, 2009 at 12:45 am | Jeroen says

    Hi Alex,

    so cool that you guys are checking out Holland. My girlfriend and I live in Amsterdam and we visisted Portland in feb 09 and were very impressed with the biking scene in Portland.
    Lots of fixies…love those and I finally will have one myself. Inspired by what I saw in Portland . Hope you will be inspired as well by what you will encounter in Holland.
    If you would like to meet up and me showing you Amsterdam and some of my favorite rides do not hesitate to contact me at ; jeroenwesselman@hotmail.com

    Good riding..hope you are lucky with the weather

  • July 16, 2009 at 1:46 am | Alex says

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments. Diana’s right—my Dutch is pretty weak, but fortunately Rachael is fluent so I’ll have to make sure she proofs my Dutch spelling! But we did buy bells right away and have been ringing them often. Gabriel, thanks for the advice; as fans of the WPA work in Oregon (Timberline Lodge in particular) we’ll absolutely check out the stained glass dome in Nijmegen. And yes, Jeroen, we’re totally inspired by what we’re seeing on the bike paths of Holland. We’ll be posting more to thedutchcommute.com soon (so much to do!) so keep in touch!


  • July 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Meredith Sobel says

    That is so exciting. I just moved to Long Island from New York City and I am a bike commuter. I biked all over NYC over bridges throughout the 5 boros. Now on Long Island I discover most neighborhoods have no sidewalks let alone bike lanes. I run in the street, occasionally passing another runner or walker – but mostly on my own getting honked by cars and yelled at for taking up space. I ride in the street. Apparently Long Island has some hills, which is nice – good for the circulatory system – but also several inpatient drivers who don’t realize sometimes it takes a second to get back on the pedal when stopped. I will persevere in my new surroundings, I mean I biked in Boston, so this is nothing…but its no nice to hear about bike friendly cities!

  • July 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Eugénie says

    alex I am loving the updates, thank you! will you send pics of people on bikes, from all generations? I think that is my favorite part of the bike culture in Europe, so different from over here, to see much older people cruising around with such agility. can’t think of the last time I saw an octogenarian cruising around portland…probably never?

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