Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Bicycle Built for One? Print

Written by Adrienne Smith

Nov. 26, 2014: Michael Bloomberg, Amsterdam is the place for you! Citi Bike may not be the success that the former mayor hoped for, but then New York bikers are at a relative disadvantage. In the capital of the Netherlands, and throughout the country, the two-wheeler is king. The automobilist there colliding with a two-wheeler is considered to be at fault, no matter what the circumstances. Bikers always have the right of way. In New York--no way.

As a continually jet-lagged traveler, I always have to think twice before crossing the street in foreign climes. There is, of course, England, together with its current and former possessions, which insists on a "wrong-way" traffic flow. In Vienna, trams often travel in the opposite direction to regular traffic. And in Bangkok, simply trying to get to the other side of the road becomes a life-or-death game of dodge ball.

Amsterdam is equally challenging. Bikes are everywhere and always aimed at you. Men, women, oldsters, young children all breeze by at top speed. Riders toting babies in Snuglis, tots in rear infant seats, grocery-laden carts, dog owners "walking" their dogs, cell phone texters, lovers holding hands, you name it. You can see every possible combination.

Most amazing is that what ought to be chaotic turns out to be amazingly safe. No helmets here. Children, friends can be draped on front wheels, skaters pulled at the rear. What is the secret?

Well, part of it is that there are dedicated bike lanes throughout Holland. Another is that the convenience of bike transport obviates the need for automobiles. A third just has to be the exquisite skill with which the riders negotiate their journeys, with a panache that should make a New York Chinese takeout deliveryman jealous.

The death toll for Amsterdam riders hovers at around six unlucky people a year, truly a marvel given the estimated one million bikes owned by city residents. Outside the city, the statistics are somewhat grimmer, mainly due to accidents at more rural intersections.

In the Netherlands as a whole, there are more bicycles than people. One-third of city residents ride their bikes to work and 60% use them for excursions in general.

My Amsterdam houseboat came with two bikes, but I could not summon up the courage to join the flow, perhaps because of a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. You see, several years ago, while on one of Viji George's fabulous Concordia College trips to India, our Indian guide, Viji, and I rushed to secure Taj Mahal tickets before the place closed for the night. As we broke through a gap in the crowd, a middle-aged local biker, who had clearly had a tough time with geometry in high school, rode right into me, despite the fact that there was considerable empty space to my right and left. I did a complete feet-over-head backward summersault and arose shakily, covered with roughly two-thirds of the skin I had possessed a moment before and containing what seemed like several fewer pints of blood.

I still flinch when I see a bike.

However, toward the end of my stay in the Netherlands, while out in the countryside, I mounted up and enjoyed a pleasant half hour riding through a beautiful, heather-covered national forest. No cars, few other cyclists. It was heaven. But, taking no chances, I'll leave further two-wheeling to the gym.

Pictured here: Bicycles in Amsterdam.

Photo by Adrienne Smith