Lazily shuffling down the streets of Amsterdam, I was content to just take in the world around me. Ice blue water gently rippled outward from houseboats bobbing on the surface of the Dutch canal. A bird was bathing in the late afternoon sun, his tiny splashes catching the light and falling down like diamonds. My feet dragged along, eyes glued to the water.
I felt the violent gust of air first. A sharp wind whipped past me and tossed my hair in every direction. Loud bells rang out in disjointed harmony. I jumped backwards and watched as more than two dozen pairs of tires peeled off into the distance. That was the first time I was nearly run down by bikes in the streets of Amsterdam, but it certainly was not the last.
On average, 880,000 bikes—more than four times the amount of cars—can be found at any given time in the canal-side city. In fact, Amsterdam is home to 80,000 more bikes than people! It’s no question why this city is ranked as the most cycle-friendly in the world, but in my experience the cyclists themselves are less than friendly.
The Dutch riders are not the merciful type. I quickly learned that pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, and that bike lanes are virtually indistinguishable to the tourist eye. Carefully listening for the sound of bike-bell warnings, I looked both ways (and then looked both ways again…and again) before crossing any street or path. Every time I started to feel confident that I’d gotten the hang of dodging the two-wheeled speed demons, I’d step off the pavement only to be met with more ferocious ringing and a few unsavory comments that got lost in the wind of the bikers racing past me.
I did eventually get used to keeping a keen eye out for bike traffic, and in the end—despite our not-so-friendly encounters—the bikes and I put aside our differences in order to enjoy the beautiful city of Amsterdam. I even decided to see what the fuss was all about and rented a bike for the last day of my trip. Turns out it’s actually a really fun and efficient way to tour the ‘Dam city. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
Click here for more fun facts about the bikes of Amsterdam…