Selling biking to the Dutch

That’s like selling air conditioning in Arizona, right?

If ever there’d be ads for bicycling in the US, I suppose they’d feature locations the actors drove to, and a whole lot of Lycra®/Spandex® and/or trouser clips, or at least helmets, because, you know, cars bikes are dangerous. Dutch bicycle advocacy ads, in contrast, feature barefoot couples making out on a (single) bike, helmetless children on bikes, business suits and dresses on bikes blasting through motor traffic, Saddam Hussein in prison dreaming of riding a bike and shooting George Bush, and the addictive/pathetic qualities of drivers and driving, such as of the obese oaf who responds “auto” to Rorschach blots of genitalia and bikes alike, as well as the possibility of a car bomb taking you out. “Bicyclists live longer.” Um, in the elevator scene the drivers are hearing about their cars being towed or somesuch, while the happy guy in back is holding the key to a bike lock. Here you go (via BikePortland):

Want more? Here’s a photo essay by an American tourist in Amsterdam of the local biking habits. Much of the text is erroneous, but the comments sort that out mostly, and the errors are interesting just as indication of a profound cultural divide. Nice pictures anyway.

I’ve got to leave for Earth Day now, gotta beat the traffic. Parking was insane in previous years.

40 thoughts on “Selling biking to the Dutch”

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 23, 2007 at 5:38 am

    With all due respect to the Dutch, I have a good friend who is a nurse in a neurorehab unit; most of his patients are victims of closed-head trauma. It is not pretty. I never take my bike out without a helmet; I'd rather look like a mushroom than be a vegetable.

    Also, two on a bike and biking barefoot are both just stupid and dangerous. What if the girl's dress had gotten caught in the spokes of her boyfriend's bike's rear wheel?

  • Val

    Bruce: I strongly recommend that you never travel to the Netherlansds, as you will be confronted and affronted by scenes like this many times per hour wherever you go. Strangely enough, the head trauma wards there are not full of cyclists; they tend not to fall on their heads, whether cycling or not. As for the skirt, what do you think the skirt guards are for?

  • Todd

    Bruce, this is the fourth or fifth time you've used that mushroom/vegetable line on this blog, and not the first time you've mentioned your friend who deals with head trauma. And we know that West Virginia isn't called the Mountain State for nothing! Please try to avoid this level of repetition out of respect for readers here.

    I don't need any convincing that brain injury is ugly; nobody does. Talk about brains splattered over streets, life as a vegetable and so on, so frequent in helmet advocates' sermonettes, are similarly beside the point. Even the debatable effectiveness of bike helmets in preventing injury is a secondary line of argument, but let's say I agree that they work. If you want all this scary talk to have any persuasive traction, you need first to demonstrate that riding a bicycle without a helmet is significantly more likely to produce such gruesome outcomes than many other activities for which nobody wears helmets, like bathing and walking, and that nobody would think to. Be sure to filter out the cases that don't apply in my case and probably not in those of most readers here: sport riders, drunk riders, unlit riders, wrong-way riders, sidewalk riders, child riders.

    You say you respect the Dutch, but how is it that they aren't all vegetables by now? How is it that they have a much lower injury rate than in the (minuscule) helmet-wearing segment of the biking world? It's because they aren't afraid; it's because they subsequently ride a lot; it's because they've shaped their infrastructure and laws to support this virtuous cycle. I wish we were more like them. I see zealous helmet advocacy as a step further away whose net effect will be to make cycling less safe.

    I'm not anti-helmet. I wear, and recommend the wearing of helmets under certain conditions and for certain people, some or even all the time if it means they ride more. Similarly, I support the wearing of bullet-proof vests for SWAT team members on duty, shoppers in Baghdad, etc. I mean, you wouldn't want shrapnel in your liver would you? WOULD YOU?! My buddy in Petrolistan was saved by his vest. I do oppose a thoughtless insistence on everybody wearing body armor all the time when engaging in what are in fact relatively safe, healthy activities, and especially compulsory legislation.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 23, 2007 at 7:06 am

    It would be wonderful if our culture were as bicycle-friendly as that of the Netherlands, but I don't see it happening. The Netherlands are a small, flat country. We are a large and (to a great extent) mountainous one. Outside of a few big cities, many of us live too far away from where we need to go to bicycle. For example, some relatives of mine own a dairy farm in northern Indiana and must drive 40-50 miles to go almost anywhere they need to go. Here in Charleston, there are streets far too steep for biking, except perhaps by a trained athelete on a very high end machine; there is no way that a heavy bike, singlespeeded or with only a very few gears, could make it, especially with an ordinary person on it; this is not the only place where such conditions apply. Also, motorists here have forgotten, if they ever knew, that cyclists have every right to be on the road; there are many streets where the traffic will not allow safe biking. True, the law says that cyclists have every right to be on the road; that is small comfort to those of us who end up as road pizza.

    Can transportational cycling become a larger part of the mix here? In some parts of the country, assuredly. Will the automobile [bicycle -- ed] replace the private motorcar as the preferred means of transportation? I really can't see it.

    As for helmets, I have seen too many people with severe neurological damage from closed head traumas to ever get on my bike without one. I myself when I was 12 went over the handlebars of my bike and gave myself a severe concussion, and the doctor said that my guardian angel had been working overtime that it hadn't been worse. After that my parents insisted I wear a helmet, and I have done so ever since.

  • Bill Manewal

    I'll stay out of the helmet controversy (I wear one), but I'd like to speak to the opinion that the bicycle will never replace the private motorcar as the preferred means of transportation.

    It has for me.

    And I live in a large city (800K), famous for the number and steepness of its hills (San Francisco), and I ride a heavy bike (100 lbs.), and I haul about 30 lbs of gear for my job, and I'm not a trained athlete (63 years old). I also have a commute plus on-the-job distances that add up to between 25 and 40 miles per day.

    So how could this anomaly have come to be?

    I'm a visiting nurse and it takes me an extra hour a day to look for parking places when using said private motorcar. Plus the inevitable $60 ticket for staying too long in a given parking place. Plus the road rage and the lack of exercise that cuts into my well-being. Gasoline here is currently $3.65 a gallon. (What will happen when it inevitably goes to over $10 a gallon? Will the private motorcar advocates really go for a $200 fill-up?)

    And, oh yes, all those hills so conspicuously absent the the Netherlands... well that's where Stokemonkey comes in. Yes, I'm hauling my total vehicle/rider/cargo weight of over 300 lbs. up the very steepest of San Franisco's hills, and yes, I'm hauling 4 bags of groceries home at night, over a distance of 15 miles, and I'm not even sweating much thanks to the miracle of electromagnetism.

    While my colleagues are spending $90 a week in automobile costs, I'm spending about 50 cents for electricity.

    Another part of the equation is the motorists' attitudes about the cyclist's right to be on the road.

    I started biking in San Francisco in 1968 and remember motorists yelling at me to get off the road. Well, thanks to bicycle activism (Critical Mass etc), and thanks mainly to hundreds of cyclists taking up the common sense idea that cycling makes in an urban environment, motorists in 2007 are MUCH more likely to a) see me and my bike, b) recognize what they are seeing, c) respect my rights. It may help that I don't ride like an a-hole too.

    So my suggestion (for Charleston and points beyond) is ride, encourage others to ride, get politically organized and active in local government, and start the ball rolling so that it can pick up momentum and before too much longer, economic circumstances may well propel cycling into the preferred means of transportation. I can see it.

  • Bill Manewal

    And speaking of safety and cars. They kill about 120 of us each day. (Not counting cancer and stress-induced disease, and closed-head injuries and the cooking of our only lovely planet).

    We are so habituated to our car-head thinking that we have collectively blocked out this gruesome fact.

    I mean would anybody in their right mind take an airplane trip if, the in news, it were reported each and every week, that a 747 crashed every 3 days?

  • Val

    The total number of head injuries in a given year in the US that is related to bicycle crashes amounts to less than 1% (one percent) of all head injuries. The total number of head injuries that are related to automobile crashes amounts to more than 50% (fifty percent) of all head injuries. If you are serious about looking like a mushroom rather than ending up as a vegetable, you should not think of getting into a car without a helmet. If there's a chance that it could save your life, what possible reason could there be not to do it? If lawnmowers killed as many people as cars, you'd be arrested for owning one.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 24, 2007 at 6:53 am

    Bill, as I understand it San Francisco has a very moderate climate. I can't see a bicycdle as being practical during a Minnesota January or a Texas July; one would freeze to death in the former case, and get heatstroke in the latter. And what about people who live out in the boondocks, like my cousins in Indiana? Biking 30 miles to go shopping, 20 miles to church, or 50 miles to the doctor is hardly practical.

    The Stokemonkey is a marvelous invention, and I am saving my pennies for one, but it is a)only for a specific type of bicycle (the Xtracycle) and is financially out of reach for many people. Yes, it is less expensive than a car, but one can finance a car; I asked my Credit Union for a loan to get a Stokemonkey, and they would extend only a personal loan, on much less favorable terms than a loan for a car. It would be wonderful if financial instituitons were willing to finance bicycles, especially highly specialized ones like the Xtracycle (with or without a Stokemonkey), the Dutch beikfiets, or HPM or Lightfoot Cycles products, but I don't see it happening.

  • Val

    Bruce: Why are you even looking at this blog? You seem determined to convince everyone that bicycles are unsafe and impractical, and that we should just resign ourselves to using cars because we can't change the way the world is made. The purpose of most of us is to do our best to change what we can, not to prove that it can't be changed. For what it's worth, even though you can't imagine it, quite a few people who live in Minnesota and in south Texas find bicycles to be quite practical year round. Quite a few of us also find it quite practical to ride the very distances that you propose as preposterous. If you are looking for excuses not to do any of this, that's fine; excuses are cheap. We won't insist that you ride your bike. Please don't insist that we won't be able to.

  • Jim

    I've been getting around by bicycle in Minnesota for the past 3 winters, and I love it. A lot of locals and nonlocals assume anybody who rides a bike in that weather may be either nuts or some kind of superman. What everybody tends to forget is that the worst weather is not the average weather. Sure, some days are -20F and some days have a foot of snow on the street. Those days make it difficult to be a cyclist, and I usually just try to stay inside until things improve. But I can count the number of those days on one hand for a typical winter cycling season. Most of the winter in Minnesota is great for cycling. Those of us who do it (and there are LOTS of us) wouldn't give it up.

    I think there are two general approaches to using a bicycle instead of a car. One approach is to simply use a bicycle for all the uses for which one might otherwise have used a car. If this is the approach one takes, it's easy to get discouraged by the relative difficulty of a 40-mile bicycle commute over 18% hills in bad weather while suffering from physical ailments. The second approach is to reconfigure one's lifestyle such that the distances and difficulty are on the scale of what a normal human on a bicycle can reasonably expect to handle without undue exertion. This means making distances shorter, easier, and more tolerable in adverse conditions. Living 40 miles from work with a big snowy mountain in the way is a lifestyle choice that is made possible/tolerable for the average person only by the implementation of internal combustion. I see the choice to live in this way as incompatible with a bicycling lifestyle, though stokemonkey certainly pushes the boundaries.

    We all have choices to make about how we live. Here in flat Minnesota, the weather is great in late May, and the cycling infrastructure where I live is pretty great. Yet the vast, vast majority of people choose to drive rather than ride a bike. I live within 2 blocks of the location of my business, and there are no physical impediments between home and work. I walk to work everyday - it takes less than 5 minutes. My business neighbors all live a similar distance from their shops, and they all choose to drive their cars to work regardless of the weather. It blows my mind, but they all think I'm a bit odd for walking to work.

  • Bill Manewal

    Bruce Alan writes: "I can’t see a bicycdle as being practical during a Minnesota January or a Texas July."

    Maybe you need glasses, friend!

    I rode a bike all through an Indiana winter. Freeze to death? Not likely if you're using your muscles hard. I usually had to get out of my parka within 10 minutes of cycling. Protect fingers, toes and ears, and away I went.

    I grew up in Dallas and rode a bike 10 miles each way to a summer job in 100+ heat. Heat stroke? No, but I DID sweat a lot! Nowadays, of course, we have cooling technology that can be incorporated into shirts and caps, so there's not much excuse left.

    And comparing the need for a car loan to what's required to buy a Stokemonkey/Xtracycle and slap them on to pretty much any mountain bike... doesn't have much traction with me. I went with REALLY expensive components, like a Rohloff hub, and STILL my bike costs less than 3 years of insurance for a car. If you're telling me it's impossible to save a couple of thousand dollars so you can ditch the money sink hole that is your car, I think you have may have problems that are beyond this blog to address. We all do what we want, one way or another. I'm glad to hear you're saving your pennies. You'll get there... if you want.

    It all comes down to, as Jim says, our choices. Jim Kunstler's phrase of Happy Motoring Utopia that led us to the suburbs and absurd commutes (I have a friend who does 120 miles each way!) was, after all, a choice, albeit a largely unconscious one. Now, with Peak Oil consequences, with global warming, with respiratory disease, with killing and maiming on our highways, with road rage and skyrocketing insurance and medical bills, many of us are making other choices. I hope you can see your way to joining us.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 24, 2007 at 11:18 am

    My car hasn't been out of the garage in a couple of months. I use my Xtracycle extensively, and my Trek Mountaineer quite a bit also. I am considered mildly eccentric, if not downright wierd, by most people; people admire me, but do not imitate.

    I am known in the area as a bicycle advocate; a couple of months ago the local paper published an editorial I wrote about the virtues of bicycling.

    Nevertheless, I realize that bicycling is not for everyone.

    There are people who are physically incapable of bicycling; my late father, the last few years of his life, if he hadn't his car would have been housebound.

    And not everyone can live in the center city, e.g. my relatives who farm. (If you must criticize farmers, make sure your mouth isn't full.)

    A lady I sing with in the church choir is what used to be called the 'Sight Saving Teacher'; she goes to the various public schools in the county to help teachers deal with mainstreamed blind and visually impared kids. Some days she spends half the day at one school and half at another at opposet ends of the county. It would be physically impossible for her to get from one to the other by bicycle; even Lance Armstrong would find it difficult, much less a plump middle-aged lady like her.

    If everyone lived within cycling distance to work and other places they needed to be, and if every place had a temperate climate, and every place were relatively flat, and everyone were physically able to ride a bike, yes, the bicycle could almost completely displace the automobile. But, as the old saying goes, "If 'ifs' and 'ans' were pots and pans, there'd be small need of tinkers."

    Now, could more people use the bicycle than presently do? Yes. Should they be encouraged to do so? Assuredly, yes. Should we lobby legislative and regulatory bodies to make cycling more practical? Yes, of course. However, the idea of a car-free America is a pipe dream.

    (Honestly, would you refuse to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance if you were sick or injured because it was powered by the EEEVIL internal combustion engine? I bet everything in your house was transported there at least partially in the chain from raw materials to manufacture, to distribution, to wholesale, to retail, to delivery by truck.)

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 24, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Bill M.: "I grew up in Dallas and rode a bike 10 miles each way to a summer job in 100+ heat. Heat stroke? No, but I DID sweat a lot!"

    And I bet your colleagues LOVED working next to you. I don't know what kind of job it was, but many workplaces frown on BO in employees.

    I cycle to work myself. I recently turned down a promotion because the new job would require me to travel all over the state to our various branches--driving.

    I will be driving this weekend, as I will be visiting my aunt in Lexington, KY; too far to cycle, I think even you will agree.

  • Erik Sandblom

    Bruce, you say "the idea of a car-free America is a pipe dream". What's wrong with dreaming?

    Did you see the Wall Street Journal bike propaganda? They had a chart of cities and their share of bike commuting. It's fully 20% in Boulder. What if that were a national average, rather than just one town? That would be huge!

    Weather is seldom the problem it's made out to be. Umeå, Sweden, pop. 100 000 and 63° lattitude, has a bicycling rate of 17% (of all journeys made) even though average temperature in February is -8°C (18F).

    Regarding sweat, the simple solution is to change shirts in the washroom on arrival if necessary (it often isn't).

    I think cotton might be one of those car-head things that make people think bicycling is strenuous and sweaty. Cotton absorbs moisture and does not breathe when wet. Most clothes in ordinary stores are made of cotton. I recently got some merino wool undershirts and some polyester ones. They are GREAT, because you can be slightly under- or overdressed and still not get very sweaty or cold. You can wear anything you like over them, so you can dress businessy or hip or whatever. Wool doesn't abolish sweat, but it's _way_ better than cotton.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 25, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Eric, dreaming is good. However, we have to live in the real world. "Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics try to live in them, and psyhiatrists collect the rent."

    We can and should take steps to increase the use of human-powered (or human-powered with electrical supplementation); but no matter what we do, cars will still have a significant place in our society. Considerations of time, distance, bulk, and physical condition will make some necessary trips possible only by car.

  • Mauricio Babilonia

    Bruce wrote:

    There are people who are physically incapable of bicycling; my late father, the last few years of his life, if he hadn’t his car would have been housebound.

    Bruce, this has come up before:

    to which I responded:

    [C]ould you cite an example where someone here has argued that we should abandon all motorized transport even for the infirm or those in need of emergency care? Because if you can’t, these are the same old specious, fear-mongering arguments that get rolled out any time someone dares suggest there should be any sort of alternative mode of transportation be given parity with the car by public policy.

    The problem [as I see it] is not the use of motorized transportation for the aged or infirm, ambulances, or even the occasional visit to a distant relative or friend. The problem, as I see it, are the daily, multiple, long backups of single-occupant motor vehicles, even on the most beautiful cycling days, for commutes that average (in my municipality) about four miles. The problem is a coworker who drives 3 minutes to get to a restaurant across the street that I can walk to in 5 minutes.

    It’s not the existence or the use of motor vehicles that bothers me (since I too own one); it’s the utterly unmitigated scope and scale of their use, and the attitude that proclaims such use to be some sort of inalienable right.

    And the thinking that assumes the motor vehicle is a given; as Kunstler put it, (to paraphrase):

    [C]ar-crazy infrastructure for everyday life, and all the activities supporting it, [is what] most Americans now living regard as the natural and normal medium for human existence, as salt water is the natural and normal medium for squid.

    So I agree that most Americans think this way, but there are two different definitions of "car-free" that inhabit discussions like this. I think it's a difference worth quantifying...

  • Bill Manewal

    dreams can always do more than deeds could ever dream. e.e. cummings

  • Martina

    Hi Bruce,
    I am involved in organizing the Carfree Conference in Portland and our part of our group grumbled (ok me and few others!) about the "car-free", because it sounds a little to exclusive for our taste.
    I think we can agree, that we use cars often mindlessly in situations where biking, walking, skateboarding, roller blading, scootering or public transportation would do, too.
    I hope our conference will educate Americans how life can be less car-centric, but I also hope that the visiting European scholar will get a better understanding of the American problems (mainly the long distances, different climates, different solcial structures) and help us to come up with solutions. ...and these solutions have to be far-reaching into how we plan our cities, how we live together and what is acceptable in our society...

    Here are my dreams:
    - More horse/pony buggies in rural areas
    - Sub divisions with small market squares/super markets
    - More tele- instead of car-commuting
    - Integrated living for elderly and people with physical challenges
    - Social acceptance of a little BO and grease stains after your 20-mile bike commute

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson May 26, 2007 at 7:20 am

    Martina, I was (essentially) hounded off of a Car-Free discussion list because I pointed out that for some people in some situations a car is necessary (distance, climate, terrain, physical disability, etc.), so perhaps I am a little over-sensitive, but I agree that 'car-free' is a loaded term.

    Reviving the use of horses might be a problem; keeping a horse can be more expensive than keeping a car (feeding, vet bills, etc.) and certainly more labor-intensive (shoveling feed into one end and shoveling something else away from the other), and presenting environmental issues. (I have read that a major sanitation issue in NY and other large cities in the mid to late 19th C was what to do with all the horse droppings.)

    (Of course, I have long said that farmers ought to be encouraged to set up methane extractors, burn it for electricity, and sell the power to the local co-op; the residue could be used for fertilizer, having the advantage over raw manure that it is less odiferous.)

    I would like to see more suburban cul-de-sacs connected by bike/pedestrian paths. One often, to get to a house a few yards from one's own, go 'all around Robin's barn', even if one chooses to cycle or walk (and the distance by road may be too far, or may involve using an arterial street where walking or cycling would be [or would be percieved as being] suicidal.) Look at an aerial photograph of a typical suburban development and you'll see what I mean.

  • Martina

    Oh I know about cul-de-sacs-- I watched "Death of Suburbia" years ago - Todd had a blog entry on it, too.
    ... and yes, having a horse and buggy has its own problems and is not for everyone.
    But I just want to point out, that we use many forms of transportation only as "sport" where they actually might be good car-alternatives (such as riding and skateboarding). And yes, horse shit is annoying and smelly, but it can be also used as a natural fertilizer.
    Again, I don't propose horse/buggy as a solution for New York, but as a creative solution for some. We can't replace all car by one magic solution, but we can reduce the use.
    As for your example with older and incapacitated people: If we change our social behavior/services, cleaning a stable or bringing these persons a good way to maintain human interaction.
    Again, nothing fits every situation, but it doesn't mean that we can't find a solution for most situations...

  • Bruce Alan Wilson
    Bruce Alan Wilson June 3, 2007 at 10:07 am

    When I talked about being 'hounded' off of a car-free group, I meant things like when I said that I had to take my father to the VA hospital which was 50 miles away, they said, "You CHOSE to live 50 miles away from the hospital." (Of course, my JOB is here in Charleston, and there didn't happen to be any openings for my field in Huntington, where the hospital is; never mind that the hospital is on the outskirts and not really accessible by bike.)

    When I pointed out that I needed to use a truck when I moved into my current place at least for the piano, they said, "Well, you shouldn't have a piano." Well, excuse me. I'm a muscician. (Not by profession, but a strong avocation.) A piano is one of the 'tools of the trade,' as it were.

    And so it went. Whenever I pointed out a task or purpose for which having a car was necessary (or at least that not having a car would be supremely inconvenient), they said, "Well, you shouldn't be doing that anyway."

    I left the group when I was told that if I drove a car I was a terrorist, or at least an accomplice to terrorism.

    So, you can see why I am sometimes sensitive when people suggest that having a car and using it makes one a bad person.

  • Bill Manewal

    Well, Bruce, I certainly hope you don't find any hounding here.

    It's so easy for us (me) to be right, righteous, self-righteous. Some of us humans are so right, right, dead right: all joy and humor and flexibility have withered.

    I think, as Martina points out, it's a matter of perspective, scale and appropriateness. And we don't have to be bike-nazis or bike-puritans to want to contribute to saving our earth in as many ways as we can. Sure, I have a 12-year old van that I use for big things and longer trips, but I certainly don't grocery shop, run simple errands, commute with it.

    We, that is, the whole planet of human beings, are facing unprecedented demands our our thinking, our behavior, our social organization, and on our economic systems if we are to survive as a species. Nailing an individual for not be in a lockstep with some preconceived pattern to which "The Solution" must adhere doesn't strike me as useful.

    So I appreciate your sharing with us your history around this subject. If your car hasn't been out of the garage in a couple of months, I'd say your part of the solution.

    Maybe we shouldn't set up a straw man target (absolution no internal combustion engines for any purpose at any time) and then waste time shooting it down.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation in a productive way.

  • Bill Manewal

    That should have read "absolutely" in the second to last paragraph instead of "absolution". [I'm not in the priest business!]

  • fred

    I'm in the group of car-free by choice, but it's more like car-extremely-light. I tend to be a bit extreme, but realistically I can recognize people can't always ride
    instead of driving. I've "had" to drive a motor vehicle a few times in the last year, but I don't expect to be struck down by lightning for doing so.

    Those who would push a completely car-free existence might overlook the benefit if more of the population simply pedaled one-third or one-half of their travels!


  • IanO

    I would be all over humorous ads like this being shown on the local Portland stations. I wonder if there are any folks in the Portland bike scene who have the resources to produce them?

  • Val

    Not meaning to poke the bear or anything, but this guy is a freind of mine: I think he could use a Stokemonkey.

  • Tbird

    Ok, I have to admit I'm slow, but that video is GOOD STUFF!

    In reply to the commenters who are concerned with no Helmets, barefoot riding and the ubiquitous double on a single. Let me just say; When you separate Cars and Bikes (like really separate, with something more than a painted stripe), the 'danger' of these things simply fades away. The reason for helmets here is not that biking is dangerous, it's the Cars, man.
    'Fietsers Leven Langer..' I love that!

  • JosH—

    the rear wheel on the black bike is extremely out of true on the third video!

  • Todd

    that's a luxury of non-rim brakes, eh? the level of abuse tolerance of dutch bikes continues to impress itself upon me as i work on them. conversely, i'm seeing for what it is the kind of fragility and maintenance burden we tolerate in typical US-market bikes in the name of gram-shaving or other largely irrelevant race-hyped features.

  • Jim

    Just today I had what is a fairly common experience for me:

    Customer comes in looking for a "commuting bike". I explain the virtues of durable wheels, tire clearance, fender/rack capability, etc. I show him things like Surly Long Haul Truckers and Cross-Checks. Customer reveals that he has a thing for low spoke-count wheels and other stuff more befitting a sexy weekend racer than a daily workhorse. He tells me that he's been looking at some low-end race-ish bike from Trek/Specialized/Giant/Etc. I tell him about the increased maintenance hassles and costs of ultralight parts, about lack of tire clearance and versatility, etc. But he's already sold on a bike with no rack/fender mounts, wimpy wheels, skinny tire clearance, etc. Oh well. I'll make up for the lost sale with repairs, at least.

  • Bodosan

    I stumbled upon (o; your blog, but I do often search for bicycle related stories (the picture story you point out at I greatly enjoyed; the video I already knew, but is still nice to watch). I'm not a carhater as such, but I don't have a driverslicense so biking is my natural means of transport (within 15 kilometers). When distances are farther I take the bus or a train. In Amsterdam where I live riding a bike is almost as fast as a car and parking is a lot! easier. Imo a bike could do very well in most cities. In Amsterdam more than 40 % of all traficmovements are by bicycle and there is some pressure in this respect (in particular in the centre) to use a bicycle because of rising parkingfees. We don't have broad lanes and the centre is cut through with a lot of canals. In these circumstances a car is often trapped (when others are loading/unloading), but on a bicycle you can pass. Cold weather is not a real problem because the bicycling keeps you quite warm. In this time of year I'm a littke sweaty when arriving at work, but I cool of quickly. I have two bikes: a dutch Gazelle is my main bike. It's strong, heavy and made from lugged iron tubes. It has a Sturmey Archer classic gearhub with 5 positions and breaks we call 'trommelremmen' (I don't know the english word, but the breaking is at the axle of the wheel). My other bike is a Giant aluminum bike with a derailleur. Helmets are not common; sometimes little children are seen wearing them, but most don't. I think the difference with helmet advocating opinions is in the perception of safety. We don't see bicycle riding a something unsafe, so why would you wear a helmet? In Germany handcalling on a bike is prohibited, but in the Netherlands, although there is a discussion about this, a certain consensus says that there aren't many accidents with handcalling bikers, so let them do so. I personally am aganst handcalling on a bike. I think people concentrate to much on the call and forget to watch out. But we do tend to do a lot on our bikes besides biclycling (o;. One odd thing is the word 'fiets' we use, because there is no reference in any other language (although some suggest a link with the french word for speed 'vitesse'). Other European langages use a form of cycle (german 'fahrrad' or french 'bicyclette' for instance).

  • Neil

    > ‘trommelremmen’ (I don’t know the english word, but the breaking is at the axle of the wheel).

    babalfish (altavista) translates it as "drum brakes", which is what your description sounded like. Though you do get straight forward drum brake, a back pedal brake (seemed to be called coaster brakes these days :( ), or roller brakes (not sure exactly what these are).

    By handcalling, I assume you mean using your mobile phone.

    BTW - Some of the Amsterdam cycle lanes appear just as bad as ones in UK i.e. pass the door zone, or too narrow etc (sorry can't find the URL of the recent clip I saw showing some bad expamples). Is the main safety feature just the shear numbers of cyclists and therefore expectation from motorists that cyclists will be around?

  • Neil

    doh - just after posting I found the URL

    It shows some quite poor cycle lanes (in the door zone or even blocked by the parked cars). Cars cutting into the bike lane (presumably because of the tram line) and all sorts of chaos and nastiness that we expect from our less cycle-centric places but Amsterdam is always held up as a shining example.

    So is that video showing some unusually poor facilities. Or do you think the main safety factor is in numbers i.e. expectation of car drivers.

  • Tbird

    My experience in the NED was they have very strong Cyclist R.O.W. laws. I was told by my local bike shop in the Hague that almost no matter what has happened leading up to an accident between car and bike, it is always assumed the car was at fault, and therefore liable. Also, as a rule the Dutch seem to have an inherent ( or maybe it's learned ;)) awareness that there will be a bike coming along at any second, so look out (let op!) Your right, some bike lanes are similarly arranged as you would see in other less enlightened places. But it's how the drivers deal with bikes in those situations that really make your eyes open wide.

    When we first moved to the Hague my partner and I were out exploring the city via bike and came to a stop at a busy crossing. Being the well trained Americans that we are we stood patiently waiting for Car traffic to subside long enough for us to cross. We then watched in utter amazement as a little old lady casually coasted past us, and across the traffic not slowing one bit. Traffic immediately halted and she continued on unimpeded. Still it took a few weeks of cautious crossings to feel comfortable executing what we had witnessed.
    I think it has as much to do with educating the auto-centric folks about bike traffic, as it does building a better bike lane for safer travel, so to speak. Both are equally important.

  • Bodosan

    Tbird is right on the cyclist laws and also the vast number of cyclists creates a form of selfconfidence (sometimes a bit to much) when cycling through traffic. It is certainly true that there are poor cycle lanes and bad traffic situations for cyclists but there is a continuing action to signal bad lanes with the 'fietsersbond' (bicycle organisation), which in turn demands the authorities to do something about those lanes. Imo the mentioned video shows some quite easy biking (biker with umbrella). Sometimes cars park a little on the lane, but often official parkinglots are next to the lane (watch the striping carefully), so it's not strange to see parked cars next to a bicycle lane (cars have to watch out when opening doors!; there is NO doorzone). But I agree there is still a lot a cyclist can wish for, even a shining example has its dents. But in the way cycling is accepted and considered a normal form of transport the example stands. Neil thanks for your comment about the brakes. I'm sure they are drum brakes (trommel means drum). The roller brakes are a much later development. At this link the shimano roller brake is explained

  • Bruce A. Wilson
    Bruce A. Wilson June 15, 2007 at 6:54 am

    "Val Says:

    June 4th, 2007 at 8:20 pm
    Not meaning to poke the bear or anything, but this guy is a freind of mine: I think he could use a Stokemonkey."

    It gets him there and brings him Bach.

  • Bruce Wilson

    I wish that I had known about this while my late father was still alive. We could have had a great deal of fun with this.

    None of the social workers, physical therapists, visiting nurses, or other professionals we worked with mentioned that such a machine existed.

    I suspect that the Durable Medical Equipment people feel nervous about the bicycle aspect of the Duet, while the bike shops feel nervous about the medical aspect.

    The ideal solution would be if a DME company and a bike shop would come to some agreement by which the DME would take care of the insurance aspect (assuming that insurance would cover it while subcontracting the maintainance of the bicycle part to the bike shop.)

  • Tom Manseau

    Heck, sell bikes to the Dutch? I want bikes to be sold as good general transport in the states! I want middle aged people to remember what it was like to "fly" like a 6 year old again.
    Biketopia doesn't yet exist, sorry folks! Having been nearly run over by a driver of the dreaded SUV in broad daylight more than once, I can vouch. Not even riding a bright yellow bike & wearing a yellow helmet & dayglow yellow jacket helped. Only my loud voice gets through to these folks. And in Maine where the "official" vehicle is the Ford F150, this can be a really bad day. Lesson: car drivers are dangerous and are NEVER cited for their recklessness. The real issue is extremely poor driver education when dealing with cyclists, motorcyclists, and other users of the roads.
    Anyone got suggestions on how to hook up with motorcyclists and lobby together more effectively? Just a thought as we share the road and have many of the same goals and issues.
    I've needed a couple of helmets, and gotten away with only a couple of scrapes, thank you Bell. One was for mountain biking, the other was because of a car (hood skating anyone?) But it's your head;)
    What will drive change? In the end, fuel and vehicle costs. Even with a decent income, cars are a skyrocketing expense. E-bikes are constantly improving. I've seen the looks on non-cyclists faces when they've ridden them. It's like they're 6 again! But the really dramatic change will be a viable, energy dense battery. Batteries are improving slowly. But when the range improves and charge times drop, electric vehicles will replace a large percentage of the internal combustion engine market. I just hope to see it. I hope to see solar chargers sold along w/ the e-vehicles too.

  • Mike

    I too have thought about tying into that motorcycle lawn sign ("Motorcycles are everywhere!") campaign, but after riding in S. Vt. the weekend of Laconia Bike Week I;ve come to the realization that motorcyclists have more in common with drivers than with cyclists. 2 wheels are the only connecting trait - the speed, aggressive acceleration and traffic riding tactics, and the god awful noise all fall into car camp. And remember that most aren't all that efficient...

  • Dave

    I like several comments found in that guy's Amsterdam photo essay thingy....

    First, his rant against sidewall generators being so incredibly inefficient and horrific (he makes them sound like they will cause you to barely be able to pedal). I currently use one of these, and I only notice a very slight difference in the effort I need to pedal with it engaged.

    His comments about how he can't believe anyone would ride a bike with a long skirt/dress on :)

    Also, "kid in the suicide position in front" (it's only suicide if you're going 30mph towards a brick wall).

    His speculations about what the folding bicycles are is pretty funny :)

    I also loved the comment from one of the commenters on the article who loved all the "after market" accessories people put on their bikes so they could ride in normal clothes :)

Leave a Reply