Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Baby Steps

For the past few days I have been easing my way into Amsterdam's bicycle lanes. This is a feat which I was unable to fulfill last summer but have become determined to master by the end of my studies. Bicycling in Amsterdam can be very intimidating--especially when scooters (which are permitted to ride in the bicycle lane), automobiles, trams and pedestrians are either passing by or getting in your way. And not to mention the fact that there are no stop signs....well there's a few but they might as well not be there as no one pays mind to them.
Even the most seasoned of riders must pause to observe and learn from the circulatory dance that is in constant motion. From above, I imagine the traffic looking like a colony of leaf cutter ants at work (go here to watch ants). Somehow, despite its radial like roman road system, classic European narrow streets, and use of five different forms of transport, traffic in Amsterdam appears to harmoniously corroborate with itself--and I do not want to be the one to throwing off the pace...which is why I'm sticking with the training wheel stage.
Speaking of which, here's a picture of my very own Dutch bike! Okay so it's nothing glamorous and screams tourist but I've taken somewhat of a liking to it as it warns everyone to watch out for my inexperienced tourist arse...though I would not complain if it appeared less touristy.

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Our tour guide/trip coordinator, Dustin Bryant, told the class that it is common for city residents to have upwards to 5 bicycles! I don't know how someone can keep track of so many bikes--especially when these are placed sporadically throughout the city. I'm having enough trouble juggling one (you should see the parking here...like a needle in a haystack).
I wasn't too surprised when Dustin also mentioned that many of Amsterdam's bikes end up abandoned or "orphaned". Nearly every street has at least one fossilized bicycle on it--a sore eye for some and work of art for others. On a designated day, city workers travel throughout the city and tag bicycles in order to determine what bikes have been left to bicycle purgatory. After a period of time the workers return and collect all remaining tagged bicycles. I'm not too sure how often this happens but from the looks of it...it's not a regularly occurring event. 

Tagged Orphan Bike

Orphan bike

Speaking of bicycles, here are a few for you:

When I first came to Amsterdam,I foolishly assumed all bikes were alike as everyone appeared to be riding uprights (which is the dominant form of bicycle used--and is quite comfortable to ride. It's a completely different experience when comparing it to the typical bike you'd ride in the United States--bikes that force you to hunch over and be strained while riding) but, since my lengthened stay, I've actually begun to notice that the bikes here are as abundant and different as the fish in the sea (they're also just as "pretty" too). My favorites are the bikes that have seats for children near the front of the handle bars (left pic). At first observation I assumed this was a learning mechanism used to help stimulate bicycle awareness and skills but Dustin told me the practical reason is that young children simply ride upfront and the older ride in the back. And you should see these kids when they coast by...calm as Hindu cows. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon as mom (or dad) runs various errands throughout the city.

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