Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bicycles in Europe

In 2003, Lyndy and I flew to Amsterdam and spent 5 or 6 days in Europe.  We rented a car (actually more of a European-style minivan) and drove about 900 miles through Holland, Germany, and France.  Our trip began and ended in Amsterdam.  The city is built in what was originally the ocean before the dikes were built to increase the available land.  Even with the dikes though, water containment was a problem.  So, in the 1600's, they got busy and channeled all the remaining water into rings of canals surrounding the city center.  This helped them to control the water and provided land to build upon.  As you walk through Amsterdam it alternates- street, canal, street, canal.  There are 1,900 bridges in this one city!

In the photo above I am standing on one of the bridges looking down the channel of one of the larger canals.  Because of it's location Amsterdam is very flat.  The only hills of any kind are the slopes up and down getting on and off the bridges.  As a result, there are thousands of people riding bikes.  I'm sure that's also partly due to the fact that it's an ancient place with narrow streets not designed with cars in mind.  But also, with it so flat, it's very easy to ride around town.  As you might imagine, with so many bicycles in use, they are parked everywhere. You can see several of them alongside me here as I stare pensively into the middle distance.

I believe most of the bikes in the photo above are in long-term parking, probably by people working all day in nearby stores.  I say that because these bikes appear to all have bike locks on them.  However, we noticed that when people are just jumping off their bike and going into a store or a restaurant, they don't lock them.  They just put them on the kickstand in front of a store and go in.  There's no need to worry.  They don't get stolen.  People didn't seem the slightest bit worried about someone taking them because nobody is going to steal your bike.  Well I come from a place where bikes do get stolen, so I didn't let their quaint notions hold me back.  Though after I had stolen about 7 of them I had to admit to myself that it was just too easy to be really much of a thrill after all.

OK, I was kidding at the end there, but I wasn't kidding about bikes not being locked.  Here are some parked in front of a store in Amsterdam.  You'll note that few, if any, have locks.  You'll also note a McDonald's, something we saw in all three countries.  What we did not see were many mountain bikes.  Most all looked like what everyone around here was riding in the 1950's.  I guess simple, sturdy, and reliable is what they want, though on those cobblestone streets I think I'd still want my GT Palomar.

 In this action photo a couple chicks are riding their bikes through town, heading to work or maybe college.  On the far left a woman is bicycling along one-handed while deftly carrying an armload of shopping.  On the right, leaning against the greengrocer, is a parked, unlocked bike, which I later stole. 

Bicycles for transportation are very common in Europe.  We saw them in abundance everywhere we went.  As a parting shot, here's a sight you just don't see in the U.S.  Check out this bicycle parking lot I photographed in Heidelberg, Germany:

Click to enlarge & guess the number of bikes. Winner gets a new car.


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