Bikes get a second life

Every few weeks, the news (Dutch or otherwise) seems to have an article about there being too many bikes in Amsterdam. Included amongst these are abandoned bikes, a good number of which are hastily dumped near Central Station. Dozens of studies have been conducted trying to understand why owners never come back, but with no real conclusions.

The local city government tends to remove bikes quickly, including illegally parked bikes, and even dredges the canals for them. This is referred to locally as bicycle fishing. According to city water authority Waternet, between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes are found in Amsterdam’s canals each year, victims of theft or vandalism.

What to do with these bikes? Bikes dredged up from the canals are made into scrap metal, yet another 30,000 bikes (useable ones) are left uncollected from the city’s central bike depot every year. Last year, the city sent 1400 bikes to the al Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, a camp full of 81,000 refugees. Arguably, another 28,600 bicycles could have also been shipped, but it’s a beautiful attempt to give both bikes and refugees a second chance.



Cycling in the Sun

I haven’t written a blog post since 2012–a thousand reasons for that. But I’m still cycling, still in Amsterdam, and the sun has encouraged me to pick up my efforts yet again. So Dam Bike Betty is back, this time with more air in her wheels….

It’s a sunny day, signalling the beginning of spring, so I’m heading out on a short trip along the Amstel River to Oudekerk-aan-den-Amstel, a nearby village. The lovely thing about being spontaneous in Holland is knowing you can cycle anywhere–it’s all FLAT, so no surprises. This is the kind of weather when everyone hits the streets, heads to the park (those with cars drive towards the beach, which is 10 km away) and on the route I’m taking, which is largely car-free, the little ones are out on their bikes, following their parents as they learn to cycle longer stretches.

As always, I love the freedom this machine gives me and wish readers a lovely day on their bikes!

It’s been awhile, but there’s always bike news!

I haven’t written in a long time–winter distracted me–but there is always more where bikes are concerned. Just noticed that Portland, Oregon will be having its 10th Anniversary Filmed by Bike  film festival showcasing bike-themed movies from around the world April 13-15th, so please get involved, at least online!

It is super cool that such events are perpetuating themselves, and globally, too. We don’t have a bike-related film festival in Amsterdam (I suppose we’ve become rather complacent here now that the fight has supposedly been won) but I support getting the message out there and my fellow cyclists’ efforts.

Thanks, Portland, for being so creative!

Life in the Bike Lane

As the Netherlands has proven, if you build it (bicycle infrastructure) they will come (13.4 million bicycle owners out of a population of 16 million.) That doesn’t mean everyone here cycles everyday—about 40 percent of daily journeys are still made by car, according to the country’s Fietsersbond or Bike Union—but even non-cyclists remain positive about cycling, seeing it as a way to avoid traffic delays. As someone who bikes to do just that, it’s incredible how much time you can save, particularly during rush hour (which isn’t so aptly named, methinks.)

I was surfing YouTube and came across a short film on that other Amsterdam, the former Nieuw Amsterdam or New York City.  An interesting factoid from “New York City Bike Wars”: roughly 80 percent of the city’s public space is roads, which are obviously designed primarily for car traffic.  How to make public space….uh, more public or for a wider public such as cyclists? Manhattan has been making huge strides in recent years, but cycling infrastructure is still in its infancy and the public is still teething over the idea of cycling as regular transportation.

Here’s a piece on cycling in NYC from the cyclist’s point of view:

I used to live in New York City and rode my bike there about a decade ago, when there were very few bike lanes and I rarely passed another cyclist on my commute. This is not to toot my own horn but rather to say the city’s come a long way, baby! I am curious to see how this major metropolis and world arbiter of finance, fashion and forward-thinking, will continue to tackle the problem. I say, as do many transport professionals, build it and they will surely come.

Here are some pictures of the wonderful things you see around Amsterdam as you allow bicycles take up and utilize more public space.  I haven’t seen many cars do similar, save art cars at Burning Man, but they’re showcased in the desert and far away from city streets.

Sex, surveys, women and bikes

I just came across this article on Treehugger: Female Cyclists Say They’d Give Up Sex Before Biking. (But with one disclaimer: only for a month.) As a woman who loves cycling, I’m not that flabbergasted. According to the article, 58% of women who were surveyed would choose cycling over sex versus 50% of men. This makes me think, perhaps we need to redefine what a “good ride” means these days.

Would the percentages differ widely in the Netherlands where cycling is a daily practice, much akin to brushing your teeth? I’m guessing 80% would give up sex because moving around town with no bike is like leaving the house without shoes, just totally impractical. Or perhaps the percentage would hover at 5% because the Dutch—even though they love to moan about it—boast a top-notch public transportation system unlike other countries that can count their transportation alternatives on one hand. Or one finger.

Because the survey was done in America, participants were also asked which celebrity biking partner they’d prefer. We all know American celebrities don’t cycle that much. They drive and are driven, fly in private jets or man them themselves and if they do mount a bicycle, it’s probably for a photo shoot. The women surveyed opted for Patrick Dempsey, a good choice in my book, whereas men wanted to ride with Gisele Bunchen. Or just ride Gisele Bunchen.

Well, there are exceptions. Here’s Reverend Al Sharpton on the streets of NYC, a good example for putting your pedal where you mouth is, but far from a sex symbol:

It’s not unusual to see Dutch celebrities cycle. They’ll gladly do it for charity events, such as fundraising for war orphans, or like to be snapped aboard a Babboe bakfiets, a trophy bike that costs nearly 1,000 euros, the very antithesis of their thrifty Calvinist upbringing. Here, the Babboe proves you’ve made it. So does a Mercedes, about the only another concession Dutch celebrities, who take pride in being frugal (save donating funds to starving children in Africa) are willing to make.

The Baboe in action

Unlike Americans, the Dutch don’t need to make cycling sexy or glamorous to encourage people to do it. They do it because the benefits are obvious, both to the individual and the collective whole. To me, thinking about the big picture, about how to sustain our individual desires and freedoms while guaranteeing the same liberties for the whole, is truly sexy and vital.

Flat Tire Blues

I’ve had two flat tires within weeks of each other—this, after having none for nearly two years. Either it’s due to shoddy service or the snow and ice on the streets, which created rough surfaces that are difficult to gauge.  All I know is that after work, I got off the subway and found my bike leaning oddly to the side, suggesting something was out of kilter. I hopped on to immediately discover the back tire was flat, as deflated as I was knowing that like Icarus, who fell to earth when his wax wings melted, I, too, was stuck on the ground.

Someone could have punctured the tire.  Bikes are frequently vandalized in Amsterdam, depending on the neighborhood, the time of day and how one defines the word “hobby.” Allow me to generalize. A significant percentage of vandalism here is done by bored, testosterone-fueled teenage boys whose aggression finds an outlet on the streets—a universal phenomenon. But here in a city full of bikes, well, bikes are easy (if not sitting) targets. Walk around long enough and you’ll see the remnants of bells that were lopped off handlebars, bikes with tires bent out of shape by some mysterious brute force, others missing seats and occasionally, a bicycle that decided to climb a light post or foist itself over a bridge, like this one.

In a fit of depression, this bike decided to jump....

Good fun or vandalism? Depends on who you ask.

Getting back to my bike, I’m not the kind of gal who repairs flat tires. I realize this would be to my future benefit, but by the time I find and buy a tire-repair kit I could easily have it fixed by someone else, which is why it’s at the repair shop.  But only one day without a bike and I feel naked and lost. It’s as if my legs were missing and moving forward is awkward, onerous even. Unnatural. I left the house with my bike keys at the ready this  morning, only to realize my friend wasn’t there awaiting me.

I’ve got the flat tire blues bad today.

But tomorrow—reunited, and it feels so good….





Bike Love

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, the time of year that causes heightened emotions. If you’re coupled and you both dig it, it can be terribly romantic. If you’re coupled and one of you doesn’t—ranting, say, that Valentine’s Day is a bourgeois holiday utilized by businesses to simply sell more stuff—then it’s a headache that probably leads to a stiff drink for both of you.

If you’re single and care about the holiday, Valentine’s Day is depressing, further evidence that you are missing that vital link—someone else—and there are long winter days ahead.  But if you’re single and have a bike like me, then there’s bike love, a most pure and enduring infatuation!

Bikes and women make a fascinating love story. The bicycle, probably more than any other machine in history, left women a huge legacy.

Here’s the history, in brief: When cycling became popular in the 1890s, the height of the Victorian era, women were considered frail things that should only aspire to becoming wives. Limited by rigid constructions, as well as literally bound in corsets, women were rarely allowed to move freely, particularly in the public sphere.

Enter the bicycle, which literally gave the population at large the chance to move into new spaces, far and wide. For women, bicycles meant incredible mobility. It gave them the opportunity to become autonomous, no longer in need of chaperones who guarded their every move, and they also quickly ditched their corsets—not an easy thing to wear whilst trying to bike and breathe. Cycling lead to healthy, rosy-cheeked ladies with a penchant for steering their own direction and as they pooled together, they caused a monumental societal shift. They kept pushing for more rights, and eventually got women the right to vote.

Some early grrl cyclists:

Which is why Susan B. Anthony, the American women’s rights advocate, said the bicycle had “done more to emancipate women then anything else in the world.”

Well, I definitely feel emancipated by my bike. If the definition of love is an unconditional state of being, an essence that facilitates a relationship and that allows a person to care for and identify with something deeply, then I’ve got bike love bad. My bike love is a feeling, an action, a commitment over time; it is something that always grows and perseveres.


Seeing the world above spokes (via Amsterdam)

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