In parts 1 and 2 of our series on Amsterdam, we had a wheelchair bike as our vehicle of transport. After pedaling Nellie around on it for a few days, I realized that it wouldn’t be good for very long distance trips since it can get very tiring. So, we also rented an electric-assisted Bakfiets cargo bike thinking that it would be better, but realized that the power still wasn’t enough to go a long distance with an adult sitting inside. Furthermore, as you can see in the image below, the depth of the seating area is too short for an adult to sit on comfortably. I was planning on using it to go 22 miles (35 km) one way to Keukenhof Tulip Park which is about a 2 hours ride (in my case, it’s probably 3 hours), but I chickened out. Either I will become too exhausted or Nellie’s butt would be in flames, so I didn’t want to take that chance. So we had to sell out on our bike experience and rent a car just for that day.
The reason why we entertained the idea of riding all the way out to the Keukenhof Tulip Park in the first place was that we had a positive experience when we we rode out to Zaanse Schans to see some Dutch windmills the other day. It was such a great experience getting out of the busy city center where the wheelchair bike was rolling on bumpy paved roads and transitioning to smooth paved roads in open and modern spaces.
When we left the city center, wow, it was bike utopia! Although we were still within the periphery of Amsterdam city, we were no longer in the old city core. The roads were smooth and separated bike paths went in every direction you would need or want to go. Amsterdam is indeed number one in bike infrastructure along with many other Dutch cities. If you want great infrastructure for cycling, one should look to the Dutch for the model. I have been to a handful of bike-friendly cities, and none of them come close to Amsterdam. The cycle tracks are very wide with wide buffers from the streets, and stretch continuously for miles, and you can get from point A to B and C without feeling unsafe. Traffic signs/signals for bicycles are everywhere and I felt that the priority of bicyclists exceeds that of motorists. Every time I was at a red traffic signal for bicycles and a button was there for me to press, it wasn’t long before the light turned green for me. One thing I noticed about how they did auto traffic calming was that on streets that have two lanes, where they become one lane, the left lane merges into the “slower” right lane. This slows traffic down as opposed to the States where cars in right lanes usually have to merge into the “faster” left lane.
The paths and sidewalks were very wide with larger brick tiles which reduced the bumpiness when rolling over them making it much more comfortable for Nellie on the wheelchair bike. The larger brick tiles alternate with large sections of smooth pavement. The paths are so wide that you can ride at least 2 abreast. This allows for conversational cycling (having a conversation with a companion while riding your bikes side by side) which makes cycling even more enjoyable. Some streets have two cycle tracks that are bi-directional. Pretty crazy, huh? How can any street that has two cycle tracks also have two way traffic? Well, just reduce car usage by increasing bike usage, so you have more room for cycle paths. Voila!
Notice the red pavement in the photo below- that is colored asphalt, not just asphalt that has been painted like what we have in San Francisco. Because it is colored asphalt instead of paint on asphalt, it is less slippery during the wet season unlike the slippery green paint on our SF bikeways.
We saw tiny vehicles such as the Canta LX that are allowed on the cycle tracks and are small enough to legally park on sidewalks (I don’t even think you need a driver’s license to drive one!). They aren’t actually cars but are more like covered scooters. They can go up to 28 mph (45 km/h) and a folded wheelchair can fit in the rear. They are great for the elderly and disabled. We may rent this next time so Nellie can finally take control of the wheels. =) We also saw a handful of mobility assisted scooters on the cycle tracks as well.
With 25% of the Netherlands below sea level, it just makes sense to have bikes on boats too (see photo below)- or the Dutch just really like bikes. Is it a bike tour or boat tour? Hmm…
When we got even further out and left the city altogether, I pedaled Nellie on the wheelchair bike on this beautiful separated bike path for 14 uninterrupted miles (23 km). Well, the journey was almost uninterrupted except at one point where we took a ferry to the other side (the ferry was absolutely free!). The wide separation between the cycle tracks and streets made cycling peaceful and you were away from car exhausts. The paths were lined with trees for much of the way which added to the serene experience. That is how riding a bike should be. It was the best riding experience I ever had in my cycling career even considering I was riding on a wheelchair bike. Nellie even said that she didn’t think about her injured foot for a moment.
On the way to Zaanse Schans, it was breathtaking to see these wind turbines on the sides of the cycle track. One of the main reasons why I ride is because of environmental reasons so those wind turbines really stood out to me and affected me on a personal level. We also saw many performance cyclists in their spandex and gears. It must be awesome to ride fast for hours on these very long, and “open road” bikeways.
On our last full day in Amsterdam, it was Queen’s Day. For most people, as a visitor or even a local, it’s wonderful to experience Queen’s Day. This Queen’s Day was especially important because Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne for her son, now King Willem-Alexander. The local population of Amsterdam is around 820,000 and on the days leading up to Queen’s Day, the population typically doubles with all the celebrators. Most of the population congregates in the city center. The entire city center is generally closed off to traffic on that particular day. So you can imagine that it was very crowded. Nellie decided to stay in for that day knowing that maneuvering for her would be very difficult, but I got out and about to observe some Dutch culture. I didn’t know that the Dutch were such partiers and loved their Queen.
With 800,000 more visitors coming into the city, of course the city is already prepared to accomodate all these bikes. The ample space from the dozens of water canals makes a good place for bike parking. There were three of these boats filled with bikes on this one canal I saw. Bicycles rule in Amsterdam!
To conclude our Amsterdam trip, it was just too difficult to maneuver around in the city center on a wheelchair bike especially during a crowded holiday. I can imagine it would be nice for those on regular bikes though because of all the historic buildings, canals, and scenery. We did enjoy every bit of the experience when we left the city center. Overall, riding a bike in the Netherlands is truly a joyful cycling experience and I could understand if anyone expatriated to the Netherlands solely for bicycling. I know of a couple of people who did.
Thank you to the Netherlands from the bottom of every cyclist’s heart for making it a great bicycling country for all of us to see and try to emulate and showing that a society built around bicycles can be achieved.