Book Review: In the City of Bikes by Pete Jordan

The day after coming back from Amsterdam, I was fortunate enough to meet author Pete Jordan at a book reading for his new book In the City of Bikes, a book about bicycling in Amsterdam. He’s an American who went to Amsterdam over a decade ago to study urban development and instantly fell in love with the city and their bicycling culture. So he expatriated there.

It was perfect timing for me to hear about his new book on bicycling in Amsterdam since I just took a trip there and there were a couple of things that I observed that I didn’t understand. Also, I wanted to learn what made Amsterdam the world’s friendliest city for people on bikes. It just boggles my mind that cycling is so prevalent in Amsterdam (and a few other cities) but everywhere else in the world is pretty much dominated by automobiles. While my experience was still fresh in my mind, the book answered my questions and in a wonderful way, it extended my vacation psychologically.

Pete Jordan, the author of In the City of Bikes

Pete Jordan, the author of ‘In the City of Bikes’ at a book reading in San Francisco.

In the City of Bikes

In the City of Bikes – The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist

As you can see from the table of contents, there’s over a hundred years (started from the 1890s) worth of bicycle history in Amsterdam. The book has in-depth quotations, facts, and details for almost every important decade chronologically.

Table of Contents p.1

Table of Contents p.1

Table of Contents p.2

Table of Contents p.2

In the City of Bikes also reads like a personal memoir which I really enjoyed reading. One example is when his wife, Amy Joy becomes a bicycle mechanic and subsequently starts a bike shop. Another example is the bonding between father and son when his son Ferris sits in front of him on a bicycle playing the game Which Way?.

Mostly, the book speaks about the rich historical culture of bicycles in Amsterdam and it’s engaging. Amsterdammers had fought for their ways against anti-cyclists, Nazi occupation and confiscation of their bikes, and rampant thievery. Through it all, they still tried to implement the White Bicycles Plan in the 1960s which has inspired today’s bike-share programs around the world just as much as their utopian bicycle infrastructure.

The author also covers the story about the famous and controversial Rijksmuseum bike passageway which was recently reopened to cyclists after a decade of closure and was breaking news in the city.

If you are interested in cycling and Amsterdam cycling, both historically and culturally, then this book is for you!

One thing I would like the author to elaborate a little more on is to have more emphasis on his personal experience as an American foreigner moving to Amsterdam for the bicycle culture and also so I can relate even more closely to his passion for bicycling. Perhaps he’s saving it for his next book? I hope so.

Pete Jordan is also the author of the memoir Dishwasher:  One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States.

HarperCollins Publishers, 2013, $15.99 USD.

Related post:

In the City of Bikes by Pete Jordan – Book Reading

4 comments

  1. Dante

    You’ve made me curious about this Pete Jordan book…When I wonder why cycling is very popular in Amsterdam, I can only guess that it is probably because most of the land in Amsterdam is flat. I think it is usually the steep hills that take away the pleasantness of cycling—cycling on steep hills is obviously a painful and exhausting activity when one is out of shape. I also think that it is because of the hills that make people not want to ride their bicycles…I’ve never been to Amsterdam but I will not be surprise if Amsterdam is mostly of flat lands.

    Here is a quote that I can sort of relate to:

    “So, I bought a bike, but what I’m really saying here is that each of us, every day can make a decision to find our inner freedom, exercise our inner will, improve our life, develop a healthy habit and make that personal contribution to our own evolution. It could be as simple and mundane as buying a bike, but it does symbolize a true, deep and profound spiritual process within the individual. I encourage everyone to symbolically go out, and buy their own bike.” –Emanuel Kuntzelman

    http://www.emanuelkuntzelman.com/conversations/i-bought-a-bike-enjoying-the-transformative-path-on-2-wheels.html

  2. Chris

    I think it’s a great book to really understand why the Dutch have such a high regard for “bicycling”. I use the word bicycling not “bicycles”. They are not into bicycles because they are not a consuming culture, at least that’s what I observed. And the consumerism is what made America what it is and killed bicycles in the 20th century. You can make so much more money by making cars, run on gas, build more roads, obesity, drugs for obesity, gym membership, etc.

    Moreover, flat topography is a part of the equation of why the Dutch ride bikes. Bicycling was as much popular in America as in the Netherlands in the early 1900s. The Netherlands was also auto-centric in the mid-1900s but they wised up. They witnessed increased in auto-related accidents and the oil embargo, both of which US had experienced; but the Dutch changed and the Americans stay the same. There are many cities in America that are flat (San Jose, NYC and LA, comes to mind) but these cities never became bicycle-friendly. So, in a lot of the ways, Americans let capitalism take over.

    I like the quote. It’s very fitting.

  3. Andy Keller

    I love to read travel books, especially about biking. I have a favorite travel author Brian Bruns, he’s more on the humorous side, but he has a fun book about RAGBRAI and a true story called Rumble Yell. To ride the whole way across Iowa makes quite a story! HIs book info is at http://www.briandavidbruns.com/BDB/Rumble.html. I am definitely going to look up Jordans book, it looks really good!

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