We have lived in and visited both coasts of the US and have a pretty good understanding of both sides. But we never quite understood Middle America, aside from what the media shows us. So, we decided to go visit Denver, Colorado. (No, not because of marijuana legalization there.) It’s not too far of a trip to take from the Bay Area, and I heard it’s not a bad city to bike in. Denver is referred to as “the mile-high city” or 5280 which is the number of feet it sits above sea level, and it’s located next to the Rocky mountains, which are the highest mountains in the United States.
This time, we planned to travel light which meant that Nellie brought only a single backpack and I brought only my messenger bag. We left our Bromptons at home because we thought the bike-share program that they have in Denver would suffice and be more convenient. The closest bike-share station would be only a block away from our hotel, so why not. As a bonus, our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in the city, on 15th St.
As a matter of fact, the bike-share stations are nicely distributed across downtown Denver. There are 700 bike-shares in 83 stations, twice as many as in San Francisco. It’s called Denver B Cycle, and sourced from the same company as most other bike shares in the US, Alta Bikeshare. Although their mobile app didn’t work, we could locate another station without even looking for one. It’s that ubiquitous. There was this brand-new redeveloped neighborhood called Prospect which was not completely done, and a bike share station was already in place. I was impressed.
The bike shares are always located on the sidewalks and not in the street, which I think is an ideal setup. The sidewalks there are generally very wide, up to 20 ft/6 m wide. By locating the stations on the sidewalks, you don’t feel the pressure to hurry because you are in a safe zone. Also, it’s nice to undock or dock your bike off the street, unlike how it is in SF. Bike shares invite newbies, so having them on the sidewalks makes them more welcoming.
However, I still don’t like using bike shares when I would like to mindlessly wander throughout the city exploring. The 30-minute grace period was always on my mind because I didn’t want to accrue penalties. Also, docking/undocking is a huge hassle when you have to do it every 30 minutes. My opinion is that bike-shares are good if you know where you are going and only need it for going short distances. It would not be good for recreational our touristic cycling and for going long distances.
Our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in town on 15th St. It was nicely done with crossbikes and protected barriers, but the intersection was not protected. Also, what I don’t get is why the cycle track was on the left-hand side. I heard that another cycle track is coming to a nearby street on Broadway, a north-to-south commercial corridor which should make a better network of bike paths.
Another commercial corridor in downtown that is bike-friendly is the popular shopping area, the 16th Street Mall, which is closed off to cars. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors located on this long stretch. The identical tiles on both the street and sidewalks give it a very pedestrian-friendly feel to it. No need for bike signage.
Denver has a bike modal share of 2.9% in 2012 (20% jump from 2011), most of which I see riding on the extensive Cherry Creek bike trail. The Cherry Creek trail stretches 11.2 mi/ 18 km from Cherry Creek Reservoir in the south and through downtown in the north. It serves for both recreation and transportation. It’s a must if you do visit Denver and go for a bike ride. Some of the best scenery within the city is along this riverside bike trail. The water running next to it is surprisingly clean!
What I like about Denver is it’s numerous parks, and the majority of them you can really bike within them for quite a distance with flat topography. City Park is my favorite and has a zoo and the Museum of Science and Nature. It’s located not too distant from downtown. Another park I recommend is Washington Park in the Pearl St. neighborhood. It’s voted as the most favorite park in Denver by the locals.
I still think Denver has some ways to go in terms of bike infrastructure and reducing their use of cars. But I admire how much they are embracing the ideas of New Urbanism and I feel like they are doing the bike thing better and faster than many other American cities. For example, their 15th St. cycle-track was completed this year and now, the city is proposing another cycle-track on Broadway St. In addition, I really like their ubiquitous bike-shares, but it’s just not ideal for visitors to use them to explore the city because of the time limits. Visitors and recreational riders should rent a bicycle instead. Their Cherry Creek bike path is great fun to bike on and quite scenic, but then, it doesn’t go in every direction to really serve bike commuters. However, I do think that overall, the city government gets it and it’s just a matter of time.
A couple of more things I want to mention for anyone who is going to visit Denver and bike around. You may need some time to adapt to the higher elevation. At higher elevations, oxygen is less concentrated and so your body will have to adjust and breath shorter but more frequent breaths. At first, you might feel worn out faster when exerting yourself. However, the air is just fine for Denverites who are known to be very active outdoors. So once you adjust, you should be fine. Also, one of the fun things you can do in Denver, if you are of drinking age, is to ride your bike around to all the different local breweries and do some free tastings. Denver has great local beer! Many can be easily reached by bike.
Last post, I shared the first part of our experience biking in Half Moon Bay and cooking a recipe from a bicycle/camping cookbook called The Weekender by Pedal Inn. I continue here with the second part.
So, what happened to that pot of cabbage?
Sadly, for our stomaches, nothing!
Because of the strong and cold winds, the water could not get to a temperature hot enough to boil. The wind kept minimizing the flames from the propane stove. So I could not boil the shredded cabbage and when it had come time to sautee it in the pan, I surely wouldn’t have been able to. The cabbage was an essential part of the Eggs Benedict recipe- the delightfully poached eggs were to sit upon a savory bed of sautéed red cabbage with onions and garlic, topped with creme fraiche and served with slices of hearty bread. We tried cracking an egg into the pot to see if it would cook and it never did.
While we were still waiting for the pot to boil, a little chubby boy was walking by on the sand and when he saw our pot he exclaimed, “That’s cool!” In my head, I was like, “You have no idea, kid!” Chris said he got really appetized waiting for the pot to boil and had been looking forward to the meal. So we were both disappointed when we couldn’t get the stove hot enough to cook the food.
I was sure the dish would have been delicious if we had been able to cook it. The windy and cold weather did not cooperate with our plans, and we later found out that the first part of the year is not really the best time to visit Half Moon Bay. It is warmer and less windy during the latter half of the year. Also, I used a propane stove which I think is designed more for indoor use. They make stoves specifically for camping and those burn alcohol. Maybe that could have withstood the wind better.
Defeated, we packed up our stuff, shook the sand out of our bikes and then headed home. But in my head, I was determined to try this dish. I had to know how it tasted! I was going to try again, but this time in my own kitchen. I still had the unopened pack of creme fraiche. I had the carton of eggs we bought and there was still a lot of red cabbage left.
One morning soon after our excursion, I made the recipe at home and it came out fantastic! The flavors blended wonderfully and the dish seemed fresh and healthy. I don’t have a lot of experience poaching eggs so I kind of overdid them, but nevertheless, when I ate them with creme fraiche, it was heaven. I could imagine how much more wonderful it would have been to eat this dish at Half Moon Bay on a good day, with the sights of the sea, sky, and cliffs.
Now, about The Weekender cookbook, I really liked and learned many things from it and the whole experience. I now use the combo of creme fraiche with poached eggs on a regular basis- yum. Even though I don’t personally feel cut out for camping and cooking outdoors, I think the recipes are still great for cooking at home. I think they really represent the flavors of California and Bay Area cuisine. For anyone who loves the outdoors, camping, biking, and cooking or is curious to try, I think this cookbook is the perfect resource for you. It will challenge you a bit which is what I think is part of what makes the outdoors exciting. Challenging yourself to go to new places, climb a hill or mountain (with your two feet or two wheels), and then achieving that great reward at the end- a sense of accomplishment, amazing and breathtaking views, and renewed sense of wonder about nature and the world.
As it pertains more to biking, it is also a great reflection of the biking experience. In a previous post titled Exploring A City by Bicycle (a love letter to urban biking), I wrote about how biking is a very sensory experience where almost all your senses are engaged. When biking, you see many things with your eyes, you hear and smell the world around you, and you feel the breeze on your skin. The one sense missing is that of taste. This cookbook, The Weekender, fills in that last piece bringing the biking experience and taste together to create a complete experience for all your senses. So I believe that with this book, and with those who have the initiative and drive for adventure (and good eats), the rewards reaped will be like a “sweet song that you [and your tastebuds] will remember for as long as you can”.
Pedal Inn Weekender Cookbook
Currently $19.95 USD for the print edition at their online store
THE PEDAL INN WEEKENDER INCLUDES:
♥ 5 Weekender menus, inspired by 5 enticing Bay Area bike camping destinations
♥ 25 camp-tested recipes for two hungry cyclists
♥ Meal plans ideal for the overnight jaunt or for the savvy home cook
♥ Dishes designed for flavor & freshness first but with an eye towards ease and efficiency
♥ Tips, insights, and inspiration helpful for new and experienced bike campers alike
♥ Weather-resistant, tour-worthy vinyl pouch, fit for a cycling jersey or handlebar mount
There is also an e-book version for $7.95
Answer: Biking and eating!
In this post, I share our experience biking in Half Moon Bay, California and cooking a recipe from The Pedal Inn Weekender cookbook right on the beach. If you love biking and eating/cooking, then read on!
A few years ago, on one of our memorable nights out biking with the SF Bike Party at a rest stop upon a hill taking in the sights of the beautiful city, someone handed us a yellow matchbox with an illustration of a crest on it with “The Pedal Inn” written across the top and an image of two people wearing outdoor gear having a picnic beside their bicycles. On the back it read, “For lovers of adventure and good eating”. I was curious what that was and the woman who handed it to me told me it was a cookbook. I was intrigued because I love biking (that’s the name of our blog) and I love eating and cooking too and here was a couple that had combined these things into a single concept that they could share with others- a cookbook and guide to biking/cooking/camping. After visiting their website at www.pedalinn.com I said to myself, I have to try this one day!
Not too long ago, I decided it was a good time to try out the cookbook. Thanks to Nick and Lindy, the authors of the cookbook, I was able to get a copy of it for myself. When it came in the mail and I unwrapped it, I saw it was beautifully put together. Inside the plastic pouch, was an assortment of booklets/pamphlets. The main book had Weekender written across the front and was nicely illustrated inside and out. The others were more like simple folded pamphlets with recipes in them and were designed to be easy to travel with. Each recipe pamphlet had the name of a great Bay Area biking locale such as China Camp, Lake Del Valle, and Mount Diablo to name a few and the corresponding recipes that matched the theme of each place. The writing was a joy to read and it began to dispel the mysteries of camping/biking/cooking to me.
You see, although I love biking, I have very little experience in the long-distance touring sort of rides. Also, I have only camped outside maybe once or twice in my life when I was young and my much older sisters took care of everything. They packed the tents and brought all the provisions. I still remember the yummy baked bananas my sister made over the grill using foil but I didn’t really know how it all came together, just that it tasted unbelievably good (something about eating food in the great outdoors enhances it).
So as I perused these guides with names of places that called out to the adventurous side of me, a feeling of anxiety began to set in. After cooking for five nights a week for the past seven years, I can now say I know how to cook with complete confidence. So perhaps it was because I know how to cook that seeing the recipes made me break into a sweat. Because of my experience, I could quickly see this wasn’t just a cookbook about throwing together some Chex Mix to bring with you onto the trail. This was, you could say, gourmet stuff and what made it challenging was picturing myself trying to cook this stuff not in a kitchen in the sterile comfort of my home, but outdoors in an unpredictable and variable environment. I was sure the efforts would probably have been worth it once we tasted the finished dishes, but getting to that point was the hard part.
As I began to plan the trip, I was thinking in my head, “How the heck can I do this? I can’t do this. No, I CAN do this. No, I can’t! Yes, I can! And finally, “Okay, I just won’t camp out overnight and even though I don’t know how I am going to cook this stuff outside, I am going to do it anyway! I will do this whether I can or not.”
Fast forward two weeks later, and it is the morning on a fine Sunday. Chris and I are shuffling around the house trying to pack stuff. I grab our propane stove we have used many times for Chinese hot pot. I grab some spatulas, spoons, and pour some olive oil into a small plastic case. I didn’t pack everything I needed because the idea was that we’d stop by a market along the road during our bike ride to buy fresh ingredients. That would be part of the Pedal Inn experience.
Our destination was Half Moon Bay, a place where we would ride along a path overlooking the sea and then camp out on the beach for the afternoon. The recipe pamphlet for Half Moon Bay was stuffed into our Brompton bag pocket, and we were off in our tiny car with the bikes and cargo stuffed in the back.
When we got to Half Moon Bay, we first stopped into a market on Main Street. We found what we needed there and even a fresh pack of creme fraiche. We were going to make Pedal Inn’s version of Eggs Benedict. They use creme fraiche instead of Hollandaise sauce. That was just the breakfast recipe and the only one I felt confident enough to try. They also had a recipe for dinner and dessert. Dinner was Fish Tacos with Pom-Persimmon Salsa and dessert was Blackberry “Shortcake” in origami folded cups. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? These are also the perfect recipes for Half Moon Bay, a place by the sea that is influenced by Mexican culture due to the migrant workers that live in the area and who work on the local farms.
We then rode our bikes along the path by the beach and it was a picturesque and lovely experience. The view was amazing and the waves crashing onto the beach were furious. We saw people riding horses and many people walking along the path. People were sitting out on the beach down below. I had the stove in a backpack on my back along with all the ingredients. It was getting kind of heavy. Having panniers would have helped a lot with that.
After riding around a bit, we went down to the beach and opened up our picnic blanket. We set our bikes on top of some succulent plants so that less sand would get into the chains. We set up the stove and the wind was blowing so hard, I was afraid that we would not be able to get the fire lit. But it was lit. We poured water into the pot and waited for the water to boil. I cut the red cabbage on a small cutting board on top of my backpack. I added the cabbage to the pot and then…
This story is getting long so check back next post for what happened to the pot of cabbage!
To be continued…
When you are exploring a city on the seat of a bicycle, you are making a deeper connection with it. You are engaging more of your sensory faculties and your whole body is in motion. With every pedal forward, you are opening yourself up to what is around you, making yourself vulnerable but also much freer. When you are on a bicycle, there is nothing between you and the world around you except a space of air. There is no glass, perfumed interior, no controlled climate which can keep you comfortably contained. The raw elements of the world reach you. But you can be more quick and nimble, and you can choose to go at your own pace- you decide. Almost all of your senses are engaged. With your eyes, you can see wonderful sights- from the shape of a landmark set against the sky, to the reaches of the horizon. You can see humanity around you and the expressions on people’s faces. With your ears you can hear the soundtrack of the world- of laughter and sneezes and conversation, set amidst the medley of city noises. With your nose you can smell the scents of not just exhaust and refuse, but also of trees, flowers, and grass, Chanel perfume, and bread being baked. Most wonderfully is the experience of feeling the wind on your skin and in your hair. Sometimes the air is crisp, sometimes more humid and warm, but always you feel something. This creates a symphony of sensory input that feeds into your body, mind, and imagination. The music of this chorus is like a sweet song that you will remember for as long as you can. It is one of the most delightful and simplest of joys- riding a bicycle in the city and especially one that you love.
If you are ever heading to Vancouver to bike, you should never skip the Seaside Bicycle Route. It is the best way to see the beauties of Vancouver and it will take you to many tourist attractions such as the new Vancouver Convention Centre, Stanley Park, English Bay and Granville Island. The route also takes you through local towns such as Coal Harbor, West End, Yaletown and Kitsilano. It is 15 miles or 24 km long, separated far away from noisy cars and next to the shore the entire way through.
However, on some sections of the Seaside Bicycle Route bicyclists have to share it with pedestrians (better than sharing it with motorists though). Because there are so many interesting and breathtaking sites to see, it may take the whole day, so you may want to separate the trip into a couple of days which we did.
If anything, you must not skip riding on the seawall of Stanley Park (see video above). It’s spectacularly wonderful! There are a lot of bike rentals in the area if you need to rent a bike.
You could cross over False Creek to cut your trip shorter by hopping on the Aquabus or False Creek Ferries at designated terminals. The fares are pretty reasonable and they make frequent pickups. The Aquabus accepts bicycles but not False Creek Ferries.
After a nice ride, you have to go this place that serves delicious Belgian waffles. It is called Nero Belgian Waffle Bar, located in the West End neighborhood.
We recently went to Vancouver, B. C. for a short vacation. It was my third and Nellie’s fourth time visiting the west coast Canadian city. We enjoy visiting Vancouver because it is the closest destination (just 2.5 hrs by plane from San Francisco) where we can experience something different from American cities. The people are nice and helpful and the city is clean, well laid-out, and beautiful. In addition, the food is excellent. You can randomly walk into any eatery and come out feeling satisfied. Vancouver has been ranking near the top in livability for the last few years and I can see why.
The last time we were there in 2009, we saw very little bike infrastructure. But recently, John Pucher, a cycling guru paid a visit to Vancouver and said that this city should be talked about as the best bike-friendly city in North America. The city was selected to have the Velo-City Global conference, a premier marketplace for bicycling delegates, which was held last year. They have mayor Greg Robertson who is a bike commuter and a city council that is not afraid of implementing bike facilities. Moreover, a bike-share program is expected to roll out early next year in downtown Vancouver. In addition to striped bike lanes, they have a few real cycletracks that are as good as those in Copenhagen, but of course they are not nearly as ubiquitous. Bikes are allowed in all modes of transit from buses to Sky Trains to Seabus ferries. Not to mention, a popular bike/fashion magazine called Momentum which is geared for regular people riding bikes, is based in Vancouver. Every year, there is a very large and notable turnout there for the World Naked Bike Ride.
Because Vancouver doesn’t yet have bike routes going everywhere, it is nice to see bike signs showing where the bicycle routes are. Having bike routes clearly marked and indicated on street name signs like the one shown above allows our eyes to automatically know where to look for the bike signage. It also helps drivers know to expect bicyclists if they are taking that street. It is so much better than placing bike signs on the sidewalks which are hard to see, can be blocked by tree branches or other nearby sign poles.
Although I despise anything that is just merely a striped bike lane, I think Vancouver does them better than San Francisco. For example, notice the green paint near the driveway for cars (see image above). It alerts drivers that they are crossing a bike lane and to look out for bicyclists. I think this is a brilliant way of using green paint. In SF, this is done in the opposite way. An example would be the Embarcadero in SF (sorry no photo) where the bike lane is painted green but when it reaches driveways the green paint disappears. What this signals is that it tells bicyclists to be the responsible party. It doesn’t make any sense, right?
In the image above, the bike lane is painted green as it reaches the intersection to warn motorists merging right to execute a turn that they are crossing through a bike lane. However in SF, this is not being done at all.
As mentioned in my other post, crossbikes are such a brilliant idea utilized by many bike-friendly cities. When you are riding across a busy/large intersection, do you ever feel that you are endangered? What about when you are walking and there’s no crosswalk? I got to ride in these crossbikes in Vancouver, and I can tell you it’s one of the best bike facilities ever created. Again, SFMTA needs to implement these.
There are five bridges in Vancouver, and four of them you can bike on. A popular bicycle route to get from downtown to the Kitsilano neighborhood (known for having the best beach in the city) is through the Burrard Bridge (image above). It has a dedicated cycle track for bicyclists. However, these bridges have a long incline and are not suited for any 8 to 80 y.o. bicyclist. What they need is a separated bridge just for bikes and pedestrians.
Below is a video (Note: Sound is muted, so don’t think your computer speakers are broken) showing what it’s like to ride in a cycle track in downtown Vancouver. (Editor’s Note: As you might be able tell in the video, he was having a ball!) The cycle track on Hornby St. is raised with car parking to the left, and a buffer with plants to the right of the parked cars. It is a great piece of bike infrastructure!
Although Vancouver has some great pieces of bike infrastructure and an amazing sea wall (which will be discussed in Part 2 of this series) navigating around Vancouver on a bike was not really that easy. It is still a very car-centric city. There seemed to be way more cars than when we were there before. There are many streets that do not yet have bike infrastructure. Riding on the main streets can be hair-raising. Also, there are only one or two streets going east to west that have bike routes. Then there are streets like Robson, Denman, Granville, and Davie Streets that are meccas for shopping and eating but do not have any bike routes on them. It seemed intentional that bike routes were not placed on them perhaps because they don’t have much space. But I thought that was kind of ridiculous. It is all a matter of re-prioritizing use. Bicyclists also shop and eat too, and studies (1,2) have shown they spend more money and frequent businesses more than motorists. At the very least, there should be bike sharrows.
In Vancouver, helmets are mandatory and I believe this could dampen ridership which may lead to less safety for bicycling on the streets. It should be optional for adults and mandatory for children. Motorists in Vancouver are courteous and more patient, and with some streets that have really good bike infrastructure, I don’t see why helmets are mandatory. In addition, they have a wonderful seaside bicycle route away from car traffic and they are still required to wear helmets there. What they need is to get more bicyclists on the streets and a helmet law doesn’t help with that.
I gotta admit, Vancouver is a hilly city. Although the hills aren’t as steep as San Francisco’s, it’s going to be tough to attract the 8 to 80 y.o. crowd. In order to get more people to bike over those hills and bridges, I believe electric bikes is the answer. I think if somehow electric bikes are marketed right like having e-bike shares for the public to try, that could be a good way to help people who are on the fence realize it is right for them.
Overall, Vancouver has done a great job in improving their bike infrastructure in just a few years. The speed at which they have been able to implement bike improvements is impressive.
In the next post on Vancouver, I will discuss more about biking along the sea wall in Vancouver and what we saw while biking around. Stay tuned…
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.
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.
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.
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.
The primary way of getting around Amsterdam for Nellie was not her own two feet but our trusty wheelchair bike from StarBikes Rental as discussed in an earlier post. The wheelchair bike was very helpful, but there were two issues we had with it.
The first issue was that the ride was bumpy and uncomfortable for Nellie on the brick paved roads which are ubiquitous in Amsterdam’s old city center. She could feel every little bump and irregularly in the ground as we rolled along and because her foot was already sensitive, the shaking and sudden jerks would hurt her foot. Whenever we hit a bump or dip, she had to be sure to lift her foot in time so as to soften the impact, but it was still unpleasant and tiresome for her. I had to ride very slowly and carefully trying to avoid potential problem areas. The rocky ride could’ve been due in large part to the skinniness of the wheelchair tires. I think they should have used fat tires for the wheels like those seen on Dutch bikes to better absorb shocks. The bumpiness may not be such a big issue for other wheelchair bike users if they don’t have any aches and pains on their body and can tolerate a little shaking.
The second issue was that when it rained, Nellie’s legs and feet got wet. The wheels do not have fenders and it is hard to cover the legs and feet when it rains. Nellie used an umbrella but it didn’t reach her legs and the umbrella kind of blocked my view as I was pedaling. Also, my legs would have gotten wet too if I hadn’t worn rain pants. If you’re going to use a wheelchair bike when there is a good chance of rain, which the Netherlands has plenty of, be sure the wheelchair rider is at least wearing waterproof footwear and waterproof pants. It can get pretty cold once the pants get wet. There is also a waterproof cover for the legs that comes with the wheelchair bike but we didn’t bring it with us. It didn’t look inviting to us to use it for some reason.
Amsterdam’s old city center is not made for people with a disability, particularly people with limited mobility. We stayed in Nieuwmarkt square in the city center which is about 800 years old. When a place is that old, the buildings and its infrastructure are not going to be conducive for people on wheelchairs. Apparently, wheelchairs didn’t exist back then and of course, the Dutch have done a good job in preserving the original historic look of the place. So, the town has narrow sidewalks which often get crowded and force people to walk in the streets (see photo below). Also, shops and stores have very narrow doorways that wheelchairs can’t fit through and often have steps instead of a ramp. The small brick pavement on both the streets and sidewalks makes it harder to roll a wheelchair around.
Not only are the sidewalks too narrow to push a wheelchair on, but you also have bicycles, scooters and even cars parking on them creating a veritable obstacle course. If you take the narrow street which only fits one car’s width, you would have to maneuver to the side whenever cars drive through which happens occasionally. Rolling a wheelchair back onto the sidewalk is difficult because on-ramp curbs are not placed throughout. There are some streets that are level with the sidewalk but they are not that common. I think Amsterdam’s urban planning officials should look into restricting private car access (taxis and delivery vehicles are okay) into these small city center streets using a filtered permeability design like how Strasbourg in France has in their city center. I did see that they restricted car access on some streets at certain times of the day but I don’t think that’s enough. Not only is this better for wheelchair users, but it creates a less chaotic environment for regular bicyclists and pedestrians which crowd the city center. Closing down the old city center to cars is actually a very common thing many European cities do which Amsterdam surprisingly has not done.
In addition, we noticed gas-powered mopeds using the same cycle tracks as bikes. They are fast, loud, and smelly and we didn’t like them one bit. We thought they were quite menacing and have heard that there are many locals who think so too. Many of them seemed to be going faster than the 20 mph (30 km/h) posted speed limit and we’ve heard that many of them have had their speed restrictor removed. Not only do they speed but they also make a loud racket and from their 2 stroke engines, leave a plume of noxious and unpleasant fumes in their wake. Often one would come zooming by suddenly and it would scare the bejesus out of Nellie, she almost got up and started walking. In the States, we have to deal with absurd and narrow bike lanes (or the lack thereof) that bring us in closer proximity to fast moving cars and plentiful opportunities for car-dooring. So I know that as a cyclist, I would definitely get annoyed by them if they were riding on cycle tracks here. According to Bicycle Dutch, there has been an increase by 3 fold in the number of mopeds on cycle tracks in the past five years in Amsterdam and 94% of them speed. I heard from Pete Jordan and Amsterdamize that Amsterdam is working on legislation to ban mopeds from cycle tracks.
So far, it probably sounds like the bike ride in the city center was a lot of trouble especially for Nellie, but there were many positive highlights. One thing which brought a smile to Nellie’s face was enjoying some goodies from the Dutch fast food chain FEBO. We recognized FEBO from Anthony Bourdain’s Layover show, so we decided to give it a try. They make great biking food because of their convenient grab and go vending machines. You simply walk up to the food of your choice displayed inside the vending machine, insert your coins into the slot, and then open the door and grab your food. Despite it being a fast food chain, the quality of their food was actually pretty good and blows McDonald’s away. They have all these hot and tasty croquettes filled with different stuffings like beef and curry, burgers and chicken sandwiches. They were delicious. No cashier to deal with. Just your hungry stomach and the machine. It was one of our most favorite things to eat there.
Another thing we noticed on a positive note was that there was a certain fluidity to the way cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists maneuver around each other at intersections within the city center. See the video below. We observed that there were no stop signs so everyone whether they were in a car, on foot, or on bike would yield to one another and they had to share the road. They did all this without making a fuss. This sort of set up would never happen in the States. If you were to ride on the sidewalk, pedestrians would bark at you. If you were to ride in the car lane, motorists would honk at you to get off the road. But in Amsterdam, I noticed that this system of common sense and courtesy between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists actually seems to work. This civil behavior is probably a result of the understanding they have for one another because they all have experience riding bikes as a means of transport.
Now I want to talk about how wonderful the cycling experience is outside of the town center. Even though it was a challenge biking with the wheelchair bike in the middle of old Amsterdam, biking outside the city center was utopia. In the city center, the streets and buildings are historic and like I mentioned earlier, the streets there are not so conducive for wheelchairs. Not only are they paved with bricks but they are also congested, filled with tourists (lots of tourists because it was just days before Queen’s Day, a huge national holiday and the historic abdication of Queen Beatrix), and the area can get pretty chaotic. But when you go further out, you find that the spaces open up and become more organized. That is where the true quality of the cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam becomes apparent.
How great is the cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam you might ask? Just look at the photos below. I randomly took this photo and to my surprise I caught every gender and age group in one shot at a traffic signal. That is a sign that the cycling there is comfortable for everybody, ages 8 to 80.
Cycling on Amsterdam’s paths are so safe that a mom, dad and child are not wearing helmets and riding together on a single bike. How delightful is that?!
Because the cycle tracks are away from cars, this man can take his time riding his heavy workcycle.
I will end here about our wheelchair-biking experience within Amsterdam and will cover more of our experience when we journeyed outside of Amsterdam city in our next post. Stay tuned!
Answer to the question at the beginning of the post: 13 swans!
Some of the things you will see if you ride a bike in the Netherlands…
Photos were taken in Amsterdam, Zaandam, Zaanse Schans, and the Keukenhof Tulip Park.