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Friday, July 31, 2015

Vintage bicycles still rule the roads in the Netherlands

Typical Dutch bike: Simple, sturdy, black.
Here's a joke I just thought up: Why can't Dutch office workers work from home?

Because they don't own exercise bicycles.

The bicycle-intensive cultures of the Netherlands and Denmark have always fascinated me. But there was one thing that worried me about our vacation this summer, in and around Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

I feared that the classic, vintage bicycles, so familiar from photos in my grade school Geography textbook, would long ago have been replaced by high-tech modern bikes in Euro-pop colors.

Boy, was I wrong. The cities are still crawling with the traditional, upright bikes, usually all black except for a patch of white paint on the bottom of the rear fender, to make them more visible at night.

Double-decker bike parking at the Gouda train station.
And Dutch office workers do indeed ride them to work. Bicycle parking at the train stations is double-decker. You push your bike up a retractable ramp to get it above the bike below.

The bicycles we rented for our ride through windmill country were new and expensive. They offered seven speeds, all inside a rear hub, so magnificently engineered that it was possible to switch to any gear even if the bicycle was not moving.

Seven-speed hub gearbox made the going easy.
Spectacular technology but also heavy! Thank goodness it's a flat country where only momentum matters.

In contrast, the bicycles we saw the Dutch (and many Danes) riding were low-tech, often with just one speed and a coaster brake. (It surprised me how rarely even a derailleur equipped bike is seen.)

Dutch tandem with a wicker basket at each end.
Dutch bikes sprout wicker baskets bedecked with artificial flowers and extra seats for children that sometimes include a mini-windscreen or even full enclosure for the kid.

The time honored fully enclosed chaincases are common. These even show up on the signs marking bicycle lanes. (These chain cases don't appear to provide an oil bath for the chains — surely a missed opportunity.)

Bike lane; note the enclosed chain case.
The "bicycle lanes" are far more elaborate than those familiar in the U.S. Some intersections have separate traffic signals for bikes.

"Mopeds" are permitted in the bike lanes — possibly not a great idea, given that some "scooters" are now as fast as cars, creating an unsettling performance discrepancy.

Amsterdam bridge reserved for bikes (and mopeds) only.
Biking in the low countries was a fantastic experience. The vintage bicycles we saw added to the great memories.
Big family? No problem on a Dutch bicycle.
Luxurious full enclosure for the kiddies.
A bicycle made of wood, parked on the street, not in an art gallery.
Only spotted one truly old bike with rod-actuated brakes.
Bike made of Legos in Copenhagen.

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