Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Amsterdam" Bikes in NYC

Bike Snob has an excellent review and analysis of NYC's biking needs.
I feel compelled to concur that yes indeed there are differences between biking needs in Amsterdam and NYC.

There is the false belief that "Amsterdam" bikes have to be heavy. No. They're not. The Ome Fiets (Grandma bike) is only one style. One I personally dislike because you can't ride aggressively. And no doubt Dutch grannies would, if only they had better bikes.

Batavus, for instance, builds lots of good city bikes that are light. Too bad they're all ugly.

In my mind, an "Amsterdam" bike has upright handlebars, fenders, chainguard, bell, and a rear rack.

But there are two main differences between biking in NYC and biking in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is flat. I mean so is most of New York City, but we have the high bridges and upper Manhattan. Amsterdam does not.

Amsterdam is small. Very small. Rides in center take 10 minutes. The Oos (East) in Amsterdam is kind of like Queens. It's soooo far. And filled with immigrants. And not at all cool. It's a great neighborhood. And about 2 miles from the center.

My relatively short bike ride to work here is 5 miles. In Amsterdam, that's the equivalent of biking from the center to Schiphol Airport, and unfathomable distance in the minds of most Amsterdammers.

So while riding slowly and singing is beautiful (and actually happens quite a lot in Amsterdam). That is just not the way I can get to work here in NYC.

Here's the link again to Bike Snob NYC.


Amsterdamize said...

It's always good to point out the differences, but I'm afraid your going off the other end.

I've lived in NYC for a while (and regularly commuted (oh how I hate that word) by bike and I have been living in Amsterdam for 17 years (although there's no significant difference with the rest of NL), so let me try to put your post in perspective.

Amsterdam is not entirely flat and on important cycle routes you'd be surprised about the long elevations. Plus, there's something to be said about the zillion steep canal bridges you have to take while finding your way through all modes of traffic. On top of that, the weather is very unpredictable and nasty. Gushing winds (sea climate like NYC), downpours like there's no tomorrow, whatever it is, there's more to riding here than just it's supposed 'flatness'. Still, the cycling rate in winter only drops a few points. Perhaps that says a lot about us Dutchies or it amplifies and solidifies the validity of all the cycling accommodations.

Saying 'Amsterdam is flatter'..uhm, falls flat, as Bern, Switzerland for instance, enjoys a healthy 30% cycle share. It's hard to come across a flat piece of road in the Alps, imho.

Amsterdam is like a zit compared to NYC, but that's not the point. The average commuting distance for New Yorkers is about the same as it is here. (5 miles equivalent to Schiphol is not valid (as Schiphol is 15 miles from downtown), while a Amsterdam bicycle commuter travels 12.5 km a day on average..which is about 8 miles. A lot of the major business parks are on the edge of town. Hell, school children often ride that kind of distance and you don't hear them complain.

I can tell you that you can drive 'aggressively' on an Oma fiets (or any 'Dutch' bike (that US/UK people consider 'heavy'), for that matter, see this pic for instance). It's not about the bike, it's about the person riding it. Of course it's all in the eyes of the beholder, but from my experience many visitors are surprised by the average speed on the bike lanes. So much so, that in their amazement they are forced to quickly adapt to that when they want to cross one (some even feel threatened by it).

Hope that helps a bit.

PCM said...

I don't want to get into too many quibbles about Amsterdam. But where are these "long elevations" you talk about? And the bridges in the center do have a bit of a hump, but they just go up for like a meter or two.

My point about flatness is just that even one big hill makes a heavy one-speed bike not very practical.

You point about the weather is good. People in America believe that biking is only for good weather. It was, in fact, living in Amsterdam more than a few years ago that taught me that a bike could be your sole means of transport, day and night, rain or shine. That changed my life!

But Amsterdam is so much smaller than NYC. And that is my point. Longer distances need different bikes if you're biking every day.

And this is trivia I'm very proud of because, as you illustrate, nobody living in Amsterdam knows this. Schiphol to Amsterdam is 5 miles. I do cheat a bit on the measuring (from the edge of Schiphol to the entrance of Vondel Park). From Centraal Station to the terminals is a bit over 7.

Five Miles from Centraal Station will also take you to the middle of Haven Ijland on Ijberg (biking... not as the crow fly).

Five miles in Amsterdam is considered a distance sooo far that people aren't even expected to bike it.

Twelve miles? You crazy. Or thinking kilometers. Twelve miles, to give you some idea of distances, center to center, is more than Amsterdam to Haarlem. More than Amsterdam to Edam. Hilversum, an intercity train ride, is 16 miles away.

16 miles for me is my house to the Cyclone at Coney Island, Brooklyn, a ride I take every now and than.

But my point isn't just that NYC is larger than Amsterdam. We all know that. But when people say that biking in NYC should be more like biking Amsterdam--and it should be--we do have to keep in mind things aren't exactly comparable.

And the main difference is that people generally bike--and need to bike--much faster here. That calls for different bikes and different bike infrastructure.

I know you can ride aggressively on any bike, but some bikes are made for more aggressive riding. Primarily this has to do with the frame's geometric triangle and the trail of the front wheel. An ome-fiets is tough to really get cranking on.

Thanks for you comment!

Brian43NY said...

Does Amsterdam have the traffic NYC does? Does it have drivers who will lay on the horn if you don't let them pass? Will a city bus in Amsterdam cut you off and then stop in front of you? Are the bike lanes there filled up with cars parking? Do pedestrians hang out in bike lanes and try to play chicken with cyclists?

I am guessing no to all the above. If you just needed to go around your hood I think an Amsterdam bike would be great but if you find yourself going to another borough on a regular basis might not be the perfect bike.

PCM said...

You are correct!

John said...


Andreas is having a bicycle sale this weekend. July 3rd 4th and 5th. 15% off all bicycles. I thought that since he runs our favorite shop you might want to post something about it.