It doesn’t take much time in Amsterdam to figure out that pedestrians are second class citizens and that vehicles are for the wealthy. Amsterdam may be globally famous for its Red Light District and Museums but what is most apparent in this city – two wheels rule!
The Dutch are incredibly skilled riders covering many miles a day by pedal power, electric power or gas although I didn’t see one fuel station. The morning rush hour is comical. Fender to fender gridlock, bells ringing, scarfs flapping and no apparent traffic structure other than go if you can. The only thing that appears to trump the two wheelers is the street car/tram.
Men in three piece suits, ties blowing in the wind, briefcase tied to the carrier at the front of the bike or scooter, talking on the phone as they drop the kids at preschool, (riding along in child seats) and head off to the office.
It isn’t just one that stands out, there are hundreds – actually thousands. A mini-van here is a bicycle with extra seats or a box car to carry the children while mom pedals – and she does. It is no wonder the children are so well behaved – one wrong move on a bike could land the whole lot face first on the bricks.
The BMW C1 200 is the rolls royce of scooter transportation and will provide the most protection from the elements with a touch of luxury. A 180cc scooter with a roof, windshield with a wiper, a trunk, what looks like a recaro driving seat and a few other bells and whistles like an interior reading light, ABS brakes, a stereo and heated hand grips but I am thinking this one is out of the price range of the average Dutch commuter as I only saw three in the sea of scooters.
Vespa and Kymko populate the power paths complete with giant windshields, hand blankets and even leg blankets that attach to the side of the bike and rest on the rider’s thighs. It appears that helmets are not required on 50cc scooters. Driving licence age is 18 but for electric scooters it is 16. However, insider information tells me that those teenage boys have figured out a way to modify the engines to allow them to go faster than the 50cc were intended and it shows as they zip by and navigate the bicycles in the bike lane.
For the most part, the day goes by uneventful and just as I wondered if anyone ever crashes into one another, they did. The result – a basket full of produce rolled over the cobblestones as a few words in a foreign language were exchanged that I am almost positive was swearing as accompanying hand gestures indicated as such. My first thought, “what now, do they exchange information?” No. Pick up the produce, more hand gestures, more words, back on the bike and return to the mayhem the Dutch call order.
It all seems to make sense but there is a certain irony. As everyone knows, ‘coffee shops’ are allowed to sell marijuanna as long as the patrons are 18 and smoke it on the premises. Once their done, nothing stops them from getting on their scooters and slaloming the rest of the bike path or shopping streets full of pedestrians.
Pub laws are very liberal as well. Teens may not be able to get a vehicle or motorcycle licence at 16 but they can purchase and consume beer, wine or spirits under 15% alcohol.
It makes sense in this city to go two wheels. There is plenty of free parking. Busier areas of the inner city have barges on the canal for additional paid parking space. The parkade at the train station is not for vehicles but rather several levels of two wheeled space.
As far as the engineering goes, all roads are built with separate two-wheeled lanes against the sidewalks, and every corner has plenty of space and parking racks to accommodate this method of transportation. Two-wheels are the norm not the exception
Next week, MotorcyGal visits the Nurinburgring and then catches up with the men’s and ladies Team Canada at the International Six Days Enduro (www.fim-isde2012.com) competition at the Sachsenring in Germany (www.sachsenring-circuit.com).