We love Amsterdam, and we love cycling, but until recently we'd never combined the two, and this in a city where the bike truly is the king of the road, taking precedence not only over cars but even pedestrians. As you know if you've been, if you're walking in Amsterdam, you'd better look both ways with almost every step you take, and not for cars.
We booked a tour through Mike's Bike Rentals, only because Mike's came up first on a Google search and it seemed to have a lot of happy customers on TripAdvisor. We're glad we did. We had a great time and an entertaining (if slightly overenthusiastic) tour guide, Karl Schilling. (Turns out it was his last day as a bike guide in Amsterdam. Think he said he was heading to Australia. He's also a musician and street performer. Check out some of his work here.)
We decided to book Mike's Countryside Tour (24 euros per person). A ride through the congested streets of the city just did not appeal.
The Countryside Tour included a ride along the Amstel River and visits to what they described as one of the last remaining authentic windmills, as well as Rembrandt Hoeve, a small family run farm outside the city that makes it own cheese and carves its own clogs. Perfect. The total tour was 3.5 hours and around 25 kilometers in total.
Daisy is (almost) persuaded to buy a pair of wooden shoes at Rembrandt Hoeve.
And let me tell you, it was the easiest, most pleasurable 25 kilometers I have ever cycled. We never encountered anything that could remotely be called a hill, only what can only be called a few gentle bumps over bridges. It was paradise, but not exactly a workout. I was wearing a smile, not a sweatband, the entire ride. It was so much fun not to have to worry about a steep climb up ahead or about cars zooming too close for comfort. It was possible to simply enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle. Heaven.
Karl told us that if there is an accident involving a car and a cyclist in The Netherlands, the driver of the car is always at fault. If that's true, that's pretty cool. And, in fact, we did witness an accident, in which the driver of a delivery fan hit a well-dressed cyclist, knocking her and her shopping bags to the street and flattening the entire front of her bike. Thankfully, she was not injured, just shaken up a bit, but her bike was totaled. The cops were on the scene within seconds.
"The Bike Watch"
According to The Netherlands By Numbers, there are 18 million bikes in the country. That's more than one per inhabitant. And while there are dedicated cycling lanes everywhere, I was surprised to find that one-quarter of all traffic fatalities in The Netherlands involve cyclists -- 200 in 2011.
But interestingly, no one -- and I mean no one -- wears a helmet. The same website quotes the Dutch cyclists union as saying that helmets not only give cyclists a false sense of security but that 60 percent of those who cycle would not do so if helmets were made mandatory. This story from "The Telegraph" cites statistics from Australia and New Zealand that would seem to back that theory up.
Karl, our tour guide, actually wore these customized wooden shoes while he was riding. They are surprisingly light and sturdy. He swore by them.
I must say, cycling without a helmet is very liberating indeed. And with so many cyclists and so many dedicated cycling lanes, you'd look and feel like a dork if you were wearing a helmet in Amsterdam. There are more cyclists wearing high heels than helmets in Amsterdam. But with so many aggressive drivers in the Czech Republic, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to give up my helmet in this country yet. But I think I might do so if I'm just pedaling around Stromovka or Sarka.
If you're going to Amsterdam, by all means rent a bike and take a ride. It's magical. And it'll probably make you wish, as it did us, that you lived in a city where cycling was safe, where it was supported by the authorities, and where you didn't feel like an exposed target for motorists who drive like the road is theirs.
At Rembrandt Hoeve.
Still in the city, but without a care in the world.
Along the River Amstel.
At Rembrandt Hoeve.
We passed the spectacularly weird ING House outside the city. It's nicknamed "The Shoe" or "The Dustbuster."
Karl, our tour guide, with Daisy and Emma.
Houseboats along the Amstel.
At Rembrandt Hoeve.