Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dutch Perspective

We attended an event last weekend with one of the Scientist's Dutch colleagues, who got a ride back with us, and the conversation turned to biking.  He said that he had heard about the trend for importing Dutch bikes, and he thought it was a bit crazy how expensive the Dutch imports are.  He said, you can come to Amsterdam and get a bike for $300 no problem.  I did point out that a lot of the imports have upgrades like multiple speeds, fancy saddles and fancy lighting systems, and he agreed that the $300 model wouldn't include all those things.   For the record, I remember looking at Italian city bikes and them being in the $2,000 range for "loaded" ones when I lived in Italy, so I know that it's not ALL markup.

His perspective was completely the "bicycle as vacuum cleaner" one- he said it's not unusual to get your bike stolen once a year, so why would you customize and get attached to it.  He thought I was a little silly to have named my bikes, although when I mentioned that I had 4, and that several of them were all the same color it seemed to make a bit more sense.
Vacuum Cleaner Parking

We talked a bit about how the attitude is so much different there- the strict liability to which drivers are held there prevents a lot of the hazards that drivers inflict on bikers here.  Interestingly his pet peeve here wasn't close passing, but people opening their doors carelessly.  He said twice that if someone opened their door in front of a biker in the Netherlands, angry bikers would pull the driver out of the car, and the driver would never do it again (implied some kind of smackdown).  He said that he had had several angry exchanges with drivers here who had almost doored him.  I suspect that if he rode further out in the lane, he'd complain instead about close passes and people honking at him.

He had only a loose concept of US biking laws and said he runs red lights all the time  (so much for the concept that getting more people out on the streets will make them more law abiding).  He doesn't "blow lights"  but he said since he's being environmentally responsible, he feels like the laws shouldn't apply as rigorously.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could talk about separated facilities vs riding on the road.

I'm feeling better, but still a bit weak and slow,  and I was longing for separated infrastructure (or any infrastructure) as I biked home at rush-hour this evening.


  1. I imagine that any conversation I might have with him would be VERY interesting to you, both as to the things we agree on and the ones we don't...

  2. I've been to the Netherlands and would really enjoy going back some day for a long cycling adventure in city and countryside. It's a great place. But the unique conditions there--very small country, about the same area as the Phoenix Metropolitan area at 16,000 sq miles, very high population density, and a recent history which for various economic and social reasons has favored bicycles more than most other places--make it ill suited to compare effectively with anywhere else. Phoenix could learn more from Amsterdam about canals than it could about bicycles. The transportation solutions we need are different from what they have.

  3. It shouldn't be surprising, should it? Wouldn't that be conflating the "dutch bike concept as it is embraced by forward thinking North American cyclists" with the fact that to the Dutch, "a dutch bike is just a bike"

    I remember getting a similar sort of perspective from Japanese cyclists. There is, perhaps, a certain minority of aficionados who patronize places like Grand Bois and get into passhunting, or racers who are into keirin and roadie or cyclocross events; but the large majority simply look at it as a way to get around as cheaply and as fuss free as possible.

    I suspect that if cycling were to pick up in North America, the majority will treat their bikes like a pair of shoes. Perhaps one will choose to buy a certain pair because it looks prettier, or fits better, or has certain features that another pair may lack. But in the same way that few want to learn how to shine, waterproof or resole a show; few citizen cyclists will take the time to learn how to fix a flat or swap out the handlebars on their rides. Those of us who choose to nerd out on such things will always be in a minority.

    With that said, even if the number of bike nerds will only ever be 10% of the overall rider population, 10% of one million can support a lot more specialty shops, events, and ideas than 10% of one thousand.

    On the flip side, I wouldn't take the attitude of one fellow towards red light running as a complete invalidation of road compliance through "peer pressure/greater presence". I think it's just a global sort of thing and no matter what, you will always find people who will be willing to run reds whether that's in a bike, car or on foot.

  4. In Vienna "nice" bikes cost about the same as in the US, so it's definitely not just an imports mark-up. On the other hand, you can buy a single speed coasterbrake Batavus with a cheap bottle dynamo and halogen lighting system, no front brake and a vinyl saddle for under $500. And you can indeed buy a no-name Dutch bike with the same set-up for $300.

    The vacuum thing... In my experience it's not that there are fewer bicycle collectors and enthusiasts in EU countries with high rates of cycling, but that there are more people in general who cycle - so the enthusiasts make up a smaller percentage of *cyclists* but not a smaller percentage of the population, if that makes sense. Some of the best known collectors of vintage bikes are in Holland, France and Austria. They organise vintage-inspire rides, have forums, swap meets, etc. If you ask the average cyclist in Denmark, sure they might tell you they don't care about bikes. But that is only because the average person in Denmark happens to be a cyclist.