Amsterdam, Everydaylife, Travel

6 Amsterdam bike experiences and what I learned from them

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My time in the city of sins, canals and bikes is coming to an end faster than I can say «where-are-my-bike-keys-I-have-a-lecture-in-17-minutes-FML». This harsh fact is not easy for me to swallow. But I’m attempting to make it a little rounder on the edges by doing a humble tribute to a central aspect of Amsterdam-life that I have developed a love/hate relationship with; the biking lifestyle. «Lifestyle» might sound a little pretentious, but frankly speaking, you have no choice but to embrace biking as a part of your life in this city! And I love it! Almost always. Here are 6 bike related experiences – and what I’ve learned from each of them.

1. Getting my first bike! Expectation vs. reality

Expectation: Cruising around in Amsterdam on a nice looking, new and shiny, well-functioning bike with a cute straw basket filled with fresh vegetables and flowers, while I gently ring the bell to greet fellow students on their bikes, like Norwegians greet other Norwegians when they are on the sjø or in the skiløype.

Reality: My Disneyfied bike-bubble bursted quickly. Biking is not always some “gezellig” activity you do for fun, here it is a necessity. Think you should invest in a decent, new bike because you plan to live here for a while, and this will be your main means of transport? General mentality: Your bike WILL get stolen at some point, so invest accordingly. Don`t spend more than perhaps 50-150 EUR (as a student) on a used bike – the uglier the better, to put of thieves. I bought my first bike at the Waterlooplein market. It was probably stolen (circle of a bike`s many lives). It was neither stylish or particularly comfortable, but it did the job and it was my “entry into the market”. In general, the basket is not cute, it is often made of solid, hard plastic. A straw basket wouldn`t last long in the rainy climate. After all, you really wanna stuff the basket with all the things you want to bring with you – from groceries to your gym bag (ref. point 5 further down). Survival of the fittest = functionality over style. The bell? I use it aggressively to make tourists move out of the bike lane.

Lesson: Biking is not a leisure activity, it is a everyday necessity – and that changes a lot!

2. Bike upgrades

A few weeks or perhaps months after you have gotten your first bike, you realize that you`ve made a shitty deal. Although this thing has magically gotten you from A to B, you prepare to advance as a local citizen and get an upgrade. Perhaps you want to have hand breaks that actually works properly, or maybe something as luxurious as a few gears! But as a new, international student in the business of buying a used bike, you are in the lowest hierarchy of the bike market. You gotta be street smart when maximizing your return on bike investment. Personally, I am forever grateful that a local gentleman and tinder date at the time assisted in research and price negotiation, which ended up in a pretty decent bike and value for money. The bike served me loyally for over a year, until it unfortunately got stolen a few months ago.

Lesson: When upgrading your bike, get help from a local, if possible. Price negotiation always works best in the local language.

3. Bike rental – side hustle got real

After I got my new bike, I didn`t immediately sell my old one. At the time, I lived in a small studio in a complex called “Little Manhattan”, a student housing with some hundred other students. The idea to turn my old bike into new business opportunities came when a friend and hallway-neighbor offered to rent my spare bike while her friend was visiting. It would be convenient for them; picking it up and leaving it in the parking space at the first floor of our building. They would also save money by paying less than they would have at the local bike rentals. Win-win! It hit me that with so many students in one place, someone would always have a visitor over, and be in need of a spare bike for a day or three. I launched “Little Manhattan Bike Rental” and promoted it in the big WhatsApp chat group of the house. Side hustle got real! The price was 10 EUR per day, and I started to get customers who reserved the bike for specific dates. Often I didn`t even meet them in person. All I did was to leave the bike lock key in my customer`s mailbox, together with a description of where the bike was parked. The bike key was later returned in my mailbox, together with the cash. 20 EUR here and 20 EUR there is good money as a student! I enjoyed having the in-house bike rental market to myself as my own little hobby project, until some morons started copying my business model and rented out their bikes for half the price. The sweet days of monopoly was gone, and Little Manhattan Bike Rental was closed down as I sold my old bike. It was fun for as long as it lasted!

Lesson: There are always opportunities! But you if you come up with a new idea you gotta create some barriers to enter the market, otherwise you`ll risk losing market shares ;) Seriously speaking: Bike rentals are usually around 15-20 per day. If you live here, you know you`ll have some visitors over and want to save them the time, money and hassle – keep an old bike as a “friend bike”. You can always sell it later :)  

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4. Biking in crazy weather!

In Norway we have a saying that goes “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. The same applies here! The Dutch climate is as stable and predictable as Donald Trump`s twitter strategy, so always prepare for the worst. Here, you can have all four seasons in one day. The worst being heavy rain showers, leaving you at your final destination soaking wet. They even have a weather app (Buienradar), which makes it possible to plan if you should leave a little sooner or a little later to avoid the worst showers! One of the first things I did when I moved here was to upgrade my wardrobe with a proper raincoat, and I also learned to cycle with an umbrella – the latter is not an unusual sight here. (Lasting) snow is not that common during the winter, but I actually got to experience snowfall both of the two winters when I lived here. The same rule applies; dress up, head out and just take it easy on the way.

Lesson: If biking is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get from A to B – you bike. Even when the weather is a lot. Because if that`s just how it is, and then you quickly learn to deal with it.

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5. Bike transportation

A large ironing board, a small suitcase, a microwave-sized oven. These are all examples of items that I`ve bought at a store and somehow managed to bring home with me – on a bike. Grab it under the arm, in your basket (now you see the point of a solid one), or strap it on your bike behind the seat. (If you can`t duck it… )The Dutchies doesn`t seem to let anything scare them away from transporting things on a bike – even kids, by the way! What is the limit of how many kids you can stack on a bike? The limit does not exist! If you on a regular basis need more transportation capacity than a normal bike can provide, you upgrade to a cargo bike – a bakfiets. One of my flatmates has a cargo bike for her company. She works in the food industry, and uses this bike to deliver her delicious, freshly rolled, scandinavian cinnamon buns to local cafès! Of course there are delivery vans and such if you need to move larger items, but in general; a bike with a solid basket, a back seat area and some creativity gets you a long way in everyday life!

Lesson: Same as above – it`s all about the attitude (or the culture)!


6. Bike maintenance

Anything you use on a daily basis will inevitably need some TLC. After my second or third tire puncture, I figured that it would be both expensive and inconvenient in the long run if I had to take my bike to the bike repair every time I got a puncture. I like to be able to sort out things myself, and this was my opportunity to learn a new skill! Whenever there is a need, there is motivation. Besides, my outdoorsy little sister (who once cycled on her own from the north to the south of Norway!) claimed that “it`s not exactly rocket science to fix a bike puncture”. It was clear to me; I couldn`t be any worse! ;) I managed to find a local bike mechanic who was willing to give me a crash course in “bike maintenance for dummies” in return for some beer. The session turned out to be really fun, and eventually my bike got a proper overhaul! I later fixed a few punctures on my own, and the confidence boost and sense of accomplishment was real! Once, I used a few drops of hair conditioner to make the super tight tire slip right back in place when I was done. Problem solved! I was so proud and happy, and felt like superwoman for the rest of the day! ;)

Lesson: Learning a new skill is a confidence booster! Moreover, it is nice to feel more self-sufficient and not have to depend on others for simple things you could quite easily do yourself.
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I will genuinely miss the amazing feeling of freedom that the bike lifestyle in Amsterdam gives. Cycling through Vondelpark with your favourite music on a nice and buzzling summer day is an experience in itself. Not having to figure out “who`s driving home tonight” or “when the last tube runs”, but simply biking home from a night out. The mobility of being able to go anywhere in about 20 minutes – or make a day trip out of it and head for the seaside just outside of Amsterdam. I`ve gone from being overwhelmed by the unique urban traffic situation to navigating like a local, which is also in itself a pretty cool experience. It has been a privilege to indulge in the Dutch biking culture – an inspiration to any city or place aspiring to become more people and environmental friendly! 

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