isclosure – I’m a bike activist. I ride in the most dangerous city in America for this, three days a week. I’ve even spoken on the subject in this podcast. There is a gigantic photo of me on the wall at my work, with me pictured on my bike. Everyone knows I’m a man who rides a bike.
We’ve also been to Amsterdam and saw the bikes – even went on a tour (with helmets – how geeky we must have looked). That trip was cut short by my wife breaking her arm – another story there, this is a review, right?
So Pete Jordan is also a fan of bikes, more than me in that he immigrated to Amsterdam to become a citizen and learn about the bikes. In that, the book is a fascinating mix of the two-wheeled history of the city and his own experiences as he began to fit in. It’s fascinating, to learn of the occupation by the Germans, of their attempts to loot bikes from the citizens, of their resistances, and of the repercussions to Germans across the decades to follow. Also fascinating – to learn how Amsterdam was always a crazy bike town, how it started going over to the car in the 50s, and of the various efforts by different people and groups to wrest back control of the city (which they have done, for the most part).
There are the negative aspects, too, the running of red lights and especially the thievery of bicycles (the author’s loose survey shows that citizens tend to lose a bike a year to thieves). That part was a little eye-opening to me – I’d had this view of Amsterdam as a two-wheel utopia and yet it’s got its own problems (like canals filled with bikes that have, for whatever reason, been thrown in – sacrilege!). But for the most part it does capture what is, in my opinion, one of the most elegant, friendly and human forms of transportation (second is trains).
I only wish more people could read this and then look at their Americanized world, really look, and see the asphalt plains and the societal isolation we experience in this land of cars and convenience, where our neighborhoods are empty places and nobody walks or bikes in for fear of angry motorists and their two-ton killing machines (looks like a little bit of my own options are showing through here).
Anyway, great book of human possibility and positive change.