26 December 2012

One way to avoid punctures: Ski-bikes in Germany

We've just got back from southern Germany, where it was too snowy and icy to cycle.

The Bavarians, though, see such weather as an opportunity rather than a threat. This was what we saw on the local BOB train out of Schliersee. Each carriage here has space for twelve bikes, and about as many snowboards or sets of skis.

Does this count as skis or a bike (picture)? Not sure, but it certainly isn't a wheelchair.

12 December 2012

IJ spy: In Amsterdam, even the Erotic Museum involves bikes...

I've just got back from a few days in Amsterdam. Everyone cycles here of course, except stag-party Brits, so I took a bike (picture) to ensure I wasn't mistaken for one of them. It worked: the prostitutes ignored me.

Also, when I bumped into another cyclist, momentarily forgetting which side of the cycle path I should be on, he swore and threatened to kill me in Dutch. I was delighted, as I had been taken for a local.

Anyway, I took my folder, taking advantage of a five-quid Megabus each way - thus ticking two boxes much approved of by our Netherlands chums: 'bike use', and 'economy'.

It was snowy, blustery and cold, but Amsterdam's streets were still thronged with bikes. So were the pavements (picture), littered by fallen machines whose kickstands failed. Most parking is not Sheffield stands or racks, it's just a painted square of pavement where you stand and self-lock your town clunker.

The preferred luggage carrying option is the black plastic crate (picture). Wicker baskets are rare. Perhaps they've smoked them all.

Some baskets make a statement. My favourite was this beer crate (picture), though I'd have preferred Amstel, as that's the other river Amsterdam is on, apart from the IJ. Much English keg beer also celebrates a well-known river, the Piddle in Dorset.

Thanks to the amount of people on two wheels, cycling feels a normal and safe thing to do. High-visibility clothing is evidently unnecessary, and few people bother with lights. The only red lights I saw were in those prostitute booths I cycled past unacknowledged. In fact, most riders seemed to be listening to their iPod, texting, web surfing etc, with little negative impact on safety.

Many even walk their dog (picture). Some American viewers may be surprised to see that the dog is not wearing a helmet.

The bakfiets is a common way of transporting children around, such as this group in Albert Cuyp market (picture). The box is so big, it can accommodate two children, or one cheese.

Of course, I cycled gleefully round to some of the city's must-sees: cosy Jordaan cafes, snowy Vondelpark, quirky canalsides, the Rijksmuseum's Rembrandts, the Hermitage's van Goghs, the newly extended Stedelijk. Anyone who thinks the Stedelijk's art collection is a load of old rubbish is quite wrong. It's all modern.

I didn't actually go into the Erotic Museum, but I was intrigued by the blowup doll riding a bike in the foyer (picture). The sign clearly states Dutch priorities: DON'T TOUCH THE BIKE. If we want a cycling culture in the UK, this is the sort of thing we have to emulate. I can see council groups excitedly lining up factfinding trips now.