Cycling in Sydney Australia
After 40 odd years of life, it was finally time to visit the Netherlands. It was for work, but still an awesome chance. Confirming our destination is bike central, KLM's plastic goblet has two bikes on it, along with a tulip, and a clog. On approach to Schiphol airport, a depressing 8 lanes of cars is the view out the window, but unlike other airports (tell me if I'm wrong), there's a bike path beside it, and more on the map.
We train it to Hoofddorp, in the industrial zone, as our offices are always. A large red sculpture is mooning everybody. All the buildings are new, about 3 or 4 stories high. There's a 4 lane divided road running down the middle and a bike path on the side with no bikes. Out the back of the offices the space is taken by car parking. Cars fill every parking space like magic.
We'd planned to keep it simple, and hire bikes Hoogma Fietsen Hoofddorp, but Hans Hoogma put a hole in the holiday by running out of bikes. If you had a shop in Hoofddorp, you'd have to call it Hoogma, especially after half a hash cookie. Public bikes are availble from train stations including Hoofddorp, but you need a Dutch bank account to subscribe. This could be a clever way of protecting local bike businesses. Schiphol airport has no bike hire.
From the airline magazine: "Flying over Holland for the first time, I remember thinking how organised this land looks. So geometric. Strips of grassland divided by narrow waterways, with farmhouses neatly placed at the end of each field. No waste of space. No urban sprawl. It was hard to believe this country was so densely populated. Everything planned."
Some 40 years on, it's still like that. There is so much open space, fields, and trees. The appartment blocks are cheerfully well done, in top condition with a splash of colour. Later cycling along, it reminds me of Canberra, but greener, and attractive. I have discovered where I want to retire for the rest of my life (hint it's not Canberra).
At the end of the day, we go to Amsterdam. We're finally hit with loads of bike traffic. The station parking has a constant stream of people, and thousands of bikes parked. It's like one of those docos where the mother penguin has to find their baby on the ice amoung thousands: how do they do it? There are 880,000 bikes in Amsterdam and 220,000 cars, 210k too many. Cyclists go through on the red, pedestrians do too, leading to furious bell ringing.
We hired from Starbikes near Amsterdam Centraal. At work at home, they were excited about our trip, with all the sex and drugs. Me, I've got a one track mind for things 2 wheeled. Me and my workmate, also a cycliste, we join the throngs in paradise.
By weird coincidence, a buddy from Oz and his wife are there, also cyclists. Their $200 folders from Aldi in Sydney have been stolen here already. Nationwide, there's 1.3 million bikes sold and 720,000 stolen each year. We play taxi with one person on the rack, bumping along the gob smackingly beautiful canals. We stop to sip a beer with the bikes parked in view. The whole place is magic. The later it gets, the more the traffic is just bikes, and all the cars have voyaged back to car land. There's even one lady with a Baby Bjorn, the baby turned face in sleeping, her mum on a mobile phone.
After dinner in Amsterdam, the hotel is 20km away. We're staying in Haarlem, as it's handsome, starts with the habitual H, and the double middle letters are also a bizarre bonus. The Netherlands proves you can have it all as we run along a freeway with huge flyovers. My upright bike curiosity has been killed after 90 minutes.
Reaching Haarlem, we're lost. The first to approach is a tall blonde cycling goddess with a dimpled smile. Unlike all the pervy photos on the Copenhagenize(TM) site, she has her hair in a smart ponytail, instead of out catching some golden sun. At 11pm at night, this is smarter. She guides us for another 2k. She's excited we're staying in her town, excited we're cycling in the Netherlands. It's great here she says, as long as it doesn't rain...
The hotel is a monster, has a monster car park, but the bike rack has around 20 bikes capacity, a roof, and is closer to reception. The plan is to ride from Haarlem-Hoofddorp-Haarlem daily, which is easier done than said. The latest company guidelines specifically state that riding a bike is forbidden for business trips. So we do it, and ask later.
In the morning, it's wonderful. People are all around, unlike my usual commute, which is 90% done solo. At intersections, you have to time it, in order to slip in between bikes passing. Some bunch even indicate to go right. It's astonishing to think that there are enough bikes to warrant indicating your intentions on a path, let alone have company at all. Mostly they're school kids, mums with kids and babies on the front and back, and smatterings of office workers. It occurs to me that, in the same way, during the school holidays, Sydney is easy to drive, so too in the Netherlands, it would be easier with so few parents driving their children around. An argument for safe routes to school.
The Haarlem suburbs are simple beautiful standalone appartment blocks. Travelling further on, we find fields of cows, then a postcard perfect canal lined with cheerful boats, and lovely homes, all in great condition. 20% of the average American's salary goes on (car) transport. The Dutch it seems are spending their transport savings on housing, gardens, parks, canals, bike bridges, good things! Not curtains though. At night you can see the home owners watching TV or reading the paper. Often you can see through to the fields on the other side.
People say we shouldn't live like Europeans, all living on top of each other. Australians need space like the suburbs. A lady is power walking in the fields. Schoolkids ride 2 or 3 abreast chatting. For a highly dense place, it has space that Sydneysiders can only dream of, farms, green fields, and a quality of life. I continue planning my retirement, in my mind.
Further along another canal, more cows, sheep, and lines of trees, one guy passes on a mountain bike with no mud guards. Where's the moutain dude? Another passes on a roadie, helmet, and even worse, wearing lycra. This guy is by definition not real. Good luck on all the pathway cow pats guys.
Compared with anywhere, it is amazingly good infrastructure, just a dream. We roll over a large bike specific bridge spanning a main road, and under several underpasses. This means along the entire 10km route, we stop maybe 2 or 3 times for the lights.
We get to the office after 60 minutes in Hoofddorp near the train station. The 40 or 50 people exiting the train this direction, all funnel onto the 30cm foot path, while next to it is a 3m bidi path. We're the only 2 on it. Don't tell Duncan Gay.
The organiser asks if we rode, and asks how it was. Do these people have no idea of their reputation? How can you summarise a religious life transforming event like this? It's good! I say. I'm used to semi trailers, and fast cars passing too closely. He used to cycle every day 10km each way to school, but now he's getting fat. I'm not listening! His wife's bike has space for 2 kids on the back, one on the front. His carries one on the front. Them and their 4 children go riding all the time. Alright!
Random Dutch co-worker no. 2 says he lives 60km away, so car driving is acceptable. He used to be 40km away from the office, so he'd ride sometimes. Impressive. He says the traffic approaching Amsterdam is bad, so they're putting in an extra car tunnel, with one that switches direction. Et tu Netherlands, et tu?
The 40 attendees walk to a team dinner nearby. We pass one young man who is patting a sheep. The densification brings open space and makes people here are happy in unimagined ways - eg sheep patting. Getting home in the dark, we get lost again and take 90 minutes, compared with this mornings 60.
On day 3 Dutch colleague no. 3 says he drove people the 60 seconds to their hotel last night. He lives 4 minutes drive away. You're living the American dream buddy! On a scale of walkable, push scooterable, bikeable, ebikeable, to unsustainable, his commute is surely walkable.
It rains all the way home today. We get lost again. The biggest problem the Netherlands has is too many bike paths. Picture a grid of 3m separated paths going in any direction mostly not signposted. Problem no. 2 is rain. My hands are seriously cold. The rain is interfering with my retirement plans. Dinner is in Haarlem, a beautiful historic city. Hoardes of pedestrians and cyclists are out eating, drinking and making merry.
On the last day, leaving Hoofddorp, rolling past the airport, and the jumbos, turns out route 78 is just a shared road. It's surprising to have a large truck overtaking. In the outskirts of Amsterdam, some of the roads don't have separated paths. Outrageous!
The rain jacket and rainlegs are not enough after 2 hours solid. There are two little 10cm patches of dryness on top of my thighs. The water still beads up nicely on my shoes, but the jeans have fed enough in via the heels, that they squelch.
It's been fantastically awesome. You know the problem with the world is that nobody thinks like I do. Then suddenly, there's a whole nation out there who feels the same way.