Three little things

“Long Live Amsterdam”

The Amsterdam based newspaper ‘Het Parool’ has a small corner for short letters. Limited to 69 words, people are encouraged to share something with the readers. This little gem was published on 22nd October last. I simply have to share it with you here too.

Long Live Amsterdam
Long Live Amsterdam, a beautiful letter in ‘Het Parool’.

Due to the word limit the Dutch version is also a bit ‘telegraphese’.

Arrived by car from The Hague Thursday. Parked in Marnixstraat garage. Walked to Herengracht for book promotion. Slightly disorientated, asked young man, waiting at corner with bicycle, for directions. Would be quite a walk, but if I wasn’t afraid he’d give me a lift on his bicycle. Am 75 years old and hadn’t sat on back of bicycle for about 50 years. It was a fantastic experience (in rush hour). And what an adorable Amsterdammer! (From Groningen by the way). I hope the ‘boy’, in his late twenties I think, reads this paper and sees this!
Hélène Degen, Rijswijk.

It sure sounds like this 75 year old lady felt like a 25 year old girl again, sitting at the back of the bike of a 20-something stranger. And she loved it! Now if you think an elderly lady as a bike passenger like this is a bit extreme, here’s a picture of the other extreme! Yours truly aged 22 months, riding at the back of his uncle’s bicycle (my uncle was aged 5 at the time).

Child passenger
In Summer 1967; I was 22 months old and I could already ride as a passenger with my uncle who was only 5 years old at the time. For the Dutch, age is really no issue when it comes to riding as a bicycle passenger.
“I had a flat bridge and my tire was open”

In the top 10 of most used excuses to be late in the Netherlands were always ‘I had a flat tire’ and ‘the bridge was open’. But if you listen to this 1960’s song you’ll hear a children’s choir making clear that those excuses were already very worn out at that time!

M’n wekker was stuk en de brug stond open
M’n band was lek dus ik moest gaan lopen
Katrineke, kom, kom
Verzin wat anders, verzin wat anders
Katrineke, kom, kom
Je bent te laat, maar waarom
My alarm clock was broken and the bridge was open
I had a flat tire, so I had to walk,
Now, now, little Catharine
Make up something different, make up something different
Now, now, little Catharine
You are late, but why

Over time it became a running gag to mix up the excuses: “I had a flat bridge and my tire was open”.

But it is of course a real time consumer if you do have to wait for a bridge in the Netherlands and in this water rich country bridges are really everywhere! See how much time it takes before this ship passes and how the people race and run when they can finally pass the bridge, to make up for their lost time!

Open bridge in Rotterdam

“If you go down to the woods today…

… you’re sure of a big surprise”, as the song goes. Well, not in any Dutch woods you’re not. You’ll see people on bikes of course, lots of people on bikes, no matter when you get there, there are always people on bikes… I saw these people in the woods near Vught in Spring this year. The song the title is a quote from crept into my head while I was filming. But I resisted the urge to use it as background music, until… I heard the song played on a street organ that same week in Dordrecht! At that point I couldn’t help myself anymore… had to put the two together in this little video…

Cycling in the woods near Vught

8 thoughts on “Three little things

  1. Urban Commuter wrote:

    “As your bike is considered a vehicle, you are not allowed to be with two vehicles in the same lane travelling with the same speed, you can only pass”

    Kevin’s question:

    Where are you getting that from? It is not in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. It is not in the link that you provided to local Ottawa laws.

    You also wrote:

    “The same for cycling on side walks along busy roads”

    Kevin’s comment:

    The same comment applies. This is not forbidden by Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and is therefore the subject of municipal regulation. For example, in the city of Burlington, Ontario, riding on the sidewalk is legal except for a few blocks of one downtown street where the pedestrian traffic is high. See the city’s official website at:

    With regards to the luggage rack, it is a principle of common law that design intent (what something is designed for) is determined by questioning the designer.

    For example, I recently bought a Royal Dutch Gazelle Tour Populaire bicycle for my father-in-law. Suppose I write a letter to Royal Dutch Gazelle and ask them “Is the rear rack of this bicycle designed to carry a passenger?” Suppose the answer by return post is “Yes, we have designed the rack to carry a passenger up to 60 kilos.” Then it is perfectly legal to carry a passenger on this bicycle’s rear rack since it was designed for that purpose.

  2. Sadly, in Ontario one is not allowed to: 1) cycle next to each other on the public roads 2) not allowed to cycle with a parcel in your hand thereby having one hand on the bike only 3) cycle with some one on the luggage carrier. Clearly, the law prevents cyclists from being social. It is not only the lack of infrastructure, but also poor legislation that stops cycling to develop faster here. Which means we have to start a whole new lobby circus towards the provincial government. Sigh.

    1. Dear Mr. Urban Commuter,

      Perhaps there is a local City of Ottawa law forbidding people from cycling next to each other or cycling with a parcel in hand. Otherwise cyclists are governed by the provincial Highway Traffic Act, which forbids neither activity.

      The Highway Traffic Act does forbid carrying a passenger on a bicycle that is “designed for carrying one person only.” That is found in Section 178 (2). So if the luggage carrier is also designed for passenger use, it is legal to carry a passenger on it.

      Here is a link to the Highway Traffic Act. If you can find the slightest restriction upon people cycling next to each other or carrying a parcel in hand, please be so kind as to point it out to me.

      1. Indeed, you are right, it is the Ottawa bylaw that restricts cycling with one hand on the bars: “No person driving a bicycle upon a highway shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars or interferes with the normal operation of the bicycle”: One of my colleagues was actually fined for cycling with one hand, while changing songs on his Ipod.

        As your bike is considered a vehicle, you are not allowed to be with two vehicles in the same lane travelling with the same speed, you can only pass. I have always found that cycling along the curb, passing cars on the right feels against the law too, but that is generally accepted, just like crossing pedestrian intersections on your bike, which is not allowed either, but no cop will bother you as bike crossings don’t exist in the law (but that is likely going to change in Book 18), so we can finally have ‘cross rides’ legally. The same for cycling on side walks along busy roads, a cop will rarely bother you. However, I wonder that if you get doored by a right door, while approaching a traffic light, passing a row of cars lined up for that light, how they interprete the law. You are not using a dedicated lane, so technically one would wait in line with the cars in front of you. But no one does of course.

        Referring to Section178.2 the luggage carrier is not a seat and therefore not ‘designed’ for a second person, however, child carriers are OK, as now the seat *Is* designed to carry a second person.
        (2) No person riding on a bicycle designed for carrying one person only shall carry any other person thereon. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 178 (2). I am sure they argue that there are no foot rests or a seat and therefore it is not designed properly. I have strong doubts that when you carry a person amazon style on the luggage carrier, as is common in Holland, they’ll let you pass.

        Bottom line is that the laws are outdated. Rather than updating them and adjust them to the times, bicycling in Canadian society have mostly been ignored. Some changes will be coming though, which will help city planners and engineers implement changes easier, rather than working around dated laws.

        The grey area is that you are never sure if something is accepted or not, until the police decides to do a blitz of some kind and all of a sudden ‘could’ fine you. Like Ryan says underneath, a busy cop might find something OK, a bored cop not.

        In North America, roads are designed so that traffic always flows. The less cross rides and ped crossings, the less traffic has to stop for traffic lights, the better the engineers meet the requirements. Hence the right through red and the short cuts before traffic lights, which create new engineering nightmares for proper bike lanes, because now all of a sudden you have to cross your bike lane over a right turning lane while traffic is speeding by at 70 k an hour. Add the minimum width for a car lane, lack of bike traffic lights and the bike lane is sacrificed. And that is why I think we sit on a 2% bike modal share and Holland 30% or so.

    2. I don’t think #1 is actually a law. It’s just not safe on most streets in this province AND you will more then likely here complaints from motorists.
      #2 is a grey area. Technically it is law to have both hands on the handlebars at all times, though you’d have to have one bored cop who actually knows the laws with bicycles to enforce it.

      The main reason we don’t have cycling legislation (or infrastructure) develop faster here is the general public. People in this province (country actually) believe there is no other way to get around. Try showing them different methods and they’ll find an excuse.

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