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Cycling Culture in China

13 Nov

What you see here, is a Chinese bookkeeper presenting an article (the picture was taken by my friends Aude and Willem, who found the book in a Shanghai bookshop and were thrilled to read familiar English, after months of unintelligible Chinese characters).

The article explains how significant cycling is for Chinese culture. If you zoom in, you should be able to read the article – and learn how back in the 1970s, the bicycle was one of the three most prized possessions of Chinese families (together with: their sowing machine and wrist watch). The article states: “If someone lost a bicycle, the public security bureau would handle the case with great force”.

I repeat: “force”.

I wonder what would happen if the Gardai took a similar approach to bike theft in Dublin. I mean: nobody would want to be on the wrong end of that investigation, right?

Of course, China has changed since the 1970s. However, that bikes continue to be prized possessions in China can be seen in the 2 pictures below: diamond frame bicycles on display in an upmarket art gallery in Shanghai.

I wonder what the Chinese public bureau would do if that one got stolen?

Delivery bikes in India – (photos 2 through 6 / 60)

25 Oct

Some of our readers may be aware of our efforts in Dublin to sell Dutch delivery bicycles.

While we have gotten very positive responses to our Dutch delivery bicycles, Dubliners still need a bit of time to get used to the idea.

Looking at the pictures my friend Aude took in India, makes me think people there would need less time. The Indians have identified transport and delivery options for bikes even the Dutch have never dreamt of.

Even the Indian Oil company seems to use bikes for transport, rather than machines running on oil.

Oil Companies and Bikes

Delivery bike in IndiaDelivery bikes in IndiaDelivery bike India











Bicycles in Asia – photo 1 of 60

6 Oct

My friends, Aude and Willem, have been travelling through Asia for 5 months. Upon their return, they brought me a present: pictures of cyclists in India, Birma, Cambodia, Laos and China. To show how the Dutch claim to cycling fame is tenuous.

The pictures have hit a spot – in a good way.

Over the course of the coming weeks, I’m sharing the pictures with you. I am curious to hear your thoughts. Have you been to Asia? And do we need to replace the Dutch and Danish bike ambassadors with Cambodian or Chinese? Do not hesitate to drop me a line, via the comments section below.

This picture, number 1 of 60, was taken in Birma.

Cyclist on Wooden Bridge, Birma -- by Aude de Prelle

UBS, Risk and Compliance, Cyclists

23 Sep

If you have read the news, you will not have missed that UBS – a swiss bank – made a trading loss. Here’s a short recap given by the Economist:

THE latest annual report of UBS, Switzerland’s biggest and most error-prone bank, states that “disciplined risk management and control are essential to our success.” That assertion has been proved right in the most embarrassing way, after allegedly unauthorised bets cost the bank a whopping $2.3 billion.

The papers are filled with the bank’s ‘Swiss Miss’, and write how it should not have been possible. Surely, shareholders will hold the bank’s Risk and Compliance Management Team accountable.

What went wrong? Why didn’t the Risk and Compliance Management Team stop the rogue trader?

In an e-mail circulating among bankers, an explanation is suggested. Since today is Friday – a day most people in an office spend circulating e-mails with footage of dancing cats or zoo-keeper bloopers – I am sharing that e-mail with you.

The e-mail’s subject: UBS’ risk managment & compliance team returns to work …
The e-mail’s picture:


Well – they may have done stuff wrong at work; but the UBS Risk and Compliance team has definitely got its cycling style right.

Biking Babe Barbara

26 Jun

Barbara Smit is the producer of a Dutch television travel show for kids. She lives and works in Nicaragua and she travels by bike; on the very same Dutch bicycle she used in the streets of Amsterdam.

Barbara has been working in Nicaragua for over two years. Together with director Stef Biemans, she first worked on a series for children called ‘Letters from Nicaragua’. That series showed what it’s like to live in a foreign culture and raise a child (Stef’s wife is from Nicaragua, and their son Camilo was born there).

In their current production, Barbara and Stef travel the world to meet special kids in special places (preview of the new show below). So far, Stef has met a fisherman’s son from Ghana who wants to become a famous boxer, a snake charmer child from India, and a young priest in Rome who has fallen madly in love. As producer, Barbara was responsible for locating each one of those characters.


Barbara lives in Nicaragua’s capital: Managua. Managua’s infrastructure is designed exclusively for motorists, so even a seasoned cyclist like Barbara doesn’t cycle there. But, on a brighter note, a small group of local cyclists recently did protest against the poor cycling infrastructure. For an hour, they rode their bikes in countless rounds on the same roundabout; stopping all traffic in an attempt to get interest for their cycling cause. Barbara was in India at the time, otherwise she would have joined in.

Barbara works in Masaya, where – unlike in Managua – cycling is part of everyday life. Masayan parents will have children sitting on their bike’s crossbar or steering wheel, while their pannier bags will be packed with papaya’s, chicken or cassava. It is here, amongst the Nicaraguan city bikes, bike taxi’s and donkey carts, that Barbara keeps her Dutch bike stalled. She uses it for getting to meetings, for shopping, or for teaching colleagues how to cycle.

Occasionally, she will take her Dutch bike and cycle to the petrol station on the town’s border – the only place selling decent chocolate. On the way back to the office, Barbara will hardly notice the looks local men give her. The speed of her bike takes her past them before they can make a comment.

Besides, Barbara is too absorbed in her chocolate anyway.

Barcelona’s Bike Babe

20 Jun

Txell and Steven

Txell Hernandez Gill is a Barcelona born bike babe. In her spare time, she runs Barcelona’s Cycle Chic chapter, which she set up two years ago. In the daytime, she works for BACC (a Catalonian cycling organisation). But the two jobs aren’t enough to satisfy her cycling appetite. Txell’s Belgian born boyfriend Steven is also heavily into cycling. He moved to Barcelona 10 years ago for a 6 month internship, but ended up staying to set up a bike courier company: Pedal. Now he and his colleagues cycle the city in black clothes on Bullit cargo bikes, darting past traffic to get deliveries there faster*.

Txell was also responsible for the program of the Cycle Chic Blogger Conference we’ve been blogging about this weekend. We have already written about the Cycle Chic Breakfast and conference venue with bikes in the bathtub. The last item we want to share: our guided cycling tour through San Joan Despi, a small town located 20 minutes by train from Barcelona.

St Joan Despi is worth a visit for three reasons. First, it is the home of Jujol (Gaudi’s most famous disciple). Second, it’s where FC Barcelona (a football club that recently won a trophy) has its training camp. And finally: the people of San Joan Despi are increasingly into cycling – which is why their mayor organised a private cycling tour through his town for us.

The mayor also arranged for a private police escort. As we moved from modernist cultural heritage to the pitch of FC Barcelona’s training site, the Catalonian police officers whizzed by on electric bikes – halting at junctions, blowing their whistles, stopping all traffic. When we parked our bikes to go into a modernist building and hear our guide elaborate on the architect’s religious background (one of Jujol’s buildings is wholly dedicated to Virgin Mary), the officers would stay outside to guard them. At the closing reception in the local library – with tortilla, bocaditos con Jamon, and a musical quartet playing guitarra music – the police even helped us carry our bikes into the patio.

Secure bike parking in San Joan Despi

The evening ended with a night time bike ride back to Barcelona city (film footage should be on Mikael Colville-Andersen’s ‘Copenhagen Cycle Chic’ shortly). There, in the Barcelonetta neighbourhood, we went for a drink to celebrate cycling.

At the bar, the security for stalling our bikes was again well taken care of. The bouncer couldn’t take his eyes off our folded Brompton bikes.

* Note for our Dublin readers: Pedal BCN reminded us of Velocity Couriers here in Dublin; who have the exact same cargo bike; except theirs is white. And their outfit is green.

Modernist building by San Joan Despi -- in foreground: Mikael Colville Andersen (Copenhagen), Anne Williams (Montreal), and Maria Elisa Ojeda (Barcelona)

Cycle Chic Bloggers enter FC Barcelona's training grounds

Bouncer watching Brompton bikes

Cycle Chic Breakfast in Barcelona

17 Jun

We’re in Barcelona this weekend, to attend the Cycle Chic Blogger Conference. It also happens to be Barcelona’s bike week. As a part of that bike week, Barcelona Cycle Chic and BACC (Catalunya’s cyclist organisation) organised a ‘Cycle Chic Breakfast’ today.

At 7.00 A.M., they rolled out red carpets on various spots in the city: under the Arc de Triomf, on a square near Passeig de Gracia, and on a junction close to the Sagrada Familia. They set up a tent with food next to the red carpet, and then stopped cycling commuters with a fresh juice and a snack.  The cycling commuters could also have their pictures taken, in a contest to win a vintage bike.

We had the honour of being the photographer at the Sagrada Familia junction. It was a privilige to get close-up looks at such an amount and variety of cyclists in the Barcelona rush hour. Here are some of our favourite shots.





Dutch Cycling Lessons in Dublin

29 Apr

Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I’m not.Jack Nicklaus

Dutch often serve as a role model for cycling. Urban planners study Dutch towns for their ‘cycling infrastructure’. Designers call out Dutch bicycles for their sleek and simple style. Policy makers ascribe the Dutch cycling success to its nation of ‘natural cyclists’. In short: the Netherlands is a place where cycling has always been part of the country’s fabric.

The truth, of course, is different.

The Netherlands has not always had a ‘cycling infrastructure’. Today, 40% of Amsterdam traffic may take place by bike, but in the 1960s, Amsterdam was dominated by cars. The economic prosperity after World War II led people to flaunt their wealth by buying a car – thus leaving the bike behind. Urban planners followed the trend, and set up broad roads through ancient city centres — until cyclists made up only 10% of city traffic. Only later did Dutch policy makers realise this made cities overcrowded and less liveable. It has taken several decades to reverse the trend.

Cars on the Canals

Designers point out the stylishness in Dutch cycling. Matte blue men’s bikes serve as props in shop windows, accentuating pinstripe patterns of bespoke suits on display. Billboards feature female models – with auburn hair, tight hazelnut trousers and tweed jackets – leaning into racing green bikes with brown leather saddles. Street Style Magazines showcase modern versions of the traditional Dutch bike, and trendwatchers call out those bikes for their ‘urban credibility’, ‘new roughness’, or ‘artificial realism’.  It’s all a recent trend though; primarily, the Dutch have always seen cycling as something purely functional.

VAN MOOF - a 'new style Dutch bike' - wins Eurobike Award 2009

Finally: there is no such thing as a ‘natural cyclist’. The Dutch are not born with an innate ability to cycle. Cycling is something people learn by doing; even in the Netherlands. It does help that cycling lessons have been a regular item in Dutch elementary schools.

Picture from a Dutch magazine, showing how bike lessons went 'back then' ('vroeger'), in 1964.

The main lesson here: Dublin is more similar to Amsterdam than most think. Dublin has a history of cycling, just like Amsterdam. Similar to the Dutch, the Irish only started replacing bikes with cars when economic prosperity increased during the Celtic Tiger. While this has initially decreased cycling, cycling numbers have recently increased again. Dublin may yet make the same rebound as Amsterdam did after its 1960s low point.

Furthermore, Dublin also has a keen eye for cycling style; like last year’s Dublin Cycle Chic fashion show and the city’s new Dutch bicycle and fixed gear shops demonstrate.

Finally, Dubliners are as natural on their bikes as the Dutch are – in part thanks to the Green Schools, who organize bike lessons for kids, distribute bike helmets, and set up bicycle powered smoothie makers.

The Irish may yet give the Dutch a run (or a cycle) for their money.

1961: Cyclists on Dublin's Dame Street and South Great Georges Street (photo by Charles W Cushman).

Dutch Bicycle Lady in New York City Writes Cycling Book

4 Mar

Dutch lady on bicycle on new york bridge On the inside of the back flap of “Ride With Me, NYC“, there’s an aquarel painting of Manhattan. In it, smiling cyclists and yellow taxi’s ride alongside each other – in equal numbers. In the center of the painting, a tree with a face smiles up at the skyscrapers. To the right, a girl with a pink hat and a take away coffee – her back towards us – overlooks the scene. Above the girl’s head, someone with high school handwriting has written: ‘I am elegant free and a little bit crazy: I am a NYC Bike Princess and I would like to take you on a ride’.

The back flap painting is artwork by Roos Stallinga. Roos is also the author, photographer, illustrator and publisher of Ride With Me NYC; a book with cycling routes, inside stories, and scenic highlights of New York. Roos was initially inspired to write the book by her student days at New York University. In New York, Roos continued her Dutch habit of cycling everywhere. Soon, fellow students would know Roos was close if they spotted her blue Panasonic racing bike locked against Washington Square’s gates. However, the idea to write a book really took hold of Roos after the numerous visits from her Dutch friends. Roos always took those Dutch friends on cycling tours from West Manhattan, through Chelsea, over the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn, and finally back to Manhattan via the Manhattan Bridge. Those trips would last a full day; with frequent stops for coffee, sandwiches and conversations. Roos would time the return trip to Manhattan to coincide with sunset, so that her friends could take pictures of the skyline from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. While they were taking pictures, food smells would drift up from Chinatown below – promising a deserved dinner after a day of cycling.bicycle collage new york cityRide With Me NYC makes you feel as if you are visiting Roos yourself. It sets out 10 cycling trips that take you through Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Coney Island. The routes have been marked with a ball point pen on old-fashioned maps, and Roos gives a personal introduction to each trip. For the trip to Red Hook – for example – she writes: “Biking to Red Hook feels (…) like biking to the end of the world. This section of Brooklyn was once a little Dutch town called Roode Hoek, or Red Corner (…)”. Roos has interviewed locals, and lets them recommend stops on the way. The stops on the DUMBO to Bushwick route, for example, are tips from Molly Surno – a Brooklyn photographer and curator of Cinema Sixteen who appears to know every vintage dealer and weekend market on the east side of the Brooklyn Bridge. If you never intend to actually cycle through New York yourself, this is the closest you will get.Dutch cyclist writes 'ride with me NYC'

Roos is currently working on her next book: a cycling guide for Amsterdam. Having asked her if Amsterdam isn’t a crowded arena for a cycling guide, Roos draws the bigger picture: hers will not be a guide for tourists, nor will it merely be a cycling guide. Like her book on New York, her Amsterdam guide will focus on real Amsterdam life. No routes with Rembrandt or Windmill themes, but routes that touch the whole spectrum of life in Amsterdam: with tips on cheese, herring, and cafe’s for borrels and bitterballen. Furthermore, her art work and stories will make the book worth reading even if you don’t want to cycle. In other words: the Amsterdam guide could just as well sell in New York. After all: didn’t I just buy her New York guide in Amsterdam?

bicycle locked, new york

Bike Parking at Amsterdam Zuid

26 Feb
bicycles leaving bike parking at Amsterdam Zuid

bicycles leaving bike parking at Amsterdam Zuid


This morning, I flew back to Amsterdam.

I arrived at Schiphol Airport, and took the train to Amsterdam Zuid, where my bicycle is parked in a subterranean bike parking. As if seeing it for the first time, it struck me how carefully organised that parking is; like the laid out tables of a dinner party, waiting for guests to arrive.

The bike parking is open 24 hours per day, each day of the year. Its bike stands are designed to save space, allowing bikes to be parked on two levels. Odd sized bikes – like the popular delivery bikes and bikes with crates – don’t fit in the two story stands, so separate space has been reserved for them. On your way to the slanted conveyor belt – which will take you out of the parking and into the heart of Amsterdam’s business district – you pass a traditional Dutch tyre pump. For long term residents like my bike, this is ideal – the air that slowly seeped out through the tyre’s microscopic cracks will have dropped the tyre pressure.
bicycles parked on two levels

bicycles parked on two levels

bikes with crates

bikes with crates: separate section

Parking is free for the first day. On day 2 and 3 parking costs € 0,50 per day, and from day 4 onwards parking costs € 2,00 per day. Bikes are tracked with tickets carrying the date they’re brought in, and are checked by the parking’s personnel on the way out. Membership costs € 55 per year, and is obviously more economical when you plan to stall your bike longer. So when I moved to Dublin and wanted to stall my bike there long term, I became a member. I got a sticker on my rear mudguard to prove it. Now, each time I leave the parking, the parking’s personnel – their purse with small change in hand – scan my bike for a day ticket until they see my sticker. I then get a small nod of understanding, as they direct their attention to the guy behind me.

The red signs, the orgy of bikes and the buzz of people entering and leaving have turned a tl-lit concrete parking space into an attraction. Apparently, I had to move away to Dublin before I could see it.

delivery bikes

delivery bikes: also a separate section

bicycle parking membership

two membership stickers on mudguard

bicycle parking office

bicycle parking office - where tickets are checked

bike parking exit

bike parking exit