Ride or Die: Biking in Amsterdam

Sumini Siyambalapitiya
February 23, 2020

Yes, I know, I know, the title is very dramatic. But it is true, biking in Amsterdam is an extreme sport. It is difficult to describe the Dutch biking culture without experiencing it first hand, but I think a good place to start would be to say that there are A LOT of bikes. In this city of 820,000 people, there are 880,000 bicycles! It is easily the preferred mode of transportation for the majority of Amsterdammers. And the city itself is interwoven with 400km of cycling paths that ensure the traffic flow is safe and smooth. 

And truly, Dutch biking culture is fascinating. Unlike most other parts of the world, the unwritten rules of the city dictate that nobody wears a helmet. Weather is never an excuse not to ride your bike; be it rain, hail or sunshine, there is always the same amount of cyclists on the road. Biking even has an impact on how you go about your day to day life. For example, since a bicycle has a much smaller carrying capacity than a car, most people prefer to do smaller grocery trips during their commute throughout the week, as opposed to doing large weekly hauls.

Coming into my study abroad experience, I knew that I wanted to get a bike. While public transport in Amsterdam is impeccable and extremely efficient, a bike is significantly cheaper, great exercise and also a fun way to immerse yourself in Dutch culture. All that being said, I hadn’t touched a bike in 3 years, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement. In my first three weeks here, I stuck to public transport and blamed it on the weather. “I’ll pick up my bike tomorrow,” I told myself, “it’s so windy today”. But tomorrow came and went. And the day after. And the day after that. And it was still windy. Still rainy. Still gray. Amsterdam was calling me out.  And so, on a rainy Thursday afternoon, I picked up my bike. 

In the week since that fateful day, I have been biking pretty much every day. And how is that going, you may ask? Well, I am a horrible biker. There is no sugar-coating that. I am slow. Slower than the 80-year-olds. Slower than the toddlers in their training bicycles. Slow enough that what should be a 25-minute daily commute, actually takes me well over an hour. I cannot ride over slopes, so I get off my bike and walk my bike over them. I get nervous at stoplights, tram crossings and when someone overtakes me (every 2 seconds). The back of my legs are covered in bruises from hitting my pedals. And I am in a perpetual state of sweatiness. 

Yet, despite it all, I love it. I love riding my bike. It has given me a sense of freedom that I have never before experienced in my entire life. It is liberating, being able to do things at your own pace and not be reliant on a timetable or anyone else. Every time I get lost doing navigation, I discover areas of Amsterdam that I never knew before; an open-air market, a Matcha cafe, the Royal Palace! I check the progress on my calf muscles daily with fervent enthusiasm. I delight in the landmarks I stumble over and commit to memory. Hands firmly clinging onto the handlebars, I am learning my way around Amsterdam, learning who I am in this city. And I love it.

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Sumini Siyambalapitiya

My name is Sumini Siyambalapitiya and I'm a junior at Lafayette College PA, studying Math/Econ and Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. I call the incredibly beautiful island of Sri Lanka my home. Some things I love in no particular order are: bubble tea, reading, working out, and This Is Us!

Home University:
Lafayette College
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Women's Studies
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