This nonfiction work will make cyclists cheer for a country that values the energy-saving, calorie-burning transportation that is the bicycle, and weep for our own “auto-holic” society. Pete Jordan’s account begins with his relocation from Pittsburgh to the Holy Grail for bikers: Amsterdam. Readers will quickly fall in-like with Jordan as he explains his reason for a semester abroad in Amsterdam studying how to make our cities more bicycle-friendly. It was the fortuitous glimpse of a decades-old photograph showing sixty people biking with a lone automobile among them on the street. Some of the cyclers were clad in suit and tie, some were likely housewives with their purses hanging from handlebars. The expected students were present, but more importantly, all ages and walks of life had chosen to bike across the flat, picturesque city rather than walk or ride in cars and trams.
Jordan continues to charm by recounting his introduction to Amsterdam cyclers:
…from behind, a bicycle slammed into me. Under the weight of my duffel bag, I stumbled a few steps forward before righting myself. I turned and saw a young brunette cyclist in a short skirt. She looked awfully cute. She also looked mighty pissed – at me. She scowled, then muttered, ‘Klootzak!’ and sped off.
Huh? Why was she upset? She was the one riding carelessly on the sidewalk. I was the injured party here!
…Brringg! Brringg! Brringg!
…My body clenched; I braced for a second collision. Fortunately, this time, no bike struck me…This sidewalk is a dangerous place to walk! Then it dawned on me, this was no simple pedestrian sidewalk; it was a separated-from-the-street bike path. I had no idea such a thing even existed. A smile came over my face. This was brilliant! How civilized!
[There are other locales that feature bike lanes, such as Copenhagen and many of Germany’s larger cities, but the U.S. lags behind in developing such methods to encourage safe, clean cycling. The college city of Boulder, Colorado, is about to embark on such a plan for the safety of university students.]
Jordan embraces Amsterdam to such an extent, his young bride joins him in the pedaling adventure of a lifetime. She becomes a bike mechanic apprentice, bike mechanic and owner of her own bike repair shop. Jordan follows her into the study of bike repair. Almost from birth, their son learns the marvels of travelling leisurely in the fresh air, watching “bike fishermen” haul their catch out of canals, and passing through a museum on a bike.
The family story often takes a backseat to the history of biking in Amsterdam: the expense of the first bikes; why the black bike was the norm; Resistance bikers during the Nazi occupation as well as the subtle assistance of police ordered to impound bikes for German use; multi-story bike garages; the pernicious “zwijntjesjager”; how many locks are enough; does yellow really mean go; the birth of the white bike; and the fight against modernization and car addiction. It is a startling observation that in Amsterdam, the passion of cyclists changed the course of the city, preserving history and slowing the pour of cement.
“To the Dutch, the bike is so everyday, so normal, so deeply ingrained
that trying to explain its remarkableness to a Hollander proved pointless.”
There are a few sections where the author provides a plethora of quotes on a particular subject. But because of his infectious enthusiasm for all things bike-related, readers will find they can easily forgive Jordan’s extensive research and citations. How can you not be amused by a man who is excited when he realizes: “It’s the middle of winter; it’s past midnight—and I’m stuck in a bicycle traffic jam.” By the last page, readers will be eyeing their bikes, pedaling to sparse bike trails or on dangerous streets, inhaling blasts of carbon monoxide in hopes of finding the elusive café with a bike rack, so they can then begin daydreaming about a trip to Amsterdam.