Seeing all the Dutch bikes in Amsterdam some 3 years ago really sparked our love for this particular bicycle type. As is the stereotype, the place is loaded with bicycles. People get around by bike more then by car. In fact an astounding 800,000 or 63% of Amsterdammers commute by bicycle on a daily basis, compared to Portland's 7%. Off course this isn't an apples to apples comparison as the states are a GIANT country and we're comparing that to one city with a high saturation of cycling. Still, it's interesting to understand that this kind of bicycle commuting is possible and more efficient in high population urban centers.
It's such a lively experience getting around by bike. You hair swaying in the wind as you pass the many Amsterdamians (is that a word? No wait it's Amsterdammers!) on your way to get a coffee or see the sights. We definitely recommend it to those who have not been!
The people smiling as you ride by (well not everyone), but Amsterdam is known for "happier" people. Perhaps it's because they are constantly biking around everywhere instead of sitting in cars and ordering fast food (which i'm sure still happens - but not as much).
Integrating the bicycle into daily life means that your body will be constantly have an "endorphin party".
When you do any kind of vigorous exercise, the pituitary gland in your brain releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins get down with the receptors in your brain that minimize your perception of pain. They also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
To make a long story short, biking makes you happy.
Where else are most of us doing intense exercise? For the gym goers get a pass, but running up the stairs and walking around doesn't count for most of us folks.
Why did my vivid essay about Amsterdam turn into a health lesson? We feel it's intricate to connect this place where biking is so prevalent to the understanding that using the bicycle as your first mode of transportation, like people uses bikes in Amsterdam, can transform your life. You don't need to be living in Amsterdam to be happier. You just have to leave your car keys on the hinge and take your bike out for that quick run to get milk or rent the latest Wahlberg movie from Redbox.
What can you do about it?
Think about incorporating biking into your daily life. Then actually do it. The other day my girlfriend and I rode our bikes to the nearby store were we loaded up 2 Nantucket Pannier baskets with a weeks worth of groceries. Not bad. We both work all day and rarely find time enough time for exercise, so combining riding our bikes and getting groceries made perfect sense. If you're thinking aww man that sounds like a lot of work! It wasn't. We biked about 7 blocks to the grocery store, locked up our bikes outside and instead of using shopping bags which are an additional cost and pile up anyway, we used our panniers baskets. After shopping around we clipped the panniers onto our bikes and rode home. This was both exhilarating and useful.
Sure, not everyone has the ability to bike to a "nearby" store but this concept can be applied to any nearby errand.
What's the catch?
There is no catch. You're simply adding a more active method of transportation to your life. Think of it this way. If you make even 10% of your errands by bike, your life will change.
People who feel restless as night, suffer from various levels of depression, feel a loss of sex drive for their partner and more are great candidates for adding biking into their life.
These people need to release more endorphins!
Otherwise the average persons day looks like this:
Drive to work
Sit in an office
Go to sleep
When you draw it out, it's more obvious that something needs to change. If you want to be happier and healthier that is.
What would we change?
With all of the biking in Amsterdam and Holland in general going on, it seems helmets, like in the states, are also not very popular.
You'd think that this would be the opposite especially when you actually go to Amsterdam and see what a game of frogger the transportation infrastructure is. But, yes many Dutch could counter this by saying that the reason they don't wear helmets is because they don't fall on their heads.
Or that since they were taught to ride bikes in the 1970’s and 1980’s without helmets or any protection, and that hasn't turned to be very bad, that is the way they continue to ride today.
This is all fine and dandy, but still it's so much safer to do so and we are totally behind the use of helmets in the USA.