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In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist Paperback – April 16, 2013
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In 2002, the newlywed American author came to Amsterdam to study urban planning for five months. He, his wife, and his son live there still, filled with the relentless optimism that laces this book. Need a work visa in a tight labor market? Just be a janitor at a garbage-processing plant. Low funds and two-room apartments? Who cares when you’re holding your pregnant wife’s hand as she bikes along beside you? That’s right. Everyone bikes in Amsterdam: the elderly, the brief-cased, the ladder-carrying, the ballroom-gowned. All without helmets. No history of bicycles is complete without a history of bike thievery, and Jordan delivers. The long section on the German occupation has isolated strong points but bogs down listing anything that relates to bikes. American cities lack the critical mass of cyclists to earn adequate bike lanes, yet too few cycle if they have to wear a helmet. So it is odd that an expatriate whose dream job is to monitor all forms of traffic doesn’t say much about this quandary or why cycling is more fun for the Dutch. --Dane Carr
“A funny, engaging, and exhaustively researched tribute to Amsterdam’s unique biking history….Jordan is an honest, self-effacing narrator, and there’s much that’s lovably comic about his inauguration into Amsterdam cyclo-culture.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A charming and quirky book....Jordan’s portrait of bicycle culture in Amsterdam gives a fascinating account of a viable alternative to dependence on cars.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“This highly readable book illuminates the bicycle’s integral role in shaping both the psyche and the actual city of Amsterdam.” (Houston Chronicle)
“For anyone contemplating visiting or living in The Netherlands, In the City of Bikes is a must read.” (New York Journal of Books)
“Full of personal anecdote, self-deprecating humor, local lore and a history of cycling that positively bursts with enthusiasm, In the City of Bikes is both a memoir and an ode to bicycles (Shelf Awareness)
“[W]hat could have been a straightforward history [is] something more special: history that doesn’t feel like history--just an enjoyable story from start to finish….An excellent choice for bikers and those who appreciate how a city’s history can be changed by the simplest of passions.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Jordan brings depth and color to a niche subject, delivering an engaging cultural history. By the end, readers will understand that the bike is to Amsterdam what the car is to America. Both are more than modes of transportation: they’re a substantial part of their riders’ identities.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Pete Jordan, a self described "bike nut", was born in San Francisco and spent a decade there and in Portland, Pittsburgh and other American cities before he decided to move to Amsterdam with his new wife to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning at the University of Amsterdam. The focus of his studies was an examination of the history of bicycling in the city, the often lawless mind set of its bicyclists and bike thieves, and how they impacted the development and culture of the Dutch capital.
This book starts at the end of the 19th century, when bicycles first became available and affordable to ordinary citizens, and continues through the present. Amsterdam's compact size and consequent lack of space for parking cars, its narrow streets, the high cost of automobiles and gasoline, and the more relaxed pace of life in the tiny country of the Netherlands compared to the massive and spread out United States were all factors that led to the proliferation of bicycles in and outside of the city. Amsterdammers then and now embrace their bicycles as extensions of their own bodies, and any laws or pleas to restrict their usage or their right of way on the roads were met with indifference and were often ignored, most notably during the Nazi occupation in World War II when German officials attempted repeatedly to impose order on the cyclists but failed miserably.
In relating the story of Amsterdam's cyclists Jordan provides an interesting history of the city itself, which, like its cyclists, cannot be separated from its bicycles. He intersperses his and his family's experiences as bicyclists, beginning with his first collision with a bicyclist upon his arrival to the city, and including his son's initiation as a stunt cyclist, his wife's training as a bicycle mechanic, and his own development as a bicycle historian.
In the City of Bikes is a well written and very interesting book, which gave me greater insight into and appreciation of the bicycling culture of my newest favorite city, and enhanced my knowledge of the history of the Dutch capital.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in bicycles or the history of Amsterdam from the 21st century, or any Amsterdammer.