The Bay Area Versus Amsterdam: Which Cycling Mecca Is Tops?


Would you rather ride here or the Dutch countryside?

I'm fortunate enough to call the Bay Area home. Along with its innumerable farmers' markets, Mission burritos, and hoppy beer, the Bay enjoys the title of the best area in the country for cycling. Yes, I know Portland, you think you've got the belt, and maybe you do, but in my view, the Bay Area has it all--wicked single track, copious amounts of bike lanes, and the type of employers who don't seem to mind if you show up a little sweaty and out of breath. I'm just back in the Bay Area after spending the past three months in arguably Europe's cycling capital, Amsterdam. The Dutch have mastered many things--cramped spaces, the perfectly fried potato, and height. They also love their bikes.

Bicycles are everywhere in Amsterdam, stacked up 3 deep on street corners and under seemingly everyone, from expecting moms to grandmothers to gentleman in three-piece suits on their way to the office. The Dutch even have dedicated bike lanes, complete with bike traffic lights and preferential treatment over cars. So where is the riding better, Amsterdam or the Bay Area?

Let's look at this scientifically.

Bike lanes--Edge, Amsterdam
This is not even close. The Netherlands is home to the world's highest per capita use of bicycles. Its thousands of miles of paved bicycle paths do more than just buffer selected streets, which in other cities force riders to go out of their way to access them and make them second class commuters. San Francisco has the Wiggle, of course, and Oakland is starting to feel the bike love, with more bike shops opening all of the time. (Here's my favorite.) But nothing can beat how the Dutch have traffic lights just for bikes. I mean traffic lights! It's the best.

Bike flair--Edge, Bay Area
The Dutch have almost perfected how to be cool on old steel bikes. These two-wheeled bruising beauties can handle anything you throw at them. They weigh as much as a 10-year-old and have fenders to keep an Armani suit dry in the frequent Holland rains. But in the Bay Area, cyclists have taken bike sheik to the next, and yes, sometimes ridiculous, level. Deep dish rims? Check. Bullhorn handle bars? Check. Riding all juiced up with a Philz coffee in one hand, a messenger bag on your back while talking on your iPhone? You know it.

Bike bars--Edge, Bay Area
The Netherlands is home to Amstel and Heineken, which is cool, if your into watery, tasteless beer. But I like seedy, densely packed bars, hoppy beer, and bars that encourage you to bring in your bike so you can keep an eye on it, like San Francisco's Zeitgeist. The Bay dominates in this category, too.

General bike love--Edge, Amsterdam
The Bay is increasing its bike love all of the time. The San Francisco Bike Coalition is always hard at work getting more bike lanes built and spreading the gospel that there's a better way to get to work than to sit in your Volkswagen on Market Street, just to go 3 miles. But the clear winner here is Amsterdam. At Centraal Station, bikes pour out of the dedicated bike parking like beans do in an overstuffed San Francisco taco. Morning commutes have scores more bikers than drivers, and it's not uncommon to see a parent carrying 3 kids on specially built bike. The Dutch love their bikes and god bless them for it.

Vistas--Edge, Bay Area
Although one can ride everywhere in Amsterdam, it's all pancake flat and every road out of the city leads to either cow pastures or antiquated windmills, or both. That's all fine if that's your bag, but I prefer big hills, big trees, and big-time competitive cycling over the more laid back Dutch vibe. I rode today up into the Berkeley Hills in short sleeves (it's November, people) and stopped to take in a view that included the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate, and hundreds of boats sailing out into the Bay. For views better than a Van Gogh still life, the Bay wins hands down.

The Winner: The Bay Area, by a bike length
So there you have it. In my carefully selected and rigorous categories, the Bay Area gets the nod. What's the best cycling place you've ever been? Post a comment to let me know if I'm riding with no hands here or heading down the right bike path.

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