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Dutch Cycle Chic – Toronto Style 40

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

All Photos by Aviva Cohen for The Urban Country

One evening in early November, I was walking my dog near my home when I encountered a pretty girl on a stunning red Dutch bike. Intrigued, I told her how much I loved her bike and I asked her if she would be interested in doing an interview for an article on The Urban Country. She agreed.

I wanted to share Amy’s story with the world about how she ended up riding a beautiful red Dutch bike in Toronto, Canada – 6,000 kilometres away from the country where this bicycle was created – the Netherlands; where millions of people from all walks of life use bicycles for transportation in their regular clothes.

Amy is a Marketing/Brand Manager and Thai Massage practitioner. She moved to Toronto from Calgary 11 years ago. Like many people in Toronto, Amy never considered riding a bicycle in the city: “I thought it was crazy to take one into traffic”.

But a trip to the Netherlands four years ago changed Amy’s perspective and convinced her to buy her first bicycle, known as “Mary Jane”:

“I rented a bike when I was there and fell in love with their biking culture – there’s a great sense of ease to it and I loved how it’s just a part of everyday living. But most importantly, I fell in love with their bikes. They’re functional, practical and comfortable.

When I got back, it was just about the time that Curbside Cycle started carrying Dutch bikes. It was my puppy in the window. I would stare at it whenever I passed by and finally just decided to get it. No regrets. Best purchase ever!”

I asked Amy some questions about her urban bicycling experiences:

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

How did you get around the city before you started using a bicycle?

TTC, on foot, by car. I owned a car for about 2 years when I use to work in Richmond Hill. I was very glad to get rid of it when I started working downtown. With a car, you’re always tempted to to take it out, even for short trips.

What made you decide to start using a bicycle for daily transportation?

I was working close enough to home to do so and the walk was long enough (about half an hour) that it made sense to bike instead. My office had a bike room, which was nice. Also, I had just come back from a trip to the Netherlands where I was inspired to attempt fake Euro living.

What did you love most about biking in the Netherlands?

My Dutch friend once said: “a cyclist riding at night, wearing all black, with no lights, riding on the wrong side of the street can be hit by a car and it would still be the driver’s fault.” I love a land where biking rules :)

How comfortable are you riding in Toronto? Are there routes you love and routes you detest?

Fairly comfortable, even though I’m pretty terrible biker.  I’m the slow one you weave around :) If I’m ever uncomfortable, I would go out of my way to take a side street. I love riding Toronto at night and pretty much love any route after hours. There’s a nice calm to it. However, I do detest Dundas West. It’s perpetually torn up with construction and the bits that are left are so bumpy that it induces wrist dislocation.

(Interview continues below photos)

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Do you ride year round? If yes, advice for the winter?

Last winter was fairly snow-free and very mild, so I did end up biking all winter. Prior to that, I think I took January and February off. Toronto winters aren’t actually that bad. Just prepare with the usual common sense precautions. Dress warmly in layers, wear a hat, get warm mitts/gloves, look out for stupid drivers/bikers/pedestrians – but that one is a given for any season.

What are the top 3 things you’d like to see implemented in Toronto?

  1. Supportive public policy that invests in biking infrastructure
  2. An attitude shift from motorists — less of the us vs. them attitude
  3. More bike posts. Finding bike parking is more challenging than car parking!

What advice would you have for somebody who is looking to start using a bicycle for transportation?

Get a bike that you love! It will make riding much more enjoyable and will make you motivated to use it all the time. Also, get a bike that is practical to your needs. For instance, if you plan on doing a lot of grocery shopping on your bike, there’s no need for speed, just get a nice city bike that’s outfitted with roomy baskets.

(Interview continues below photos)

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Do you think Toronto could ever have a bicycle culture like the Netherlands?

Can maple syrup ever achieve the same cultural significance in the Netherlands as it does in Canada? No, and like biking, I don’t think we can ever achieve a biking culture like the Netherlands. To the Dutch, biking is a part of their their national identity – it’s not a choice of whether to bike or not, they just do it with full acceptance. That type of acceptance is due to a magical combination of many things – small population, urban density, narrow roads, very flat land, public policy and a willingness to spend on infrastructure.

We have a strong movement of very passionate bikers in downtown Toronto, but that’s not enough, even if we do get the public policy support. We have a lot of urban sprawl (even in downtown) and a city plan that is made up of a network of suburbs commuting into the city by car on a daily basis. We would need a pretty massive social shift and public transportation plan to reduce cars in the downtown core.

What are your thoughts on helmets?

I’m mixed on this one. I think the emphasis on helmets in North America puts a lot of fear into biking. That one ad I kept seeing all summer of the smashed-up-watermelon-as-your-head is terrible. Using fear as a method to promote safety doesn’t work and it only serves to limit ridership. This then prevents a social push to provide more infrastructure and acceptance into biking as a means of transportation.

In the Netherlands, pretty much no one wears a helmet, but they also have a very safe infrastructure to do so. In North America, where the infrastructure isn’t in place and you need to share the roads with huge SUVs and trucks, I can see how a helmet can be useful.

That being said, do I wear helmet? No. Which once led to an self righteous driver trailing me for 2 blocks yelling at me the whole time on how I need to wear a helmet. I thanked her politely for her concern.

(Interview continues below photos)

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Dutch Cycle Chic - Toronto Style

Have you become an advocate for better infrastructure?

Not formally, but I do promote biking to those around me. Those who know me knows that my bike is pretty much my favourite thing in the world, up there with brunch and afternoon naps.

Thanks so much Amy for sharing your story! And thanks to Aviva Cohen for the lovely photography!

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://amsterdamize.com/ amsterdamize

    What a great post, James, thanks for sharing, and Amy is a pearl, in all aspects!

  • http://cecily.myopenid.com/ cecily

    Fantastic post and beautiful photos. Go Amy, Go!

  • http://britpopcorn.com/ sindandune

    Lovely post, I really enjoyed. Dutch is way to go in all things bike ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13186428862833389619 Kevin Love

    Not that I mean to stoke rivalry… but what the hey.

    Let’s not forget that the Dutch took their cycle design from the English.

    I bought a Pashley from Curbside that I ride every day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Kevin, my intention was not to snub the English of course, but the Dutch have certainly done far more for urban citizen bicycling than the English ;)

    It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a Pashely or a Batavus. It’s more about people riding bicycles in regular clothes as a means of transportation. That’s the goal. The bike just helps facilitate that goal.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00793880692099538955 ‘Xander

    what a wonderful citizen perspective. A perfect example of how advocacy by example works..

    Thanks for posting..

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Amy & James.

    Thanks for sharing this. Wonderful photos too.

    Cheers,

    Paul Martin
    Brisbane, Australia

  • http://www.thecommonelite.org/ Mikey

    Amazing Post. It’s great to hear how people’s perspectives on city cycling can change once they’ve tried it.

    Beautiful photos too!

  • kfg

    The only thing that might be nicer than a classic black “Dutch” bike is a classic red one.

    Not to fan the flames, but I DO tend to break out in giggles every time I think of the comment I saw about the poster’s “Dutch style Robin Hood.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    Great post James!

    “2-An attitude shift from motorists — less of the us vs. them attitude”

    This is bang on. That whole “war on cars” was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

  • HuaGirl

    Alright, go Amy!
    <3

  • http://www.icyclehamilton.ca/ Abram Bergen

    Lovely post and lovely bicycle transportation representative. Thanks for doing the interview and sharing it with us.

    I am trying to do the same here in Hamilton. I had thought I could get the word out and people would post their stories of their own accord, but no luck so far. I may have to follow your lead and just go out there and interview people myself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Abram, good to see you are advocating for bicycles in Hamilton. I lived in Hamilton for 3 years and I really enjoyed bicycling there (mostly recreational).

    I’ve found the best way to get people to share their story is to get out there and get it from them first hand.

    Thanks for dropping by. Cheers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10269615938898501712 She Rides a Bike

    Nice story. Amy is a perfect model of the urban cyclist. She makes bike commuting look stylish, fun, and sophisticated. I’ve had a similar experience with a self0righteous cyclist when she came upon me last year pedaling without a helmet. My feelings are also mixed but I don’t view cycling as dangerous, certainly not the way I ride.

  • Anonymous

    as charlie said, ”bring it”.

  • Sunnylil123

    What is this bike actually called ? I want to get one.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      It’s a Batavus bike – made in the Netherlands

  • Sunnylil123

    What is this bike actually called ? I want to get one.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    It’s a Batavus bike – made in the Netherlands

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  • Shylynn

    I totally agree with Amy! Build the infrastructure and safe cycling will become the norm! Holland has proven it. Canadian Cyclists are tax paying citizens and we deserve to have our taxes provide us with safe dedicated bikeways exactly as Holland has! As for helmets …. For fear of sounding redundant…… Look to holland….again! Safe bikeways and being taught how to ride safely = no helmets needed! Why is common sense so lacking within our Canadian borders ….!!!!!