Chapter One

By Andrada Pop | November 30, 2020

In the first chapter of her biking series, Andrada Pop talks about her biking experiences in Amsterdam – and everything that comes with it! Illustrations by Bella Villanueva

Moving to Amsterdam is an overwhelming experience, especially for an international student. The faint smell of cannabis floating through the streets, the wind that permeates your soul and the unbroken stream of people whooshing by on their bikes. Amsterdam is a lot to take in.

In my first week here before university began, I was caught up in the whirlwind of the city. But nothing threw me off my feet quite like biking. After purchasing my own ridiculously overpriced bike, I bought the essential bell and tire lock. “Always use it,” said the merchant. The advice seemed ominous. I was somewhat aware of bike theft, but I always assumed it was because people weren’t careful enough and that it was a relatively small issue. Amsterdam set out to prove me wrong.

Biking in Amsterdam by Bella Villanueva

With the city being home to over 847,000 bicycles (1.91 bicycles per household), Amsterdam is a city of cyclists. That makes it a large market for bike vendors and, unfortunately, bike thieves. I discovered that when it came to bike theft, anyone was at risk; lock or not. With 8000 bikes reported stolen in 2019, bicycle theft is the most widespread crime in Amsterdam.

One evening, a member of my student group looked distraught. She explained that she and a friend were having trouble unlocking their bike, when a stranger offered to help them. Whilst grappling with the lock, the three got talking, and the stranger gave them a warning about bike theft. “Anyone could do it,” he said. The girls laughed it off, but the stranger pushed the issue. “I’ll show you,” he said, getting on the bike. Laughter was soon replaced by stupor as the stranger actually took off on the bike!

A bicycle parked on the Grachtengordel, close to Amsterdam's city centre on November 18. Jasper Akkermans / The Amsterdammer

Although the number of reported stolen bikes has been on the decrease in the last couple of years, that doesn’t indicate that bike theft is less of a problem. These statistics could also just imply that people have lost their faith in retrieving their bikes, or are simply biking less due to the COVID-19 pandemic so are less exposed to this crime.

The takeaway here isn’t that no one is to be trusted in Amsterdam, but rather that bike theft doesn’t seem like such a big problem until your own bike is stolen. Although I did end up paying far too much for my bike, the advice I was given was priceless: you may not be able to prevent your bike from being stolen, but you can make it more difficult for the thief. Your lock, “always use it”.

If you have a story about an experience biking in Amsterdam, or have had the misfortune of having your bike stolen, feel free to reach out via email at contact@theamsterdammer.org. Your story might make it in the next article of this series!

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