In the City of Bikes:
The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist

Pete Jordan

Harper 2013
A book review by Danny Yee © 2023
In the City of Bikes is a history of cycling in Amsterdam, interwoven with Jordan's personal account of arriving there in 2002 and then settling.

The historical material is in chronological chapters, starting in the 1890s and continuing down to the 1980s and 1990s. Most interesting to me were the four chapters (almost a quarter of the book) on cycling in Amsterdam during the German occupation and its aftermath. But lots more is covered: the first traffic police and ongoing attempts to regulate and control cycling, the links of cycling to radical politics, the struggle over the Rijksmuseum cycle tunnel, and so forth.

Jordan's personal story begins with his excitement, on arrival in Amsterdam, at seeing so many people cycling. He is joined by his girlfriend, who becomes a bike mechanic and then runs a bike shop, and he ends up cycling around Amsterdam with their son. This is cheerful and upbeat and Jordan never loses his excitement at watching people cycling, photographing bike shops, and cycling himself — and in sharing that excitement, whether with his son or with us.

The amount of purely personal narrative is limited, however, with many less personal chapters on topics such as bike theft, "fishing" bikes out of the canals, the variety of people cycling in Amsterdam (and an elusive hunt for a cycling nun), and the assassination of Theo Van Gogh. There are also chapters on outsider descriptions of Amsterdam cycling, on how Dutch cycling compares with driving in the United States, and on the influence of myths about the White Bicycles (a scheme which was never actually implemented, but which was copied around the world anyway).

Jordan is sometimes a bit earnest — does it really matter whether a Resistance cycle courier killed right at the end of hostilities was carrying newspapers or a verbal message? — but I found him engagingly enthusiastic and he combines historical narrative with an attempt to convey the social and emotional significance of cycling. With no technical detail about cycling infrastructure or bicycle mechanics, In the City of Bikes could be enjoyed by a broader range of people than most cycling books — certainly by anyone interested in Amsterdam or Dutch history.

January 2023

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%T In the City of Bikes
%S The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist
%A Jordan, Pete
%I Harper
%D 2013
%O paperback, notes
%G ISBN-13 9780061995200
%P 438pp