Like Riding a Bike – The Amsterdam Way of Life

Over recent years, Amsterdam has proved one of Europe’s most popular short break destinations, and the perfect place to go for a relaxing escape from the tension and stress of city life. And yet, Amsterdam itself is a major city – so what makes it different from other European metropolises? Quite simply, it’s the relaxed approach to life that separates Amsterdam from other European capitals, and what makes Amsterdam the perfect place to go to get away.

This way of life is perhaps symbolised best in Amsterdam’s preferred form of travel: the bicycle. There are apparently more than a million bikes in Amsterdam, and when you consider that the population of the city is estimated at around about the same number, you begin to realise that the natives of the city are serious about being seriously easy-going! And yes, it may require more energy and take more time than driving or taking the tube – but when you’ve got all the time in the world, you can afford to take it!

As well as symbolising the relaxed attitude to city life, bikes also provide one of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful and artistic city. There are a number of stunning, bike-friendly parks and squares dotted through the city, including the famous Dam Square, the tranquil home of the Dutch Royal Palace, and the Vondelpark, which is perfectly situated near three major museums; the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk, and the ever-popular Van Gogh Museum.

As relaxing as a stress-free Amsterdam-style bike ride may be, a boat ride around Amsterdam’s famous canal system (which gives Amsterdam the deserved nickname of Venice of the North) is another great way to experience the beauty of the city – in particular the stunning 17th century architecture that lines the canal in the centre of the city. A boat ride also offers the chance to see some of the more modern examples of the Amsterdam school of architecture, in particular buildings such as Renzo Piano’s NEMO building, while Amsterdam’s centre of science, which is in the shape of a ship’s bow is an allusion to the Dutch Golden Age when Amsterdam’s was one of the most important ports in the world.

As well as being a great city to tour by bike or boat, Amsterdam is a great place to just walk around and soak in the culture, whether it’s wondering the famously friendly Red Light District or relaxing in one of the cities many relaxed, chilled-out coffee shops. Also, as is fitting for a capital city, Amsterdam is also home to fantastic museums, art galleries and venues that promote the history and culture of one of Europe’s most popular and friendly cities. There are also a wide array of fantastic restaurants and hotels in Amsterdam to suit every taste and budget.

So if you’re in need of a break, there’s no better place to visit than Amsterdam, where life’s as easy as riding a bike – and just as unforgettable!

Bike Week in Daytona – The Biker’s First Sign of Spring

To the Harley rider, or to any stouthearted motorcyclist regardless of affiliation, it’s the first official sign of Spring.

No, it is not the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher flying north to summer nesting grounds from it’s yearly respite in Mexico. Nor is it the Canadian Snow Bird, holstering the sandwedge for the last time and steering the big Buick across the bridge at Sanibel for that long trek home to Quebec.

To the snow weary two wheeler, the surest sign that Spring is just around the corner is the sight of fellow bikers flocking south. South from the frozen flatness of the Great Midwest. South from the dreary gray of the cold North East. From all points of the compass they are drawn like magnets down interstates I-75 and I-95 and I-Whatever. As bugs to a light they are heading for Daytona Beach and Bike Week.

The yearly pilgrimage that makes these cc riders as giddy as young children on Christmas morning all began back in 1937 and it continues today. In almost seventy five years it has paused only for WWII.

In those early days, in the 30s and 40s, it was a great place to watch motorcycles race along the packed sand in the Daytona 200, affectionately dubbed, the ‘Handlebar Derby’.

With the release of “The Wild One” in 1953, it was a great place to watch Marlon Brando wannabes roaring up and down Main Street on black Triumph Thunderbirds. Posing cooly in black leather jackets and rolled up blue jeans. Smoldering cigarettes dangling from their curled and defiant lips.

When the herd of wannabes was thinned of it’s weekend warriors, the motorcycle gangs of the 60s and 70s were begot and Bike Week then became a great place to get your ass kicked.

It is still, no doubt, a celebration of chrome, leather and testosterone, but it has also toned down a bit from those heady days of yesteryear. Some would say a bit too much.

Along with baseball players on steroids and pop singers on autotune, our current culture has produced a new breed of ‘biker’ who more accurately resembles a Trick or Treater gone wild.

Like men cooking before an open fire, the veneer of danger here can be a thin one. For many, the greatest peril they’ll face is when they return home. Trading the chardonnay for PBRs is a small cross to bear. Canceling an appointment with the hair stylist and setting the beard trimmer to 3 is a piece of cake. But referring to ones spouse as “my old lady” for an entire week carries a hefty price tag.

For me though, the saddest part is that the actual migration itself has changed.

I have been traveling up and down both I-75 and I-95 through Georgia and Florida for more years than I care to remember. At all times of the year. I have personally witnessed this yearly ritual from eye level. Unfortunately over time, I have also witnessed the sad regression of the once proud road warrior to the dubious station of mere passenger.

Once was the time when you were stirred from the mind numbing trance that is interstate travel by a low rumble coming from somewhere unknown. A sound you couldn’t quite identify. And then… before you could make any sense of it, a roaring, thundering pack of chrome and rubber, straddled by wild and dangerous looking men and women would engulf your car. A vision to remember and an unexpected thrill to race the adrenalin. Sure to keep you awake and between the lines for at least another seventy five miles.

And it was worth the the years it took from your life. That sudden jolt of reality. That glorious pageant of Americana.

Sadly those sightings have all but disappeared, and non de-script trailers pulled behind expensive and unsoiled pickup trucks, travel vans and shiny motor homes have taken their place. The only clue as to their contents is the occasional Harley sticker on back of a clean and carefully sealed trailer. No flashes of chrome. No vests embroidered with club emblems. If anyone is flying their colors, it’s out of sight and behind shatter proof glass. Gone is the noble roar of the big bikes. Just more vehicles joining in the flow and adding to the hypnotic hum of the highway.

There is even a bumper sticker that says

“I just got back from Trailer Week in Daytona”

So imagine my delight as I drove south along I-75 last week. I pulled off into a rest stop just north of Atlanta, and there they were. Like candy to a child. Row after row of big, beautiful, gleaming motorcycles. A crowd of unkept looking men and women milling about the parking lot and filling the lobby of the rest area completed the tableau. All clad in leather and denim. Bandanas, large leather wallets secured by long chains, oily boots with scuff marks on the toes. Everything old and used. Nothing new and shiny.

These were bikers committed to the act. Bikers who actually rode their motorcycles to Bike Week. All the way from the upper midwest. The entire route to Florida in the last week of February.

Who knows? There was probably a support van accompanying them. I don’t want to know. There may have even been an accountant or a lawyer in the bunch. For all I know they were all wearing clean shorts.

But they were riding their bikes. Not a trailer to be seen.

God bless them one and all.

I never would have believed that my faith in mankind would be renewed by a loud and scruffy bunch of bikers.

Hauling Dirt Bikes With A Hitch Carrier

Hauling a dirt bike is often an obstacle for many if they do not have a pick-up truck or trailer. If this describes you, do not be concerned, I’ve a way around this. You’ll be able to haul your dirt bike for cheaper and, usually, easier than the usual trailer or truck. A Dirt Bike Carrier may mount to the hitch of one’s vehicle, even though it is a van or SUV. They’re lightweight, not a worry to install, and give you much more room to pack gear and parts in the vehicle without having to pull a trailer.

As much as I like hauling my bikes using a three-rail motorcycle trailer, it can be a pain to maneuver it in and out of places, especially when it’s tight and you’ve got to back up (not that I can’t do it!). I’d just prefer a single hitch carrier on my van if I’m hauling one dirt bike to the track. By doing this I don’t really have to stress about running over things or knifing a trailer. This is a great alternative if your kid goes racing and you don’t want anyone to drive the trailer around.

But, generally if I have two bikes to haul, I can always get a Double Motorcycle Carrier. It isn’t much heavier than the single since it is composed of light-weight aircraft aluminum. Provided that the vehicle and hitch can contain the extra weight, this carrier will haul two motocross bikes to the track! Rather than cramming a couple full-size dirt bikes in the bed of a truck, you can toss them behind it, saving you the time and hassle trying to fit everything in, as well as being able to shut the tail-gate completely without having your gear or parts slide out.

It is not only quicker to haul bikes using a hitch carrier, but it also will give you more room. Any time you haul the bikes using the hitch carrier on a van or SUV, then there’s much space inside the vehicle to cart your gear and your friends! Even when you have the carrier on a truck, you’re able to toss most of the equipment in the bed, so you have plenty of room in the cab.

So if you don’t mind throwing your dirt bike(s) up on a rail behind your vehicle, a dirt bike carrier is an effective way to go, and is a lot less expensive than getting a truck or trailer. Good luck!

-Tom Stark

Top 10 Paved Bike Trails in Florida

Thanks to the growing popularity of bicycling, Florida now offers some of the finest off-street, paved bike trails in America. For recreational cyclists who enjoy smooth, safe rides, with clean air in a natural environment, here is our list of the Top 10 Florida bike trails — listed geographically from north to south.

1. Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail

Although just outside Jacksonville, Florida, this is an enjoyable 14.5 mile rural trail and very well maintained (kudos to the Florida Department of Transportation and Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail volunteers). While there are some open areas at either end, most of the trail is tree-lined, with little or no traffic noise.

2. Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

The trail stretches 16 miles from the City of Gainesville’s Boulware Spings Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area and ends in the small town of Hawthorne. Mostly wooded and quiet, one small section includes a few winding curves and mildly challenging hills (for Florida). A paved spur leads to a scenic Paynes Prairie overlook.

3. Town of Cedar Key

This is our top choice for small town bike rides. Listed on the National Historic Site Register, Cedar Key is what Key West was 75 years ago. For the laid-back traveler, this is the perfect stop – a step back into Old Florida. Bikes are a great way to get around.

4. Withlacoochee State Trail

This is a 46-mile paved rail trail that goes through small towns, the Withlacoochee State Forest and other natural areas. It offers a variety of recreational opportunities, with parks, river and lake views. Food and drink is available in the small towns along the trail. For a taste of “old Florida,” stop at the Istachatta General Store, south of Floral City.

5. West Orange Trail

Popular for all types of biking, the West Orange trail is a world-class rail trail through urban and suburban sections of Orange County, FL. Winter Garden is a prime example of how a well-maintained rail-trail can revitalize an “old Florida” downtown. Bike rentals are available at a Trail Outpost, and at this writing, two bike shops in Winter Garden. This trail is close to Disney and other area attractions.

6. General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

Totally rural and mostly within forest, the Van Fleet trail 29 miles with one curve and no hills. The rail-trail runs on an old Seaboard Air Line Railroad right-of-way through the Green Swamp, the headwater of Florida’s aquifer. While crossing three bridges over the headwaters of the Withlacoochee River, check for alligators and other wildlife.

7. Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail

An urban rail-trail with about 100,000 users each month, this popular 38 mile bikeway links some of Pinellas County’s finest parks, scenic coastal areas, and residential neighborhoods. The Pinellas Trail is a member of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

8. Legacy Trail

The Legacy Trail runs from south Sarasota to Venice along an old Seaboard Air Line Railroad corridor. The bike trail passes through Oscar Scherer State Park, continuing on to Venice, where it connects near the historic Venice Train Station to Venetian Waterway Park. Popular with bikers, joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers, together these recreational trails have something for everyone – scenery, forest, waterways, parks, beaches and history.

9. Sanibel Island Bike Paths

Sanibel Island features 22 miles of paved trails, including the Rabbit Road Trail, Dixie Beach Road, Middle Gulf Cemetery Route, and Bailey Road-Dunes Circle. Cyclists also can ride Wildlife Drive, a 4.3-mile limestone road through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Stop at the Sanibel Visitors Center and pick up a biking brochure. Trails lead to the lighthouse, beaches, restaurants, and shopping. Rental shops are popular. Sometimes there are more bicycles than cars plying the Sanibel Island.

10. Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

The American alligator is a symbol of Florida. On this ride, you literally bike with (and around) many of these awesome symbols. You’ll also see a variety of birds, turtles, and small fish. Located off the Tamiami Trail (US 41) near the Miccosukee Indian Reservation west of Miami, Shark Valley is a 14.5 mile paved loop. Bikes can be rented at the information center, or bring your own.

Picking just 10 wasn’t easy. Our criteria include paved surfaces, fresh air, unique scenery, and wildlife. Most trails listed are ideal for comfort bikes and cruisers, hybrids, recumbent bicycles, and tandems. Other than occasional road crossings, most avoid motor traffic, noise, and fumes. Bicycle repair shops and rentals have sprung up along many of Florida’s urban bike trails, along with restaurants catering to hungry bikers. Enjoy the ride.