The five most exciting innovations in cycling
Did you know that the first-ever bike sharing scheme was devised in Amsterdam? In the 1960s, the Provos – a counterculture movement that combined anarchy and absurd humour – came up with the wittefietsenplan (‘white bike plan’). This involved painting a number of bikes white and leaving them for people to use freely. Meant as a symbolic statement against the growing numbers of cars in the city, the plan was quickly scuppered as the police confiscated the bikes. But half a century later, as modern bike-sharing schemes are hugely successful in the world’s metropoles, it’s worth sparing a thought for the original inventors, who, in the end, managed to spark a revolution after all. And the Provos were not the last Dutch people to innovate cycling: here’s our top five innovations helping Amsterdam lead the way in smart mobility in the modern age.
Turn off the lights
Stopping at traffic lights is a great nuisance for any road user – but it’s worse for cyclists, as it ruins all momentum. And that’s not even mentioning pedalling through snow or torrential rain, weather that has, at times, occurred in Amsterdam. The traffic system Flo aims to help combat this. By placing poles alongside bike paths to measure individual cyclists’ speeds, the Flo system uses that data to display symbols which let the cyclist know whether to speed up, slow down or continue at their current speed in order to catch the next green light. The system is currently in use in Utrecht, Eindhoven and Antwerp. And Amsterdam has gone a step further by actually eliminating traffic lights all together. Not everywhere, as we’re sure you’ve noticed – but a trial run of switching off the lights on Oost’s busy Alexanderplein junction, and relying on signs and interaction between road users instead, proved such a success that the lights have now been removed altogether. The crossing is now being redesigned and city officials are looking to apply the method elsewhere.
Power to the streets
It’s an idea so ingenious, yet so simple, that it’s a wonder no one’s had it before: the SolaRoad is a surface for bike paths and roads that acts as a solar panel to provide electricity for homes, electric vehicles and street lighting. With almost 140,000 kilometres of public roads in the Netherlands, there is quite a lot of surface area that could be put to use in this way. One pilot bike path is already in use, and SolaRoad is currently being developed to accommodate heavier traffic. A more whimsical, but also far prettier variation on this idea can be visited (and cycled on) in Nuenen, erstwhile home to one Vincent van Gogh. The Van Gogh Path is inspired by the painter’s much-loved Starry Night and uses the energy it generates in the daytime to produce thousands of twinkling little stars at night.
With their characteristic aluminium-frame bikes, Amsterdam natives Van Moof have been reinventing the (bicycle) wheel for a while now, and with international success, too. Unlike most other high-end bike manufacturers, Van Moof focus on riding in the city instead of climbing up mountains in full-body lycra. Their bikes address the specific requirements and challenges urban cycling brings, from anti-theft and tracking tech to integrated lights and locks. Perhaps best of all, their electric bike cannot be recognised as such, allowing you to smugly overtake fellow cyclists while pretending to possess super strength. Another funky (or rather, anti-funky) innovation is the Smog Free Bicycle by Dutch inventor Daan Roosegaarde. The bike cleans air while being ridden, so that the cyclist always has a noseful of fresh air even when cycling through smog, and is currently being developed in collaboration with Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo.
They might not take up as much space as carparks, but bike racks still have serious clutter potential. To remedy this, recent Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Milou Bergs has devised Align, a bike storage system that folds flat into the ground when not in use. And just as an aside, it looks rather snazzy when it is, too.
If you weren’t convinced that Amsterdam takes cycling seriously, how about this: the city has its very own bicycle mayor (fietsburgemeester). The position is filled by Katelijne Boerma, who campaigns for a better bike infrastructure and to help improve the image of cycling amongst young people. As if that weren’t enough. since June 2018 there’s a junior bicycle mayor: eight-year-old Lotta Crok. She has announced that she will campaign for the introduction of a child-sized OV bike, the bike-sharing scheme of the Dutch railways. The future of cycling, as you can see, is in good hands.
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