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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  724 ratings  ·  151 reviews
Pete Jordan, author of Dishwasher, tells the story of his love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all the while unfolding an unknown history of the city's cycling, from the craze of the 1890s, through the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centric culture adored by the world today.

"Few people are audacious enough to lead a memoir-worthy life. Even fewer people are talente
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Harper Perennial (first published August 21st 2012)
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Artnoose McMoose
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: cyclists
Recommended to Artnoose by: pete jordan
I met Pete in Portland in the summer of 1999. He was zinester-famous, being the publisher of Dishwasher Zine, chronicling his itinerant dishwashing lifestyle.

Fast forward to 2013 and I got this book as he came through Pittsburgh on a book tour.

This book is partly about his move to Amsterdam because of the cycling culture there, but mostly about the rich history of cycling in that tiny country. It's a very interesting read, on both the personal and historical counts. My favorite parts were the
Feb 01, 2020 marked it as sampled
Shelves: 2020, bicycles, history
I picked this up at the library for several reasons. One, I love bikes and I think a return to the heyday of cycling (with a simultaneous turning of our collective back on the nefarious automobile) would yield a more peaceful, harmonious way of life. Two, I've visited Amsterdam and was struck by the cycling culture there, as well as the general layout of the city. Three, I occasionally corresponded and traded zines with Pete Jordan back when he was known simply as Dishwasher Pete and was working ...more
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I am not a cyclist. I visited Amsterdam and spent many hours watching the bicycle traffic with great fascination. It is impressive to see peak drive times and busy intersections. The style of bikes, the various ways passengers are transported, all varieties of clothing, are all entwined in the commute. Initially it seems so random and out of control, yet from an American perspective of gas guzzling consumerism, it's absolutely beautiful.
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I love books that go into depth on relatively obscure topics, like Mark Kurlansky's "Salt." I enjoy learning about what fascinates an author and making connections to disparate fields of knowledge. So I'm all for a deep dive into unknown waters. After reading this book, I can say that I know far more about cycling in Amsterdam than I ever wanted to know, but as a reader who respects an author's passion, here are the big take aways: people love to ride bikes in Amsterdam; lock your bike if you do ...more
Jessica Lipowski
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
If you haven’t read “In The City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist” by Pete Jordan yet, I highly recommend it. Whether you are specifically interested in Amsterdam or are fond of biking, it is a good read. I am an expat, just like Pete, and I have been biking in this city for four years now. Yet through Pete’s research and words I learned so much about Amsterdam and the biking culture. I have many pages bookmarked, noting interesting facts that I want to share with others. Sometimes w ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Part memoir, part travel log and part history, Pete Jordon takes readers on a trip through the streets of Amsterdam on bike, sharing at the same time, his family's permanent relocation to the city. Filled with humorous antidotes and historical details of how crazy this city is for cycling, it offers a stark contrast to America - the city of cars.

Overall, this was an enjoyable account for anyone who loves quirky travel stories. Pete's search for the perfect biking city in the USA had fallen short
Jul 01, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting read about the history of cycling in Amsterdam, the eponymous city, written by an American cycling aficionado. He writes extensively about the current status of city biking in Amsterdam, bike theft, the history of the politics of bicycling there, incorporating details about the German occupation during WWII, etc., so you'd better have an interest o you'll drown in the details. It was fairly engagingly written, for all that, because he writes from personal experience living there w ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Oct 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: tried-but-quit
There was definitely some good stuff here, but not enough for a book -- it felt like an incomplete reworking of the research papers he was writing for his urban planning program. Jordan's own stories of his Amsterdam bike riding experiences were solidly interesting and well written, but as for the decade-by-decade history of bike riding in the city -- meh.
Belle Beth Cooper
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book uses way too many quotes to illustrate its points. Often three or four quotes in a row to illustrate the exact same point, so I ended up skipping some.

Apart from that, I generally enjoyed the book. It felt too long in some places, as if the author wasn't willing to part with any of his research even if it didn't add much to the book. But in other places I loved every bit, and it didn't feel long at all.

The book included some interesting history of Amsterdam, particularly during WWII, a
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cycling
I liked this book very much, both because the subject and the way it was handled was appealing (to me) and also because I think it is well written. I was confused however by title - I only understood what it meant properly after I had read 50 pages or so. In particular, "the story of the Amsterdam cyclist" can be understood as "a social history of cycling in Amsterdam" - "the Amsterdam cyclist" is meant to indicate Amsterdam cyclists in general from the 1890s to today. (Probably this confusion i ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is worth reading if you're willing to skim (or maybe skip entirely) Pete Jordan's chapters about himself and his own biking experiences. The really interesting stuff was all the fascinating things he shares about the history and culture of biking in Amsterdam: the tradition of "troublesome" Amsterdammers who buck rules and authority and have, decade after decade, stood up for their rights; the role of bikes as a form of both oppression and resistance during the Nazi occupation in the 1 ...more
neatly written history of bikes in amsterdam and holland, and travel autobio of moving and living in amsterdam from usa. dutch having a fairly unique take on bicycles, city life, transportation, peoples's rights, OTHER peoples's rights, and how best to balance freedom, liberty, compassion, openmindedness, fairness, justice, there-ya-go-ness, personal responsibility.

so: no helmets really used much ; multiple locks used and still huge bike thief problem ; infrastructure constraints (not enough roo
Aug 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
Dreadful. This book really needed a strong editorial hand. I borrowed it from the library because I was intrigued about how cycling became so popular in one of my favorite cities. The TOC also hints at the importance of bikes during WWII. Alas.

There was way too much about the author, too much gee whiz, and the style was sloppy. The worst thing, though, was the way Jordan trivialized the Dutch privation during the war. It was as if the confiscation of bikes was the worst the Dutch had to endure
Beth G
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book but I think you would have to have an interest in biking and urban planning or at least the history of Amsterdam to enjoy it. You learn about the role that biking played in Amsterdam's history and an American bike fanatics' personal experience living there.
I am not ready to move yet but I certainly want to visit soon.
Jul 13, 2013 added it
Definitely made me want to visit Amsterdam. Not so much with wanting to start cycling more.
Jan 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
read this only bc i had to and it although it was well written and fairly easy to follow, that is if u didnt fall asleep bc of all of the info, it simply had no flavor. i truly believe the author himself believes he was funny and entertaining but he wasnt. im glad to have been able to read abt how certain pieces of amsterdams history were impacted and shaped by their bike culture but thats about it. i could have done without so many lengthy anecdotes about his own life. i also could have done wi ...more
Malin Friess
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Pete Jordan grew up in Pittsburg commuting by bicyle in the snow. He realized he didn't belong in the midwest when at one point he was so excited to see just one other bicycle track in the snow on his ride home from work (hoping he had found another cyclist) only to realize the tracks were his own. Pete tried bicycle friendly cities like Davis, California and Portland, Oregon...but found his home in Amsterdam (The City of Bikes)..and goes on to tell his family's story of living above a bike shop ...more
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bob by: Krista Farrell
Shelves: social
Yes, 400 pages of Dutch bike trivia, and, to invert Dr. Johnson, one is even more surprised to see it so well done as to see it done at all. Jordan cobbles together newspaper accounts, letters, historic documents, travel guides, and personal letters to create a light and enjoyable history of Amsterdammers and their anarchic attachment to their clunky stolid bicycles. There are celebrities: Queen Wilhelmina in exile demanding her staff get her a used cycle; Tony Blair pedaling madly ahead of oth ...more
Brady Dale
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an excerpt from
a review I wrote on Forefront
. Here's the first few paragraphs:

To be a cyclist in America is to be hated by mostly everyone else. I’ve been a committed urban cyclist ever since I first moved to a big city when I was 20 years old. On one of my first commutes across the city of Washington, D.C., I remember braving the center of Connecticut Avenue as I prepared to turn left, and getting so flustered that a cop pulled up to ask if I was okay riding there. I said I was, thoug
Doreen Fritz
Jun 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Selected due to our recent trip to Amsterdam, this book was a delight. What is it about Amsterdam that makes one think that even after being there only 3 days that I can picture the settings described in this book? Place names evoked a memory, and so I could understand and appreciate the author's descriptions of the struggles the city has faced as automobiles invaded what was previously already a chaotic traffic jam of people and bikes. And indeed, the bikes are among the first things one notice ...more
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, 2014
This is the second book I've read this month by this author. I was completely liberated by the idea of someone moving to a foreign city and then proceeding to take the city's signature theme, research it to the hilt, and then write a completely delightful and engaging account. Once again--we come with so few rigid instruction books! We can write out own life!!
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2016, streets
Simply marvelous. An very engaging pop history and memoir.
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the City of Bikes: Peter Jordan

Traffic jams, overwrought motorists, cyclists and pedestrians trying to share the streets, the pathways and hoping to get to their destinations. But, what happens when all of these people converge and traffic gets bottled up and the end result is chaos or a bottleneck. Peter Jordan takes us on his own private journey through the many cities in Amsterdam, to back in time when the first bikes were invented and allows readers to join him on his special journey. Ima
Sara Budarz
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: histories
First world problem alert: In the City of Bikes is a book I bought over two years ago with the intention of reading it right away, because in my mind, it was already a winner of a book: recommended by my local bookstore, about bikes, about the history of a city - all good things! I love cycling, I love cities... what could go wrong?
But then after buying the book, in the two intervening years, other books took priority for a myriad of reasons, and so this book patiently waited. During that time,
Ștefania Ioana Chiorean
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I enjoyed the book very much. I loved that the author decided to both write about the history of the cyclist in Amsterdam and also about his personal life (not to much). The historical facts are well documented and many quotes from papers, books, declarations etc were used to explain or show better the status back then. In some parts was a bit too long and I would have loved to have the historical parts chronologically mentioned (there was a bit of back and forth that was hard to keep up with so ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
My two main take-aways are (1) effects of physical space and pace of life on how well cycling is accepted as a mode of transportation (ch.6); and (2) the absence of mention of 'Stop de kindermoord' public campaigns, instead exploring political parties and the 1965 public/white bicycle provocation scheme (which, original 1958 proponent Hugo Brandt Corstius explained, was "'a beautiful idea, but can be made even more beautiful. The Provos should bestow just one bike upon the community, but this ti ...more
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
As an enthusiastic bike riding American I long for a cultural shift in my own country that would embrace a bit more of the European perspective on human-powered transportation. I hoped this book would provide meaningful insight into the forces that shape European attitudes about the bicycle. But the writer, despite his fascination with Amsterdam's cycling fervor never managed to distill his research into an enlightening or even enjoyable read on the subject. Stuffed with an eye-crossing stream o ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: world, cycling
i wanted to like this a lot more than i did. i was so excited about the subject matter! but idk his writing style really wasn't working for me. i think i was first put off by the intro including a solid two pages on how hot the women cyclists in amsterdam were. the history of cycling could have been interesting, but something about his writing style made it a chore to get through. i think the overuse of quotes really hurt, where maybe using them more sparingly in better places could have made th ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Quit about 2/3 of the way through after being bored and disappointed. This despite the fact that I started the book in Amsterdam while renting a bike and exploring the city. The book is full of absurdly repetitive accounts of minor details of the bicycling culture. Want to read two sentences from a newspaper article about how a butcher gets around on a bike? A painter? A bricklayer? What about a hairdresser? What about 50 other occupations, two sentences at a time, for pages on end? This book co ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book that both tells the story of a man’s love affair with bicycles and a city where he can ride them frequently, and a well-researched history of cycling in Amsterdam. It is a interesting as well as an enlightening read. Engaging voice, easy to take in, as though the reader is on a leisurely bike ride with him through Holland's cycling history. The author has a quirky, but effective habit of counting things, such as what percentage of 1000 "florally enriched bikes" are pedaled by wome ...more
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