The Drowning Bike Phenomenon
Imagine throwing rocks onto ice, cathartic fun that anyone can enjoy. But what if someone wanted something more than rocks on ice? That’s when bikes come into the picture. In cities like Amsterdam, with a combined 100 kilometers or 62 miles in canals and hundreds of thousands of bikes, tourists and vandals alike find themselves throwing bikes into the watery depths for the catharsis of it all. This is one of the more common ways in which bikes end up at the bottom of the Amsterdam canals. But it isn’t the MOST common way for bikes to reach their watery graves.
The number of bikes in Amsterdam might be a factor in why so many end up in the water each year. With an estimated 881,000 bikes, bikes outnumber people in Amsterdam by nearly 60,000. They are also readily used, with 40-60% of all travel in Amsterdam being made by bike.
Even while keeping in mind the number of bikes in the city, it still comes as a shock that 15,000 of them end up at the bottom of the canals each year. But the habit of throwing things into the canals isn’t a new occurrence. In the 1800s the canals of Amsterdam were used as open toilets and trash cans. Around the 1860s, city officials began to take offense at the smell and pollution of the canals so they decided to start cleaning the water. But even 200 years later the people of Amsterdam still haven’t gotten rid of the habit, and keep tossing their trash into the depths, such as unused electronics in a state of disrepair, scrap metals from various sources, and sometimes even loose bike rails.
On a more absurd note, cars also fall into the river. It’s estimated that a car falls into the river about every week and a half. Luckily for the canals and the people of Amsterdam, Water-net, the organization responsible for ridding the canals of trash, has a team of people to make daily clean-ups in the water. Commonly known as bicycle fishermen, these hard-working citizens pull all the scrap metal out of the river. Most of this gets recycled into new bikes or used as spare parts, but a small fraction of scrap metal is used in creating beer cans. These beer cans are sometimes the cause of more bicycles getting thrown into canals, and the same process is repeated again and again, giving fuel to the bicycle wheel of fortune spins in an endless loop.