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Peculiar tourist attraction: bicycle fishing in Amsterdam
Here’s a trivia question you can use to stump your friends: On a yearly basis, how many bicycles and cars end up in the canals of Amsterdam?We’ll tell you the answer in a moment. But first, a brief look at what makes Amsterdam “The City of Bike.”
Amsterdam — Most bicycle friendly city in the world
It is a well-known fact that Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.
Over one third of working Amsterdammers commutes to and from work on a bike. Many more use their bicycles for other reasons as well: for leisure, trips to the supermarket, bringing the kids to school, or even walking the dog.
The city’s marketing website, I amsterdam, says “Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latest estimations conclude that there are more bikes in Amsterdam than permanent residents.”
Sure enough, Amsterdam has 780,559 inhabitants, who together have an estimated 881,000 bikes.
“Wisdom of the Crowd” estimate of the number of bicycles in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s Statistics Bureau, Dienst Onderzoek + Statistiek, O+S, says the method used to arrive at the number of bikes in the city is known as ‘Wisdom of the Crowd.’
The idea is that when there is no simple way to arrive at the right number, the average derived from the guesses of a selection of experts will provide ‘the truth’ — and that’s how O+S came up with 881,000 bicycles.
Now, keep that number in mind.
Amsterdam: 165+ canals and lots of drowned bikes
Now, Amsterdam has 165 canals, with a combined length of 100 kilometers (60 miles). Thast provides lots of opportunities for a bike or two to get wet. In fact, here’s a video of a Good Samaritan who salvaged a bike that was blown into a canal by the wind. And here’s a look at how the professionals of Waternet — Amsterdam’s Water Authority — approach the job:
Does the number of bikes on that barge provide a clue? Perhaps it does if you know that this pile of bikes is the result of about 3 hours of dredging in Prinsengracht.
Why bikes end up in the canals: theft or vandalism
In an article filed by the Associated Press, Arie Beer, then Superintendent at Waternet, says “Bicycle fishing is a peculiar story. Every year we fish up between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles. Yeah, where do they come from? Well — the owners won’t throw them into the water themselves. So we assume that either theft or vandalism is the reason the bicycles end up in the water.”
Not just bicycles
While some of the bikes dredged up still look serviceable, all bikes retrieved from the canals of Amsterdam end up as scrap metal.
Workers on the boat shown in the video above say they occasionally also bring up other items, such as fridges, shopping carts, and even a safe. But bicycles are their main catch.
Amsterdam Boat Wrecks
An information officer at Waternet says the crew normally gets a list of boat wrecks that need to be removed from the water.
For one reason or another each year an average of 500 vessels — small sloops and cabin boats, for the most part — sink or are otherwise wrecked.
Some people simply abandon their boats when they move away, or they don’t want to keep paying the every increasing mooring fees.
Some of the boats are stolen — used for the water version of joyriding, and then dumped.
Others are scuttled by vandals.
Once the list of boat wrecks is cleared, the Waternet team starts dredging for bicycles.
Cars end up in the canals of Amsterdam as well
In 2009 Amsterdam police was concerned about ‘a new craze’ in which vandals toss parked cars from the Smart brand into the city’s canals. But that’s a rare occurrence, and did not qualify as a “craze.”
Many of Amsterdam’s canal cruises play a tour information tape on board. The guide explains that the short guard rails seen along many of the canals are there to prevent cars from driving into the water.
But, says the guide, nevertheless “on average one car a week rolls into a canal.”That information (along with some other claims made on those tapes) tends to puzzle Amsterdammers who accompany their tourist friends for a canal tour. One car a week — 52 cars a year — sounds like a lot. Indeed that number in on the high side. In Amsterdam whenever a car falls into a canal a special diving team of the Fire Brigade springs into action. Amsterdam is the only city in the Netherlands that has four professional divers on call 24 hours a day. On special occasions, such as during the Gay Pride Parade, SAIL, Queen’s Day and the annual arrival of St. Nicholas, there are four extra divers on standby. According to the diving team, on average 100 people and 35 cars a year fall into the canal.Often, passers-by are the first to be on the scene. In April, 2022, a van carrying nine people landed in the water of the Prinsengracht. Police says the driver was likely trying to park his vehicle. A 29-year old Amsterdammer saved all nine occupants:
Fishing for Plastic in the Canals of Amsterdam
You won’t be able to fish for bikes yourself. But you and your friends of colleagues are welcome to fish plastic out of the canals of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Alternatively, rent a bike (and try not to hit the water).
More about the Canals of Amsterdam
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