If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you’ll have encountered them whether you’d like to or not. Used by 63 per cent of Amsterdamers on a daily basis, and with an estimated 800,000 in the city, you may, if you were feeling adventurous, even have had a go on one yourself. I’m talking, of course, about bicycles.
But despite the world-renowned cycling facilities available, there has recently been a spate of stories, blaming tourists on two wheels have for numerous accidents. Although there are no statistics to back this up, it's easy to see how those who are concentrating more on their selfie-sticks than they are their steering could get the blame.
To counter the issue, a company has come up with an innovative solution – a sort of Uber-meets-couch surfing for bikes.
The scheme, Yellow Backie, is the brainchild of one of the city's cycle hire companies, Yellow Bike. In essence, it encourages locals to give tourists a lift on their bicycle’s luggage rack. The company provide the volunteers with a yellow rack to make them identifiable around the city; all people have to do to hail down a ride is shout “backie” and hop on.
Martin Luyckx, online marketing and communication manager of Yellow Bike, says the company was fed up with the bad reputation tourists were getting. “We wanted to counter the negativity with some positivity,” he tells me. “Catching a ride on someone else’s luggage rack is quite common in the Netherlands for short distances – so by having a yellow rack, it now shows that you are open to giving tourists a short ride instead of ignoring them in our great city.”
He hopes that the scheme will become a “common good”, likening it to the Het witte fietsenplan (White bicycle plan) that was introduced to the city in the 1960s. That saw 50 white bicycles were left around central Amsterdam for the public to use free of charge.
Although relatively new, since the scheme’s launch in August, 107 people have signed up in Amsterdam. Luyckx also claims that others around the world are already picking up on the idea – with unofficial DIY yellow racks seen riding around in Utrecht, Haarlem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and as far afield as Boston and Denver in the US.
Skadi Renooy, a recent Urban Studies graduate from the University of Amsterdam, is one of those who has got involved in the capital. She said it’s a “charming way to show tourists in Amsterdam that the locals are open to show them the city from an insider’s perspective”.
Renooy has mainly given lifts to backpackers who were travelling alone and wanted to get a local’s perspective on the city. “I think in reality, having a Yellow Backie is more about the signal it gives,” she explains. “You're basically saying: 'Hey, I am a local and I could show you around. Don't be scared of me and my bike!”
That, Luyckx says, is what Yellow Backie is about. “We want tourists to know that they can shout ‘backie!’ when they see someone with a Yellow Backie, and hitch a short ride and see something they may not have seen otherwise. After all, we should not forget that we also are tourists when we go abroad to visit cities such as London, Paris, Venice or Berlin.”
It's hard to predict how successful Yellow Backie. But if it can get visitors out of the red light district and into the real Amsterdam shows, it’ll be on the right track.