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Dead Bikes of Amsterdam

Abaondoned bike on a canal bridge


People often ask how the city deals with dead bikes. By dead bikes I mean bikes that are locked in a public place with no apparent owner.

There are a lot of bikes in Amsterdam. The figure that does the rounds is that there are about 1 million bikes owned by the 800 thousand inhabitants. Bear in mind that not all inhabitants cycle so we’re looking at about 2 bikes for cycling person at a guess. I’ve actually got 6 bikes. They do tend to collect when you live here a while.

Occasionally, when out and about on my small group Amsterdam Walking Tour I get the opportunity to answer the question about dead bikes. And last week I took a photo to show you here.

Abandoned bycycle on a canal bridgeCity council employees will walk through a neighbourhood and place a very fine cable tie around a back wheel spoke and something on the frame of the bike. Then they will walk the same neighbourhood 3 months later. If any of those cable ties remain that means that bike hasn’t been moved in the last 3 months.

Then the next step is to put a red sticker around the handle bar of the bike saying the date the sticker was placed there as well as a date, 2 weeks later, that the bike will be impounded if the sticker or the bike are not removed.

2 weeks later, in theory, but usually about 3 or 4 weeks later, the council will cut the lock and take the bike to their depot. There all bikes are checked against the stolen bike register and if it is stolen, the owner is notified. If your bike is lost, confiscated or stolen you can fill in a form online stating  the frame number and they will check if they have it. You can pick up the bike as long as you have the keys, ID and 22.50 euros.

Abandoned bikes are stored at the depot for 2 to 4 weeks before being sold. Confiscated bikes (those parked illegally and impounded) are stored for 6 weeks before being sold to a company that sells some of the bikes to 2nd hand bike dealers. They also donate some to developing countries where the bikes are refurbished and reused.

A few years ago there was a small gang of very entrepreneurial thieves that dressed as city workers and had a van with city council livery on the side and, in broad daylight, were stealing the bikes with red stickers. The city wasn’t too pleased as they sell the bikes, but I thought it was about as close to a victimless crime as you can get!