Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In the latest installment, an Amsterdam beer bike driver speaks frankly about the stuff he experiences while riding around with pleasure-seeking tourists.
I know a lot of people look down on the beer bike, but come on: it's a great opportunity to ride a bike with friends through a beautiful city, all the while you're drinking beer. The driver (me) keeps it safe and steady. That's how I feel about it after working as a beer bike driver for the past two summers.
To me, its opponents' negative reactions seem short-sighted. I appreciate the nuisance caused by beer bikes, but most of the people who complain are just imitating other people's reactions. It's telling that their complaints are about binge-drinking tourists and noise disturbances in the first place. Traffic safety is almost mentioned as an afterthought. I've had so many people give me the finger and call me an asshole while I was driving the bike. Some of them even became aggressive.
We've discontinued our routes along the canal, there's no more music on the bikes, and we don't ride after 10 PM anymore. I actively discourage tourists from falling into drunken stupors on my bike. But you know, people on beer bikes want to have a good time and yeah, sometimes shouting and yelling are parts of that.
Deal with it.
Ninety percent of the people renting beer bikes are part of a bachelor's party. Most are British, but there are also French, Scottish, Scandinavians, and Spaniards, too. British women from bachelorette parties are the loudest, but they're also the most fun. In fine English tradition, their mums and aunts come with them. They tend to flirt with me, which is embarrassing for the bride. I love it, though.
Plus, the British like their drinking games. One time a group of women played "Never Have I Ever," resulting in them confessing their most intimate stories. I wasn't facing them, of course, but I did hear every detail of their stories. At some point, they all realized that. "I've got no other way to go and I do understand English," I told them. Everybody burst out laughing. I like British humor so I can easily "click" with groups, but that doesn't mean I pretend to be their friend at the start of the ride.
A group of women once wanted me to call them "pedal bitches." That was a bit uncomfortable. Then they asked me if I could take off my clothes.
I make sure the rules are very clear to them. They know that the shenanigans need to stop when they're on the bike. I explain that there are lovely ladies in Amsterdam, but that they're not necessarily fond of men catcalling them. I also tell them to step on it when necessary. "If I say pedal, you need to fucking pedal." The British appreciate that. A group of women once wanted me to call them "pedal bitches." That was a bit uncomfortable. Then they asked me if I could take off my clothes.
We genereally try to avoid the canals because the bridges are pretty steep. When we go down an especially steep one, my ear drums take a beating from women's shrieks on the bike.
During my two summers of doing this job, I've only had two bad experiences. It had nothing to do with the beer bikes, but everything to do with the tourists themselves. One time, I had a group of British hooligans. They were high on dope and who knows what else. I'd forgotten to change the keg for the ride so at some point, we ran out. One of those guys threatened to punch me in the eye socket if I wouldn't change the keg within 30 seconds. The most annoying dude of the bunch kept jumping off the bike and nearly got arrested. But they were a bunch of people who didn't need a beer bike to suck. Banning beer bikes won't keep assholes like that out of Amsterdam.
The other group consisted of a bunch of French people who came down during Gay Pride. They'd had too much drugs and booze when they got on the bike. They didn't do anything bad per se, but they didn't want to ride a bike, and lost track of their surroundings altogether.
There were a bunch of people who didn't need a beer bike to suck. Banning beer bikes won't keep assholes like that out of Amsterdam.
I see myself as a kind of city guide who leads things along the right tracks. Whether they ride with me or if they're walking in the Red Light District, annoying tourists are annoying tourists.
After the tour, people often ask me if I'll join them at the bar. And of course I've done that, if the group was fun. You'll end up in places where regular Amsterdammers don't end up at like tourist bars in Rembrandt Square. If you want to, you can have a real fun evening as a driver. I'm in a relationship, so I never abused it. There have been plenty of indecent proposals though. I'm in a Whatsapp group with my fellow drivers so I know some of them have accepted such proposals. It's a bit of a competition amongst drivers: who can get the most women? The results—pictures and all—are shared in the Whatsapp groups.
However, I don't want to give you the impression that this is why the drivers do this job. Hanging out with the customers after work is fine, but as a driver, you always stay sober. That's the golden rule and I swear to you that all my colleagues abide by that rule.
I get people's objections against the beer bikes since I'm Amsterdam, but our customers are interested in Amsterdam's history, and they do tend to drink responsibly. Sure, there's a small group of annoying tourists who drink too much and suck in general. But banning beer bikes won't stop them from coming.
As told to Felicia Alberding.