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Double riding is as related to Amsterdam as canals and coffee shops.

Perfect for conversations while cruising at a leisurely pace, the side-saddle is by the far the most popular method for two people riding together on one bike. The only way to experience life as a local is to weave through narrow streets on two wheels with your partner’s legs dangling from the back rack.

My infatuation with this style of riding borders on being a fetish. I’ve never been the passenger, as I find it more pleasurable being the chauffeur. But even while observing others riding side-saddle, I can’t help to think that when it comes to transportation, there simply is no more of an endearing way to travel together. Perhaps I’m being a tad over-sentimental, but I honestly feel that if some overreaching law ever prohibits double riding in Amsterdam, a part of humanity will die.

The survey to riding side-saddle

I covered some statistics when it came to double riding in an earlier post. But it was by accident that had me really sink my teeth into riding side-saddle.

My wife and I were on our way with our year-old daughter to an appointment when she suffered a flat. We locked the bike on the spot and she plunked onto my back rack while my daughter was in the front child seat in which would be our first unsanctioned family ride.

She exclaimed that “something doesn’t feel right.”

I replied, “you’re facing the wrong way.”

What is the right way when riding side-saddle as a passenger? I would think it comes down to personal preference, with either facing left or right. I recall in the past that she would always face left. From my observations, I would estimate that most people face left.

I’ve read one assumption that people will face the direction of the sun, shops or towards an inclination for the best view. But I think the decision on which way to sit depends on which side feels more comfortable, based on whether one is left or right-handed.

Riding on your dominant side

According to statistics, about 10% of the population is left-handed while the vast majority is right-handed. To see if there is any correlation to riding side-saddle, I counted 1500 bicyclists over a course of several months.

My findings revealed that 84% of passengers riding this method faced left while 16% faced right. That is nearly on par for the proportion of right-handed people to left-handed. There is also no deviation between whether the passenger is male or female. But if the majority of people are right-handed then why are they facing left?

I can only speculate that having things appear from the direction of their dominant side is somehow more comforting. It could also be that on some subconscious level, having more space for their legs dangling off to the side is more preferable when facing left while in the bike lane. Typically people double riding are on the slow end of moving traffic and thus on the right side of the bike lane. Facing right runs the risk of being close to obstructions like parked cars, bikes and pedestrians. Though the risks do change while going down narrow side streets with oncoming vehicles.

Whatever the reasons, it fulfilled my curiosity in the art of riding side-saddle. 

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  • steve p BODNER says:

    My bike mechanic told me most people mount their bikes from the left as that’s the equestrian tradition. Maybe the same for the rear passengers legs….

    • Gus says:

      Steve, that’s a good point. I don’t think I’ve ever mounted my bike from the right side.

    • Mouse says:

      And the equestrian tradition began from military exercises where one carries one’s sword on their left hip (so in leading and mounting on the left, the sword is away from the horse and the weapon-free hip/leg is the one you swing over the horse’s back with no risk of a scabbard catching.

      On a bike it’s also the non-drive side, so I figure it sort of works that way too – better maybe to get on the non-chain side (though that’s mostly trivial, especially with an upright bike and a chain guard!)

  • Brouwer says:

    On the left site you have more space (the whole street0 to run up and jump on te rack.

  • Jim Moore says:

    My theory is simply it’s because most people are right-handed. If you watch Marc’s video below, you’ll notice the first move in boarding is placing a hand on the person cycling, to ensure when you make the hop that you won’t miss and fall on the ground and hurt yourself. Also I’ve never done it, but in just thinking about it doing it I’d instinctively want to do so from the left (I’m right-handed and right-sided).
    https://youtu.be/8vgF_vvb6Dw

    • Gus says:

      Jim, you could be right. There are a few people who just hop on, but for the most part, people hold onto the person cycling and it would make sense that they do it with their dominant hand.

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