Fishing For Bicycles in Amsterdam’s Canals

Jan 8, 2016 2 comments

Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world, with 40% to 60% of all trips within the city made on bikes. Some estimate that there are between 880,000 to a million bicycles in the city, which is more than the city’s permanent population, by as much as 20%. Amsterdam also has lots of canals —165, with a combined length of 100 kilometers. Unavoidably, some of the bicycles end up getting wet. Did I say some? How about 15,000? That’s how many bicycles are retrieved from Amsterdam’s canals every year. In fact, fishing for bicycles is a full-time occupation for the city.

Waternet, the agency responsible keeping the canals clean, employs a huge hydraulic claw, to fish out bicycles from the canal bed. The claw is connected to a crane that sits on the front of a barge. The company has been bike fishing since the 1960s, and they do this every day.


Photo credit: heather_mcnabb/Flickr

Nobody has a clear answer to why Amsterdam’s residents throw away so many bikes into the canals, but this habit of throwing things into the canals goes back a long way. In the old days, the canals used to be an open sewer. There was no sewer system in Amsterdam, so the canals were like an open toilet and trash-can for the people of Amsterdam.

In 1860, Amsterdam started to see the problem and began cleaning up the canals. But many Amsterdammers still hasn't totally kicked the habit of tossing things into the drink, especially when they are drunk. It’s believed that most bicycles fished out from the canals are either stolen or victims of vandalism. Amsterdam Police estimate that between 50,000 and 80,000 bikes are stolen each year, yet very few report bike theft to the police because they think that the police won’t do anything about it.

Most of the bikes dredged up from the canals end up as scrap metal. Though bikes aren’t the only thing that gets caught in the huge metal claws. Occasionally workers would bring up other items, such as fridges and even cars. Between 35 to 50 cars fall into the canals each year. In most cases they are the result of an accident, but sometimes vandalism comes into play. Amsterdam has a special diving team of the Fire Brigade to fish out cars, when such an accident is reported.

Bike fishing has become one of Amsterdam’s unique tourist attraction.


Photo credit: Pien Huang/PRI


Photo credit: Pien Huang/PRI


Photo credit:


A car pushed into a boat. Photo credit:

Sources: DutchAmsterdam / Public Radio International


  1. Sorry, incorrect answer Caipirinha Joe. Try again.

  2. No, they only molest and rape women in Germany.


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