Cycling with the Dutch – How to bike in the Netherlands?
Are you planning to visit the Netherlands? Then there is quite a lot to consider. But one thing is certain: beware of the bikes!
Bicycles are so Dutch!
It was the first thing queen Maxima (she’s originally from Argentina) noticed in the Netherlands. A mother on her bike, with two children, carrying the groceries: her image of a typical Dutch scene.
The Netherlands is the country for bicycles. It’s a known fact that there are more bikes than people here. What is normal for us is not normal for people from elsewhere. We all know the tourists on bicycles in Amsterdam, not having a clue what to do. But what is it like for people who come to live here?
Living here means that you just have to get used to it. Some people love it. But for others it’s a nightmare.
🙂 – It’s so much fun to cycle in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very flat country and the cities aren’t too big. These two things mean that for a long time, the Dutch have been using their bikes for all sorts of things. Going to work, shopping, seeing friends, going out. The bike is often the way to go!
Students from the summer school love this attitude and even miss it when they go home to their original countries!
Even though the weather isn’t always the best, getting on their bikes in the rain, the Dutch say, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only unsuitable clothing for the weather.’
🙁 – I hate biking in the Netherlands
Coming to the Netherlands, you might not be used to bicycles being everywhere. And when you first come, there’s a good chance you will stay or arrive in Amsterdam. It’s the capital of the Netherlands, and the capital of bike mania!
Amsterdam is known, even by Dutch people, for being chaotic and messy when it comes to bikes and traffic in general.
Dutch people use bikes for transport, to go from one place to another. This means it’s not necessarily used as something relaxing to enjoy the environment. As a result, the Dutch tend to cycle pretty fast! If you are not prepared, you might encounter some angry Dutch bikers behind you, ringing their bells aggressively
Transporting large items? Phoning your friend? Writing a text message on your phone? We do all that without a helmet!
You might see some young children wearing a helmet. But still, most people here don’t even know the Dutch word for it. And, unlike in a lot of other countries, there’s no law saying you should wear a helme
How to lock your bike like a Dutch person!
Although I can claim that the Netherlands is very safe, bike crime is a big thing. I don’t know how many bikes I’ve had in my life up to now. That’s because bike theft is one of the most frequent crimes . And it’s not usually reported to the police because it’s just another bicycle. It would be too much for the police to go after every stolen bike.
In short, this is what you should do to minimise the risk.
Always use two different locks and attach your bike to something like a pole or bike rack.
There are also a lot of bike parking places in every city and many are free for the first 24 hours.
There are a lot of opportunities to cycle in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has 37,000 kilometers of cycle paths.
And this number doesn’t even include the number of kilometres of roads with bicycle lanes.
This is in a country that from north to south is only a little more than 450 kilometres. The road network of the Netherlands is one of the densest in the world. But look at this number: 5,012 km. That is the number of kilometres of national roads. What a difference!
There are a lot of bikes in the Netherlands – more bikes than people
Around 17 million people live in the Netherlands. And according to the latest estimate by sector associations BOVAG there are 22.8 million bicycles in the Netherlands. This means that on average, every Dutch person owns more than 1.3 bicycles.
In short: the history of the bike
The bike as we know it was invented around 1865. Then it was called a velocipede. So it’s not that old. It is strange to think that this was later than the train.
People then thought it was strange or even impossible to ride something with only two small wheels, one behind the other!
But looking at the mother with two children and the groceries, the Dutch managed this skill pretty well.
The bike nowadays
The bicycle has undergone several innovations before it became what we are all familiar with today. And the bicycle is still being further developed. Look for example at the advent of the electric bicycle.
First the electric bicycle was for old people, definitely not cool to be seen on! Nowadays it’s becoming more and more popular. Especially for people who want to avoid car traffic or being packed like sardines into public transport.
Another explanation? These are the Dutch, so they’re economical! They do this mainly to save costs.
On average, the Dutch cycle 1000 kilometres per year! This average is especially boosted by the youth. Teenagers cycle up to 2000 km per year on average!
One of the main reasons that the youth in the Netherlands cycle so much is to go to school. The ‘basisschool’ is generally not so far from home. But after 12, when you go to the ‘middelbare school’, it’s not uncommon to cycle more than 10 kilometres. Every day!
Why is the Netherlands a county for bikes?
First, geographical factors are really important. The claimed land is flat, like most other parts of the country, and the cities are relatively close to each other, which makes cycling an ideal mode of transport. The bike is really easy to use here.
And that is also the reason why we don’t use sports bikes. An old and almost broken bike should be good enough in most cases!
Another reason is that in the 1950s, the bike made way for the car in many countries. This caused many accidents, especially in the Netherlands where a lot of people lived in a small area. The oil crisis of 1973 also contributed to people leaving their cars parked and taking their bicycles more often.
The government decided to make more room for the bicycle, with separate bicycle paths resulting in a slippery surface, not only around and between cities, but also in the city centres.
At first, people thought it was insane!
If people couldn’t drive their cars to the store, nobody would come.
It proved to be way better to shop in traffic free streets. Only later would this be implemented in other big cities in the rest of Europe.
Another reason? The Dutch are proud of their culture and its history.
During the Second World War, the Germans didn’t know what to do with all those Dutch cyclists. They could block the road for cars, but we all happily cycled through. The bike became a means of civil disobedience and part of the Dutch resistance.
Expressions with bicycle
- Fietsen zijn.
‘Going biking’. Which means to be gone. I am off out of here.
- Aaaah, op díe fiets!
On that bike. The moment when you realize what somebody is trying to explain. Ah, that way!
- Op een oude fiets moet je het leren.
You have to learn it on an old bike. Which can mean two things. First, new learning material is never new. It’s also used by your Dutch uncle when he makes a sexual joke….
- Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen?
What do I have hanging on my bike? What’s going on. What strange thing is happening to me?
Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School