When people hear the word “Dutch” they think of windmills, wooden shoes, tulips and of course bicycles. In the Netherlands, people of all ages are on bicycles and it’s not just an activity for the fit, young guys or a cycling subculture. Riding bikes starts very early in the Netherlands, so are Dutch infant’s first memories of handlebars and the backseats of bicycles? Possibly, because in the Netherlands biking is not a singular event, it is just how it is – no matter what the distance, time of day or the amount of rain that is falling.
10. A Common Mode of Transportation
A quick look at the geography of the Netherlands makes it obvious that the land is nearly entirely flat. And for those of us who have pushed and grunted to get up a hill on our bikes, an even path is quite inviting. Take a look at their neighbor, Germany. This is also a relatively flat country but biking never took off in Germany like it did in the Netherlands. A lot of this had to do with the attitude of the people. While the Germans saw cycling as a way for the common laborer to get around, the Dutch viewed biking as a reflection of themselves: hardworking, determined and ambitious.
If you live in a car-centered country and don’t quite believe the universal use of bicycles in the Netherlands, take a look at the city of Amsterdam, its population is approximately 800,000 and it has about 880,000 bikes.
9. A Safe Way to Travel
Since children in the Netherlands start riding bikes before they are old enough to go to school, they experience what it is like to be an active part of traffic. In the Netherlands, those driving cars do not usually steer dangerously close to bicyclists or honk at them for being on the road because at one time or another, they have been riding a bicycle in traffic so they have empathy for those on bicycles. To increase the safety of this mode of travel, elementary students have classes in school each year to help them understand traffic laws and how to maneuver in traffic.
Biking is not only physically safe in the Netherlands, but it increases the health and well being of the Dutch. If you are on a bike you are spared from being sneezed on in the subway. In addition, the Dutch are physically active every single day. This cuts down substantially on the amount spent on health care in the Netherlands because people generally stay healthy longer. It is not uncommon to see a 4-year-old riding alongside an eighty-four year old.
8. It’s a way of life
In the Netherlands, the bicycle is the best way to get from Point A to Point B whether that point is school, work or running errands. Instead of getting in a car to pick up a gallon of milk, the Dutch ride their bike - that is just how it is in the Netherlands. Approximately 70% of all journeys (7.5 km or less) are made on bikes in the Netherlands. Many Dutch businesses even have company bicycles instead of company cars.
Since bicycles are how the Dutch get about, the traffic scene doesn’t change once it starts to rain or it gets colder. Many children in other parts of the world seem to think they will melt if they get rained on. As a result, when the rains come, they are driven to school in cars while their bikes are abandoned until the sun comes out again. The Dutch would never think of doing this. In the Netherlands, an added bonus of riding a bike to school is that student’s alertness lasts throughout most of the morning because of the exercise they have had getting to school.
7. Dutch Bicycles and Dutch Cyclists
Commuting looks different with the Dutch and their 13 million bicyclists. First of all, they view spandex shorts and helmets as unnecessary items for biking. The idea of not wearing a bike helmet would make many cyclists, outside of the Netherlands cringe. However, consider the fact that most of Dutch transportation is done on bicycles, which is a slower way to move than riding alongside a ton of speeding metal. The cars that maneuver the streets of the Netherlands move much more slowly and give bicycles the right of way.
The Dutch have a few items to keep them comfortable when they ride. For the wet months, they have specially designed pants that will keep the top parts of their legs dry. They also have bicycle ponchos that cover the rider and extend out to cover the handlebars as well. But be careful what you do with the puddle of water that accumulates on the poncho between you and the handlebars - there is an art to this.
Also, Dutch bicycles are different because they are usually not geared and often come with back pedal brakes. A warning to those visiting the Netherlands, don’t try to use your non-existent handbrakes to stop or you might find yourself in a pile of bicycles and cyclists.
6. Some Bike Paths provide Solar Power
A recent innovation in the Netherlands are their solar powered bicycle paths. SolaRoad builds these paths and they are made up of sections of cement with solar panels built into them. The power from these bicycle roads is channeled to the national energy grid. The panels are skid proof, and strong enough to hold up under the daily traffic of thousands of bicyclists. One section of the solar path (230 feet) produces enough energy to provide 2-3 homes with power for an entire year. It makes one wonder if the Dutch even have a carbon footprint?
5. Bicycles during World War I
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. They suffered numerous shortages during this time but their country remained a peaceful place. During this time of scarcity, bicycles were used in the Netherlands because of their reliability as a way of getting from place to place. They were also very affordable during a time when the people did not have a lot of extra money. So during World War I bicycling caught on in the Netherlands, and the Dutch began to build an infrastructure to support all the bicycles that wheeled through the cities each day. As a result, bicycles soon had their own system of signs, paths and bridges that were separate from cars.
4. Continuing Infrastructure
The Dutch continued to support the modest and unassuming ways of the bicycle as they built the infrastructures of their cities. In the 1920s, a law was made that each house built, had to have a shed with rear access to store bicycles. So while Americans were building sizeable garages at the front of their homes for their gas-powered vehicles, the Dutch were building tiny, little sheds out back to wheel their bicycles in each evening after work.
During the 1970s the Dutch continued to build their roads and cities around a bike-centered way of life, they even made their historic sites and city centers inaccessible to motor vehicles. Once the infrastructure was set up, the maintenance of these roads were much less expensive than countries that used their streets for cars.
3. A Different Kind of Rush Hour
Rush hour traffic in the Netherlands is a walk in the park compared to big city traffic jams that last for hours in large American cities. In comparison, it is necessary to describe rush hour in the Netherlands so it can even be recognized as such. For example, during rush hour in Amsterdam, a city of over 800,000, the streets are filled with hundreds of people in casual clothes riding their bicycles home from work. To someone who is new to the Netherlands, you may hold your breath as you watch hundreds of bicycles weave in and out of one another’s path. Although it may seem a bit chaotic, the traffic is continually moving and no one is left endlessly waiting in line for their turn to move through traffic. During this time, some cyclists are stopped at the store to buy groceries, while other ride side-by-side talking to each other. Cycling in the Netherlands is a very natural, safe and, relaxed way to get about.
2. Bicycle Warfare
During World War I while the Germans fought and built up machinery to inflict destruction and death upon their enemies, the Dutch stayed out of the war. Then in May of 1940, during World War II, things changed when the Germans attacked the Netherlands and this gave the Dutch no other choice but to join the war. Since the Dutch had lived a peaceful existence during World War I, they hadn’t put any effort towards building weapons of any kind, like the Germans had. So after the Dutch joined World War II, some of them went to war on their bicycles armed with guns with bayonets on the end. You have to really give the Dutch credit for bravery here. Imagine going up against a tank and machine guns on a bicycle with a bayonet – go Dutch people!
1. The Healthy Highway
One of the newest bicycle roads built in the Netherlands is the Greenport Bikeway, also called the Healthy Highway. It is a bicycle road that is good for the environment, the people, and the animals in the area. It helps the environment because 15,000 people use it each day to get to work on their bicycles, cutting down on their carbon footprint. It is helpful to the people of the Netherlands because they have a more efficient way to get to work and will be healthier and happier for continuing to commute to work on their bicycles.
It is helpful to some of the animals in the area because it is a bat friendly path. How many times have you considered whether or not you are using a bat friendly path as you go to work? The path uses “bat-friendly” lighting and the Dutch have planted 500 fruit trees along this bicycle road to help the bats and other mammals. These trees provide shade for people who want to stop and visit on their way home from work, and fruit for hungry bikers and for the bats. The trees are also helpful to badgers and other small mammals that ramble around at night and eat the fruit that has fallen to the ground from the trees.
So remember, the next time you need to grab something from the store, leave your car behind; pump up your bicycle tires, take a deep breath and bike like the Dutch.
I found this topic interesting because my husband and I commute together to work everyday on our bicycles. There are no huge crowds of cyclist as there are in the Netherlands when we ride; it’s just the two of us with a lot of people hurrying to work in their cars.
As an extra addition to this post I wanted to share a video of what bicycling looks like in the Netherlands. It is impressive to watch the unbelievable amount of Dutch bicyclists weaving in and out of one another’s path. Enjoy!