Ah, the Netherlands, its canals, its tulips and… its bikes!
With 18 millions of bicycles for 16 millions inhabitants, the Netherlands is the world champion cycling, with more than 27% of the trips made by bike. Here most people have at least two bikes: one for everyday, often old, so it doesn’t get stolen, a race bike for the weekend, and even a third one for guests.
With over 35 000 km of cycle paths, spread throughout the country, including in the countryside, the Netherlands are at the forefront of cycling and are beating all the records: the city of Utrecht is home to the world’s largest bicycle garage with 12 500 spots, and a solar cycle path was even inaugurated in the north of Amsterdam in 2014!
Little history of cycling in the Netherlands
If the Netherlands is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world, this has not always been the case. Indeed, after the Second World War, the car gradually began to supplant the bike. But in the years 1970, after numerous accidents involving cars, and the oil shocks which made the car too expensive for many households , the government decided to invest massively in cycling and to convert cities accordingly, building dozens of kilometers of cycle paths.
But not random cycle paths. In the Netherlands, most cycle paths are separated from the rest of the traffic, not like in France, where the rare cycle path often serve as parking spaces for unscrupulous motorists.
Also note that most Dutch bikes… have no brakes! Yes, here we use the backpedal! Needless to say that it is quite disturbing when you’re not used to it, and that I preferred to invest in a bike with good old brakes (like many Dutch).
Fietsen in het Nederland
Then inevitably, when I arrived in the Netherlands, the first thing I did was buy a bike. Here, there is a bike for every taste. With or without brakes, with or without basket in front, or behind, more or less rusty, cargo bikes or with a mini seat on the handlebars or behind for children, etc.
But then, you have to go with the flow of cyclists, which is not easy when you come from a country that is really not bike-friendly like France. Needless to say that during my first weeks, I had a few cold sweats, and some awkward moments (like not being able to restart, almost being cut in half by a tram or an electric scooter, almost crushing pedestrians, etc.).
The traffic in Rotterdam is prettyquiet, because the streets are very wide, and there are not many tourists who throw themselves under your wheels. In Amsterdam, this is different…
Generally speaking, the driver’s manual is very favorable to cyclists. The bikes have their own red lights, their signs, wearing of the helmet is not mandatory, and even more surprising, on the road, the bikes have the absolute priority, even before the pedestrians!
Cycling is one of the things I love the most about living in the Netherlands. Indeed, it’s so much nicer than taking a crowded and nasty subway every day! When I arrived in Rotterdam, my work was less than 10 minutes by bike from home! Well, today I work in Amsterdam and so I have very long trips, but I still have my 15 minutes of bike morning and evening! In addition, when the weather is nice, you can enjoy the sun and exercise. Very often, traveling by bike is even faster than to move by public transport!
The disadvantages of cycling in the Netherlands
The big advantage of cycling in the Netherlands is that it is flat. Cycling accross the Erasmusbrug, is beautiful, but it’s steep though! But who says flat, says wind! And find out why, no matter which direction you go to, the wind is always in your face, never in your back!
And then the Netherlands is worse than Brittany, so when it rains, I put my huge bright red poncho from Decathlon, and I feel at the top of elegance! Here, everyone has a rain coat, but if you want one that is a bit warm, youwill have to put the price (that’s why I keep my super poncho for now). Some people even buy rain pants, with integrated shoes, like this one in Decathlon, to be even more sexy!
At the same time, in those moments, your appearance is the least of your preoccupation , you just want to protect yourself from the elements. Especially since when it rains a lot, as the water can not seep into the soil concrete, it stays on the cycle paths, and we end up with a pretty wading pool 10 cm deep, and that,
we love it !
Also, one of my worst nightmare, is the bike garage! There are hundreds of bicycles, sometimes on two floors, and I’m so scared not to find mine. How many times have I spent more than five minutes in the aisles trying to find my bike?
Buying a bike in the Netherlands
Personally, I bought my bike on Marktplaats for €60. For a second-hand bike, don’t pay more than €100. Many students resell their bikes at the end of their semester for a small amount of money on Facebook for example. Some unscrupulous people also buy stolen bikes at night at the corner of passing streets for a dozen euros.
Yiu will also need to invest in a good lock, in addition to the one often already present on the rear wheel. Count between 20 and €30. Sometimes this one is already included with the bike. You will also need to buy headlights (€5), and an indispensable bicycle pump!
So, are you ready to cycle in the Netherlands?