9 Things to Know About the Dutch and their Bicycles

Shannon, 23, New Media and Digital Culture

For most people, the bicycles are the first new or different thing they notice about the Netherlands, from three year olds to ninety three year olds, everyone is on a bicycle! The Dutch began this obsession in the 1970’s in the hopes of moving away from a car centric approach to safer and more liveable cities. Bicycles have since become synonymous with Dutch culture, so here are nine things you should know about the Dutch and their wonderful bicycles.

1.Bicycles are a Safer Alternative to Cars.
Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) was one of several campaigns that called for better conditions for cyclists in the Netherlands. The second sign reads 'safer foot and bike paths'. Credit: National Archives of the Netherlands

In 1971, the amount of traffic in the Netherlands rose significantly, the roads belonged to the cars, not the people, and the rate of accidents had increased dramatically. 400 children were killed in that year with casualties in road accidents reaching a high of 3300. The people in the Netherlands began to protest for bicycle lanes as a safer mode of transport. There were politicians at that time who knew that having too many cars would cause more issues in the future and after many objections, the politicians of the Netherlands agreed to construct the first of the many thousands of bicycle paths.

2.They Can Do Tricks.
Balancing passengers, shopping, children or even a suitcase on your bike is all part of the parcel for the Dutch. Photo Credit: João Pimentel Ferreira

The Dutch not only ride their bicycles to work, sport, school, dinners and night clubs they also have some pretty fancy bike skills. From pulling a suitcase behind them with a child on the back seat to lifting their front wheels and riding with their hands in their pockets — the Dutch have mastered the art of cycling. I even had a lecturer who used to read his book on the way to classes!

3.The Dutch have Fashioned their Bikes to Work as Cars.
This bakfiets can carry several children with a cover that will keep them dry during sudden rain showers.

From a young age children are put into crates or barrows attached their parents bicycle, so that the child can sleep whilst the parent pedals.  You see many variations of this where there are two children’s seats placed on a bike or a larger barrow is attached with a cover so several children can sit inside and stay dry in the rain. 

4.Be aware — The Bicycles Rule the Road.
Knowing which way a bike comes from isn't always easy, looking both ways is especially important for new international visitors who aren't used to bicycle rush hour! Photo Credit: Ivar Pel

I have nearly been knocked over too many times to count and this is due to my own ignorance. There are three key road users in the Netherlands, often with a designated space on the road.  There is space for the cars, space for the bicycles and another space for pedestrians. It is not safe to walk on a bicycle path, the Dutch are fast riders, they will ding their bike bells at you as a friendly warning to kindly move off the cycle track. Take note of your surroundings and look before crossing any road or path.

5.Always Lock Your Bike.
Of course once you have safely locked your bike remembering where you left it is the next challenge! Photo Credit Alper Çuğun

In the Netherlands, people leave their laptop on the train while they go to the bathroom or leave their front door unlocked whilst they run to the bins around the corner - nine times out of ten nothing will happen. But if you leave your bicycle outside, unattended, without a lock — it will be stolen. Understandably, bicycles are a hot commodity.

6.The Dutch are Rarely, if Ever, Seen Wearing Helmets.
Thanks to the laid back speed of Dutch cycling and the safety of the roads almost all people cycle without helmets.

There is no law that forces the Dutch to wear helmets when cycling and this is because the Cyclists Union in the Netherlands concluded that a helmet for everyday life would prove to have a negative effect on the general health of the population. If you do happen upon someone wearing a helmet they are most likely a tourist or a professional cyclist.

7.Cycling is a Way of Life.
Events such a street festivals attract large crowds in Utrecht, with almost everyone bringing their bicycle with them. Photo Credit Sebastiaan ter Burg

Riding a bike all over the city to classes, the shops, out to dinner or to work is neither considered exercise nor a chore for the Dutch. Cycling is a mode of transport and the Dutch will often ride their bikes to the gym or to play sports and then ride home! I happen to find the cycling to be exercise enough.

8.Cars vs. Bicycles.
In many urban areas preference is given to cyclists over private cars. On Fietsstraats such as this 'Cars are Guests' meaning cyclists can use all parts of the road and cars must slow down. Photo Credit: Ben.manibog

Inevitably there are accidents but Dutch law protects cyclists ensuring that the motorists insurance must cover at least 50% of  the cyclists damages incurred from the accident, and 100% if the cyclist was not at fault. However, if the cyclist intentionally rode into a car then the blame falls to the cyclist and they must pay damages. In city centres cars are often required to yield to cyclists, and Dutch drivers are taught to always expect a cyclist.

9.The Dutch are Pretty Tough.
The Dutch will usually fight through the wind, rain and snow by bike. Photo Credit: Maria Salaru

The weather in the Netherlands can be erratic, cold, rainy, sunny, grey and or snowing (all in one day) ; yet no matter what the temperature is the Dutch are out and about on their bicycles going about their days as usual. I often shudder at the rainy grey days while the Dutch smile and cycle their way through them.

A lot of noise is made about the Netherlands and cycling, whether you are here for a short or a long time I would encourage you to embrace the Dutch cycling culture. Not only is it great fun but it is also a fast track way to gaining a greater understanding of Dutch culture! If you have any questions about studying in Utrecht or my course (New Media and Digitial Culture MA) feel free to contact me via Unibuddy!