Dutch Bicycle Culture

Introduction to Dutch Bicycle Culture

There are a lot of bicycles in Holland, we have one for every man woman and child in the country, that is some 16 million bicycles!.

From birth we are brought in close contact with our bikes. They are often part of our cramped city centre apartments, as much a part of the furniture as the furniture itself. As babies we grow up playing around them. Sometimes women even all but give birth on their bikes, as some will cycle home even when in the early stages of labour. When my cousin Kaatje gave birth to her Thijs just twelve hours after the birth she and her little one were on a bike off to visit her parents three kilometers away, so as you see from the day a Dutch child is born it travels by bike. I can still recall being a tiny tot in the handle bar seat facing my mother and laughing as the wind blew her long hair about her as we sped through the woods of Arnhem. As I got a little older I graduated to the back seat before getting my own bike beside her on the cycle lanes. The bike is simply bred into us.

Bike Brakes, Luggage Racks & Other Essentials

For the visitor to our country this bicycle culture can catch them unawares. Often I have seen a foreigner step carelessly from sidewalk to cycle lane without realising the bikes bearing down on them, thinking the first line of danger will be the road itself. They usually only make the mistake once as an angry yell and wild ringing of a bike bell remain burning in their rather red and embarrassed ears. The typical Amsterdam street, barring those canal-side lanes that are only four or five meters wide, has a bicycle lane on each side (usually red or yellow.) Traffic on these flows quite smoothly and the interplay of bicycles in and out of the lanes is a bit of poetry, and we Dutch are good at it.

Most Dutch bikes are pretty typical, not for us the carbon fibre, eight hundred Euro techno bikes, oh no. In a country where bicycle theft is practically an Olympic sport it is just not wise. We prefer a standard tubular frame, straight handlebars and full mud guards because we value our clothes. Three gears in the rear hub, switched by a cable attached to a lever on the right handlebar, and then there are the brakes…….

  • Brakes: these can come as a bit of a surprise to the unwary visitor. You may happen upon a bike with two hand level operated brakes, but you may also come across the hand / pedal combination, and these can be tricky unless you have grown up with them, they are a skill in themselves. Remember that childhood game where by you rubbed your tummy in a circular motion while patting the top of your head? Well hand/pedal brakes are a bit like that. The brake level on the handle bar operates just the front brake, to operate the back wheel brake you have to pedal backwards are you getting the idea? I have seen some hilarious results from visitors, Americans and Canadians mostly, trying to ride these bikes!
  • Integrated lock: Very Dutch. Perfect while you dash into the pub. Comes with two keys  keep the second one safe!
  • Gears: Typically an internal three speed  hub with no messy cogs, chains and grease, but also these days five to ten speed gear sets.
  • Seat: with a wide, cushioned seat. Double sprung, for extra cycling comfort. Not for us the crotch cutter seats of racing bikes because we value our reproductive body parts!
  • Chain guards: Full, solid chain guard/ cover. So that your clothes remain free of oil and risk of damage.

Bikes In The Family

Judith and Nina have several bikes in their family, and amongst them is Judiths “Mamafiets”. Equipped to carry, two little ones as well as herself. This bike has logged many hundreds and kilometers in the last three or four years. For the longer trips they have a little trailer that can connects to the rear of the bike and allows her to transport cargo, additions children or even their two guide dogs !

In order to accommodate their growing family last year they purchased a Bakfiets like the one shown in the photos on this page the one with a large cargo bucket in the front. This monster of a bike can carry a baby on the rear frame in her baby carrier seat, two children and two guide dogs or cargo in the front and a toddler on the handle bar seat. It is truly a limousine of bikes!

Bicycle Accessories

We Dutch are not bicycle weight conscious, in fact it is a matter some considerable amusement to use to see how The English speaking world goes to great lengths to strip bikes of weight by leaving of chain and mud guards. If you really want to make a difference to all up weight of a bicycle then do not eat another hamburger or crispy cream donut !

Lets be clear about Dutch bikes, if they are to qualify as a self respecting Dutch Bike they have to have the following:

  • A chain guard. We are not techno bike riders out throwing ourselves down hillside in spandex. We are off to work in business clothes, we are collect children from school, we are off for a night at the theatre or cafe. Chain guards are a must.
  • Mud guards: see point 1 above.
  • Handle bars that come up to US, we do not expect to have to crouch forward over our bikes, our spines were made for us to sit upright not crouch forward like baboons presenting their rear ends!
  • A bell, and one built to be used.
  • A rear luggage rack: absolutely essential. If choose not to have one then you do not have, family, or friends, you are alone in the world and you do not mind who knows it. Lack of a luggage rack means you are a loner in this world. Luggage racks are for people you know to sit side saddle on and hitch a lift from you. The luggage rack has two general functions; carrying luggage, and carrying a person. I use the term luggage broadly; We transport a great range of goods transported around on bicycles, including entire wardrobes and I mean both the contents and the wardrobe itself. The standard form for carrying a larger piece is to reach back and hold it on the rack with one left hand, the right being necessary for gear-switching and rear-wheel braking.
  • Child seats: front and rear, you would be amazed at how many kids you can cram onto a bike.

Bike Helmets & Lycra

To be a little “tongue in cheek”;  The English and Americans wear helmets because in their worlds common sense no longer rules and people must be safe from their own actions at all times. Also it is a well known fact that when Americans fall off a bike they fall on their heads, why this should be we do not know, some strange quality to gravity perhaps. God gave us each an ass so use it, fall on that and not your head. In fact he appears to have given many Americans more than one ass each and yet they do not use them, you have to wonder why. On the rare occasion a Dutchman comes off their bike we fall on our well padded behinds (and it is ALWAYS the fault of a German motorist !).

The only time you need to wear lycra when riding a bicycle is when you are a speed rider at a velodrome or riding in the Tour de France, there is not any other occasion when lycra and bicycles should be mixed together.

A Cycling Visit to Holland?

Holland is a country which seems to have more bicycle routes than roadways, so the country makes a great cycling travel destination. If you would like to enjoy the history and culture of the continent or you crave the total freedom to ride wherever and however far you feel like cycling, a bike vacation in Holland is one that you will enjoy.

You can cycle along the length of our coastline behind the sand dunes that protect Holland from the sea and keep us dry, along vast areas of bulb fields. Or you can cycle through many of our forests and the beautiful national park. Visit old fishing villages and sea ports or medieval castles and small market towns. As a holiday maker on a cycling tour you will never be short of locals willing to help you.

Visiting The Netherlands : Holland.com Cycling in The Netherlands

Visiting Denmark & Copenhagen ?   Please check out this lovely site; Copenhagen Cycle Chic

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