- -  Day # 155  + +

EU > The Netherlands > Utrecht

Cycling pleasure

Utrecht, NL (View on map)

The Netherlands is internationally known as a country where everybody cycles, whatever the weather or time of day. It doesn`t take a long time for visitors to verify this stereotype and find out that it`s almost true. There are few people in The Netherlands who never cycle and very few who are technically unable to. Still, weekday rush hours see motorways full of traffic jams, and people have a hard time emphasizing how poorly the public transportation network functions.

Sophie (23):

..thinks of her bike as the perfect mode of transport in the city
Aline (20) cycles one hour per day: `Half an hour to get to university and half an hour to get back home. Only whenever places are further than half an hour by bike away, I will consider taking public transportation. I take the train to get to my parent`s place in the weekend, because they live 150 km away. Trains are quite annoying, I always return home on Sunday evenings, and that`s exactly when they plan all maintenance works. I don`t have a driver`s license and, for now, see no need to get one. I don`t necessarily keep the environment in mind when I choose which mode of transportation to use. A bike is oftentimes simply the most practical.`

Outside the city
Sophie (23, photo) says bikes are a perfect mode of transportation for students. `To get to the city centre, or to other end of town, a bike often gets you there quicker than a car, bus, tram or train`, she explains. Students in The Netherlands are all eligible for a Studenten OV-jaarkaart, which entitles them to free public transportation. Depending on the student`s choice, this license can be valid in weekend`s or on weekdays. Sophie says that the combination of having an OV (as the card is usually called) and a bike gets here everywhere in the country. She does not see any necessity to have a car until the moment she graduates from university.

`In some provinces where buses only run once an hour, young people who do not go to university often buy a car as soon as they turn 18. Until then, everybody cycles, because hardly anybody cares to wait for a bus for one hour, having to pay a lot of money and not getting to the exact place you need to get to. Kids start to cycle to school at the age of 6, and oftentimes they are sent to school alone before they turn 10. Parents trust their children for cycling safely`, Sophie says, explaining at the same time why very few Dutch people wear helmets when cycling.

Bike issues
Per my request, Sophie sums up which things are transportable by bike ? a question that produced a long list of options: `At least three big bags, up to two passengers in case it`s a men`s bike, shopping stuff.. If it`s too much, the last resort is to walk next to your bike, but I think we are quite well-trained in balancing stuff on bikes.` Sophie doesn`t like to cycle when the weather is too stormy or when she has got too much stuff to transport. `A little rain and cold does no harm, and it won`t keep me from cycling`, she says.

`It`s a bit surprising we don`t have many strong professional cyclists in events like the Tour de France. I think it`s because most competitions are organised in hilly or mountainous regions, which is not something Dutch cyclists are very much used to. On the other hand, tourists in The Netherlands are not used to cycling here. They make a hell of a mess by not knowing where to cycle and where not to.`

Obviously, not every single person in The Netherlands is cycling all the time. Once people start their working lives, especially when they need to commute, many people stop cycling or do it a lot less. Fanatic non-cyclists risk being unpopular with some of their fellow Dutchmen. Jasmijn (25) says some eternal car drivers may be thought of as `American-style people`, `lazy butts` or `having to much money`. `Cycling is not directly related to poverty, but more to zuinigheid, people`s willingness to spend money on something. Zuinigheid is much more of a source of pride than extravagance, and modesty is preferred over status. Cycling stands for environmental, financial and physical consciousness and therefore enjoys a positive image in The Netherlands.`

Although he likes cycling, Gert (33) often chooses to use a car instead: `More often than I should. It`s a bit of laziness and a bit of the fact that I simply enjoy driving. I only obtained my driver`s license when I was thirty, so the whole phenomenon is still new and fun to me. I quite carefully select how I want to get somewhere. I consider how much time I have, what time of day it is, the weather.. But once you have a car, it`s obviously very attractive to jump into a car.`

Bicycle theft is another reason for people to take a car instead. Gert says: `While I had two or three bikes stolen so far, car theft is very uncommon in The Netherlands. Fortunately, there are plenty of bikes for sale in The Netherlands. Replacing a stolen one is therefore annoying but not the end of the world. However, the likelihood of getting their bikes stolen means that many people are not bothered about the looks of their bike.`

David (24) thinks social class is a decisive factor in whether people cycle or not: `In representative jobs, it would be a bit strange to arrive on a bike. Or even by public transportation, which more often than not includes long waiting times. By the way, traveling by car during rush hours is no longer a guarantee of arriving on time either, but people prefer the comfort of their own car over fully-packed and noisy public transportation. David does think that excessive parking fees in city centres do prevent people from taking the car for woon-werkverkeer: commuting.`

Evelien (28) absolutely hate trains, but does use all other regular forms of transportations. `Trains are filthy and expensive, and passengers are annoying. They keep talking on the phone..`, she says. I do try to avoid rush hours when I take the car, do I am not too bothered by traffic jams. Within the city, I cycle or take a bus. My employer pays for my bus license, so it`s free of charge anyway.`

Cyclist by birth
Ren? (26) uses a car or minivan when he leaves on holiday, but otherwise prefers to cycle or walk. `Cycling is very practical when you go out. You can get back anytime you want and you can take a good sip, which is not very well-accepted when you drive a car`, he says. When I ask him why so many people in The Netherlands cycle, Ren? explains that the landscape and climate are quite suitable, cycling is cheap, practical and healthy, and cycling infrastructure is well-developed.

`Moreover, cycling is something that is handed down from generation to generation. When you learn how to walk, you very shortly after learn how to cycle as well. I don`t think there`s any Dutch person who is not capable of cycling`, Ren? says ? obviously excluding handicapped people from the equation. `Cycling is poured in with the porridge spoon, as we say it in Dutch`, he adds, revealing the very secret behind the fanatic Dutch cyclists: they just do as they were once taught and see no reason to change. Cycling enjoys a stable popularity, and there is no reason for that to change over the years to come.

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