Sunday, January 16, 2011

Netherlands – Cycling in Dutch Life

There is no country in the world where biking is so normal as it is in The Netherlands - except China. This is a tribute to Dutch Bikes. Yes, they really do a lot of bicycling - and they have the bikes to show for it. Want to commute to work or run weekend errands on a bicycle without looking like a sweaty, beady-eyed bike messenger? Want to save the planet and your clothes? Get a Dutch bike. Good for the environment and for keeping fit, bicycles in the Netherlands are more than just a leisure item, they are the workhorses of many families You need to realise that cars (even second-hand ones) are expensive to both buy and run , petrol costs Euro 1.43 per litre (unless it has changed since then). Bikes are so prevalent in The Netherlands that in some places there are just too many. All Dutch train stations have places for bikes to be parked, but when many people make use of that facility, chaos ensues.
One reason why bikes work in Holland is that the country is so flat. What the dutch call hills would hardly be recognized as such in most other countries. Bikes are also very practical in crowded cities. But, you will also find Dutch people riding their bike in the country-side during weekends. You will find bikes in villages. You will find bikes just about everywhere you go in The Netherlands. Try crossing the street in Amsterdam - you won't be able to, if you don't pay attention to the bikes. Bikes could be one reason why Dutch women wear pants so much ;-))
Typically you if you commute by train you will own several bikes,one is a real ” dunger” .. a beaten up bike that hopefully no-one will steal… it lives with a big lock on it at the railway station closest to your workplace so that after you hop off the train, you can easily cycle to your workplace from the station… … and back to the station again after work. You lock your bike well, at the station because (a) Bike theft is a national sport (b) the bike with the smallest and easiest lock to break will be the one that gets stolen, so a humongous lock steers thieves to easier pickings (c) you can use your mega lock on your other, more expensive bike(s) when out and about on those at other times (d) it’s a darned hassle to want to cycle off to work after getting off the train to find that the rotten thing has been pinched (e) even second hand beaten up dunger bikes cost more than you think… more than Euro 75 each if you are lucky and often more than Euro 100, so there is method in the apparent madness of having a lock that is probably worth as much as the bike You then board your train, commute to the station closest to your home, go to the cycle racks to collect your second ” dunger” also well locked up, to ride home… Thus the train comes into the station and about 5 minutes afterwards hundreds of cyclists stream out of the station cycle stands to peddle their way home. The cycle stands in The Hague Central Station looks just like a parking building for cars… it’s two stories and massive… but it’s only parking for bikes! The alternative to the two-bicycles-and-a-train senario is the small fold up bike that can be taken on board the train with you for no charge. These bikes have small wheels and the seat can be raised for cycling, and then it’s folded up and can be stored in your office at work , or easily at home. They look a bit strange but they do the trick and most people who use them will have a “proper” bike at home for leisure cycling as well, the fold up bike is only for the workplace commute.
The appeal of the Dutch bicycle lies less in the bike itself than in an attitude about bicycling: just get on the bike and go someplace. No fussing with clothing, no tying everything down, no strapping on a big helmet, no fear of grievous injury.
I wish more and more people biked because, more bikers on roads equals safer roads for bikers, and biking is healthier then driving. I also realize it is vital for the future of most countries, considering the political, economic and environmental costs of fossil fuels. More people should realize that 90% of your errands could be performed by bike or on foot. You will never crib out traffic jams in Delhi if you used a bike. This nice card was sent to me by Elly.

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