Variety

Biker’s paradise: go Dutch when it comes to cycling

Prince Mathews Thomas Chennai | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on October 14, 2016

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The Netherlands has 22 million bicycles, while its population stands at 17 million

It is not the cheese, architecture or art. But what strikes you first about the Netherlands is its cycles, or bikes as the Dutch call them. Bikes, bikers and bike stands are everywhere. Equally intriguing is the ease with which one can pedal around in its cities.

If in India being a cyclist is often like a trapeze artist, here on Dutch roads, cycling is like a leisure walk in the park.

Bike paths run parallel to the roads. One of the etiquettes that walkers should quickly learn here is to stay away from these red or black asphalt lanes; unless you don’t mind being stared at. Sometimes, motorised two-wheelers use these paths, but always make way for their slower cousins, who have the first right.

“Everyone has a bike here,” said Dennis, who drove us around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague in his big bus. He has two, just like many of his countrymen. The country’s population is 17 million, and it has over 22 million bicycles. That is almost 1.3 cycles per person — probably among the highest density of cycles in the world.

“I use the old one for short rides, like going shopping,” said Dennis. Many have extra fittings on the bikes to make space for those shopping bags.

Others also use the family cargo bikes, which have seats up to four children.

Dennis uses his second new bike sparingly because parking often becomes scarce in the more crowded streets and also because he fears that the new bike could be stolen given the demand for them.

Dutch love bikes as biking has helped them overcome obesity, which is becoming a sort of an epidemic in the rest of Europe.

A WHO study last year said that the Netherlands is the only country, among the 53 surveyed, where obesity will decrease by 2030.

A historical glimpse

There is also a history behind the popularity of these two-wheelers. The Dutch had taken to cycling by the 1880s, and the first bike paths came up soon after. Though the car boom had caught on in Holland by the mid 20th century, the oil shortage in the 1970s, and increasing concern over childrens’ safety on roads led to government policies promoting alternate modes of transport.

Those policies continue, and fuel continues to be expensive in Netherlands. A litre of petrol costs €1.63 in Netherlands (as on 14 October), the second highest rate in Europe after Norway, another country where cycling is popular. Maybe that’s why even someone as smartly dressed as an investment banker can be seen on a bike in the roads of Amsterdam.

The writer was recently in Amsterdam at the invitation of NBTC Holland Marketing

Published on October 14, 2016
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