Cycling in the Netherlands

bicyles along a canal bridge

Traveling by bicycle is hugely popular in the Netherlands. (Photo credit: Giancarlo Liguori/Shutterstock)

Bicycles aren’t just a form of transportation in the Netherlands. Instead, they are a way of life. Today, this western European country is criss-crossed with bike paths, but that wasn’t always the case. How did cycling become so popular in the Netherlands?

Traveling by bike first became popular in the Netherlands following the bicycle’s invention in the late 1800s. By 1911, the Dutch owned more bicycles per capita than any other European country. However, following World War II, automobiles became the transportation of choice. As a part of modernization, buildings were knocked down and bike pathways were removed to make way for massive motorways in the country. The influx of motor vehicles led to congested roads and a significant amount of car accidents. In 1971 alone, vehicles had killed 3000 people, 450 of which were children. Citizens, outraged at the loss of so many young people, began a social movement called “Stop de Kindermoord” (Stop the Child Murder). The Middle East oil crisis also occurred during this same time period. The “crisis” was that oil-producing countries stopped exporting petroleum to the United States and Western Europe. This caused many countries to begin scrambling for other, alternate energy sources and ways to conserve energy.

The coinciding of these two events caused the Dutch people to completely revolutionize the country’s transportation system. The Dutch government invested a significant amount of money in improved infrastructure for cycling. Urban planners designed cities and roadways with cyclists in mind, deviating from the typical “car-centric” viewpoints of the time. As a result, the country now has a huge network of bicycle paths throughout its towns and cities. Today, there are nearly 30,000 kilometers (about 19,000 miles) of segregated bike paths in The Netherlands.

Biking is instilled in the Dutch at a young age. Babies and toddlers travel in seats on “bakfiets” (cargo bikes). These bikes have a wooden box in front of the rider that hold each passenger in place with secure harnesses. A canopy can be placed over the cargo box to protect the children from cold, windy, rainy, or snowy weather. Nearly 85 percent of the population owns at least one bicycle – in fact, there are more bicycles than people, as the country’s population of about 16 million people collectively own 18 million bikes. Given the country’s relatively flat terrain and mild climate, cycling is a year-round affair. Most bikes are city bikes or hybrids meant for short trips around town; these bikes are workhorses built for comfort and sturdiness.

Because those under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to drive without supervision, cycling is a popular activity with teenagers, as it allows them a bit of freedom to go where they please. Cycling is such an important part of the culture that cycling proficiency lessons are a required part of the school curriculum. Forty percent of primary school students and 75 percent of secondary school students ride their bicycle to school.

There are millions of bike parking spots around the country, the majority of them found around train stations. Many Dutch include cycling as a part of their commute to work – 40 percent of train-users cycle to the station. Train stations are equipped to handle a huge number of bicycles – Utrecht central station alone has 19,000 indoor and outdoor bike parking stands. The Groningen central rail station has 10,000 underground parking spots.

By fully embracing bicycling as an alternative mode of transportation and building an infrastructure to support such a decision, today cycling is not only a pastime in the Netherlands, it’s also an integral part of being Dutch.

More to Explore
All About Cycle Tourism in the Netherlands
Why is Cycling So Popular in the Netherlands?
Bicycle Dutch

Country: The Netherlands

Location: The Netherlands is located in Western Europe between Belgium and Germany. It is bordered by the North Sea.

Area: 41,543 square kilometers (slightly smaller than double the size of New Jersey)

Climate: Temperate, marine; cool summers and mild winters

Terrain: Mainly coastal lowland and reclaimed land; some hills in the southeast

Natural Resources: Arable land, limestone, natural gas, peat petroleum, salt, sand and gravel,

Economics: $722.3 billion (2013 estimate)

Environmental Issues: Water pollution, air pollution, acid rain

Source: CIA – The World Factbook

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