Back in 2004 I lived in Amsterdam for a year.
If it wasn’t for the leaves you’d be able to see the apartment we rented in the top left corner of this photo.
It was a wonderful year! Too good in fact. When I had to go back to Eindhoven, a less glamorous dutch city, my girlfriend (now wife) promptly moved to London to go back to uni.
She was right of course, our time in Holland peaked in Amsterdam. Work was good. Life was great!
We lived on a top floor apartment on the Prinsengracht, the outer of the three canals that wrap the inner city. On Sunday mornings the only sounds you could hear were church bells, trams winding their way up the Utrechsestraat and bicycles clattering the omnipresent speed bumps.
I cycled more in that year than I ever have in my life. To the brown cafes of the Jordaan for a drink, to the Albert Cuyp market for food and to the Vondelparkt for a picnic, or to check out a gallery (or brewery). And Amsterdam isn’t even that good for cycling by Dutch standards, Groningen owns it.
If you moved to Holland you would cycle more too.
You’d never wear a helmet. You’d always check your blind spot for bikes when turning a corner in a car. You’d cycle drunk (and be pretty safe doing it). You’d have your bike stolen, then stolen again. You’d sit up straight with handlebars that twist towards you. You’d give a friend a lift on your bike, and be given one by them on theirs. And you’d marvel at the unparalleled ability of dutch women to look fashionable while cycling.
But most of all you . . would . . cycle. Because you’d be in Holland. And that is just how they roll.
5 Reasons the Dutch Are Queens of the Bike
I loved my year in Amsterdam, but I’m not looking at the data through rose tinted glasses. Pick any metric you want and the Dutch crush it.
The Dutch do a greater share of trips by bike, cycle further each day, more young people cycle, they have fewer injuries per distance cycled and more women cycle than men.
In fact it is the only country I know of where women are Queens of the Bikepath, that is more women cycle than men.
You starting to get the picture? The Dutch don’t have a cycling culture, it IS the culture. They cycle 25 time further than Americans each year. Twenty five times!!!
Sure, it is one of the flattest countries around, yes they have built fabulous infrastructure and they do have a dense population without megacities (none over a million), but just look at those stats. The Dutch are outliers.
Having lived in the Netherlands for three and a half years I can say this. The Dutch get cycling. They actually understand that for short trips (>5 km) bikes are superior on numerous levels. In terms of congestion, noise, pleasure, health, parking, cost . . .
Perhaps that’s it? Maybe it’s about cost! You know they call it going Dutch for a reason right? That stereotype fits like a glove.
Or perhaps it goes even deeper. If you ever have the pleasure of watching a Dutch football team play a German team some drunken Nederlander will eventually yell ‘Ik wil mijn fiets terug’ (I want my bike back). A reference to the fact the German soldiers stole their bikes in the war, and even melted them down to make arms. You see in Holland bikes go deep.
I do know the day I moved from Holland to London I bought a helmet. In the Netherlands I knew that every driver around me was also a cyclist, and that knowledge changes things.
10 years down the road I still ride my clapped out dutch bike a few times a week. More lately in fact, because every time we roll down the hill my 3 year old yells weeeeeeeee from the back seat. Which gives me no end of pleasure.
And there it is! Finally a form of cycling the Dutch don’t excel at. Hills!! They’ll tell you have ‘mountains’ in Limburg, they don’t. Just like they’ll tell you they have ‘beautiful beaches’ at Scheveningen. I’m Australian, please don’t take me to your ‘beautiful beaches’.
But what they do have is one of the best transport systems in the world, built on one of the most functional vehicles known to man. The humble dutch bike.
If you ever get the chance I’d highly recommend Amsterdam . . . by bike!
**Don’t forget to grab a copy of our free eBook ‘Emit This: 13 Strategies for Squeezing More Life out of Less Carbon‘, strategy 6 is called ‘on your bike’.