The Netherlands: Bicycle Mecca

The last stop on our mega-tour of northern Europe was the Netherlands. I'd heard all about the bicycle culture of the Netherlands - but actually experiencing it was something else.

 Bicycle street scene in Deventer, the Netherlands

Bicycle street scene in Deventer, the Netherlands

We visited Amsterdam, and stayed with friends in Deventer  (population 100k, a town that few tourists ever see). In both places, it was clear that bicycles weren't just accepted, or liked- they were the norm. Streets in the Netherlands are, simply put, made for bicycles. There was even one street in Deventer with signs that said, "Bike street. Cars are guests."

 Cycling in Deventer, the Netherlands. Note the complete absence of helmets.

Cycling in Deventer, the Netherlands. Note the complete absence of helmets.

 Deventer "bike street". Sign reads "autos are guests".

Deventer "bike street". Sign reads "autos are guests".

 Bike underpass, Deventer, Netherlands

Bike underpass, Deventer, Netherlands

The Dutch people are incredibly calm, and relaxed - and we started to think it might be because most of them get around by bicycle. After all, when I ride my bike, I feel good. And when I ride my bike in a place where I'm not scared of getting hit by cars, I feel even better. My blood pressure goes down, my endorphins go up, oxygen goes to my brain. I'm smarter, and I'm calmer. 

 Taking a ferry - crowded with bikes!

Taking a ferry - crowded with bikes!

Interestingly, it seems the Dutch haven't always been cycle-centric. A friend forwarded me this short film about how the Dutch actually got their cycle paths:

How did the Dutch get this network of bicycle paths? Read more: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/how-the-dutch-got-their-cycling-infrastructure/ Click CC for subtitles in Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish or Turkish.

Today, everyone rides in the Netherlands - not just young people. The entire country seems to fully embody the 8-to-80 principle: everyone from the age of 8 to 80 can get around safely and enjoyably. The Netherlands also has a lot of electric bikes. We borrowed some e-bikes from our friends' parents, and they were fantastic.

 A music event in the park, Deventer, Netherlands. Average age of attendees: approx. 60

A music event in the park, Deventer, Netherlands. Average age of attendees: approx. 60

Our friends took Elliot to the town square one day, where a local group was sharing old-fashioned Dutch toys with local children. Elliot particularly enjoyed the tiny bike.

 Elliot rides a tiny bike. Deventer, Netherlands.

Elliot rides a tiny bike. Deventer, Netherlands.

 Traditional dutch toys delivered to the Deventer town square... via bicycle wagon, naturally.

Traditional dutch toys delivered to the Deventer town square... via bicycle wagon, naturally.

Our friends live about a mile and half from the center of town, and all our trips were made by bicycle. In the downtown, on the pedestrian streets, you aren't allowed to bring bikes - because, um, they would be too congested. With bikes. So they've built a bike station nearby, with two attendants.

 Bike station, Deventer, Netherlands

Bike station, Deventer, Netherlands

Every train station we passed in the Netherlands had a double decker bike rack.

 Double decker bike storage at a Dutch train station. 

Double decker bike storage at a Dutch train station. 

In Amsterdam, we learned that 15,000 bikes need to be fished out of the canals every year.

 Bike parking along canals, Amsteradm

Bike parking along canals, Amsteradm

 Cycle commuter, Amsterdam

Cycle commuter, Amsterdam

Elliot decided that the Netherlands was his favorite place in Europe. He wants to move to Amsterdam.

Rush hour in Amsterdam