Saturday 28 February 2009

Cycling in Holland

Fred spent a few months living in Scheveningen (that town with the unpronounceable name near The Hague). I visited him a few times, and while out there I tried to get a feel for what the cycling scene was like in those parts.

Cycling in Holland is very inclusive. It’s just another mode of transport and open to anyone, not just those that are either fit enough or steady enough to ride on car-filled roads. People of all ages and sizes are happy to get on their bikes. It’s not unusual to see a mother bringing her children to school all on their own bikes. Everybody is equal on the bike, regardless of what you ride.

You don't get the same friction between motorists and cyclists. Most car drivers will also be part-time cyclists or a member of their family cycles. This is a powerful factor as it develops a better understanding between the different road users. The cyclists are generally not reckless. Reckless cyclists still get a similar reaction to the UK though.

The Highway Code is generally observed. Hand signals are important more for other cyclists than for anybody else. A few take their chances at a red light but most don’t. With typical bikes having no acceleration, slow brakes and slow steering this doesn't lend itself to cyclists doing anything quickly though! So you'd feel a bit exposed rolling across a junction on a red light, especially when you also have to dodge trams!

Bikes are almost exclusively the upright Dutch roadster type. They might look basic with no gears and a back pedal brake but every one will have mudguards, chain-guard, dynamo lights and a big saddle.

Braking is done by pedalling backwards. At first it's daunting but it's easy to pick up. Because nobody goes that quickly and pedestrians or cars don’t encroach on the cycle paths there’s less need to suddenly slow down or stop.

On weekdays club cyclists and road bikes are almost never seen. Commuting is done in ordinary day clothes (civvies) and there is almost a competition to see who has the most upright stance on their bike! Overtaking is almost frowned upon.

There are lots of cycle paths within the town. Also most main roads have parallel cycle tracks. The average person will consider cycling journeys of about 10-15km each way so inter town cycle paths are all an essential part of the cycle path network.
Having lots of cycle lanes means you are not really expected to ride on the road. However, cycle lanes are not really made for training pace rides on a road bike - mainly because the surface can be quite rough, and also the cycle lane traffic doesn't move that fast.

I didn't get the chance to check out the club cycling scene but I saw alot of club cyclists out at the weekends - especially on Saturday mornings. They mainly frequented the dune cycle path which connected the Hook of Holland, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. There I saw a constant stream of club riders.

Holland also has a strong cyclo cross tradition, and we were quite close to Pijnacker, the venue for a few World Cup cyclo cross races.

If you are going to be in Holland for a while why not hire a bicycle as a way of travelling. Most train stations will hire bikes by the hour or by the day. Cycle shops might have a better quality bike for rent but these tend to be outside the town centres. Typical prices for a "High Nelly"/Dutch roadster bike in The Hague were: 7euros per day, 100euros per month or 300euros to buy a bike outright.

Just as people have said, I found the place to be very bike friendly. Sadly, the UK still has a long way to go in terms of public opinion and cycling infrastructure. We could learn alot from the Dutch.

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