When That’s Life wrote about Breeze, a British Cycling Initiative to get more women cycling I was stupified. It was like telling the French about an initiative to drink more wine, or Americans to drive your car more often. You have to know that I’m Dutch, before you think that I’m crazy. Here in the Netherlands, cycling is so much a way of life you only realize it when you’re confronted with the fact that elsewhere it’s not. Let me tell you how you ride your bike in my country.
1. No helmets
You’re not participating in the Tour de France, you’re cycling to school/work/the stores/a party/where ever. It’s common knowledge you get bad hair from wearing a helmet. And with an average speed of 15 km/hour, there’s no need. Really. Even kids ride their bikes helmet free.
2. Wear everyday clothes
The same goes for special cycling gear. Save those for your weekend rides on your mountain or road racing bike. What you need to wear when riding a bike are the clothes you want to wear when you get at your destination. And if that’s stilettos, a frilly skirt or even a pencil skirt then so be it. Same goes for men. Just hop on in your business suit! Even our prime minister does it.
A lot of Dutch people, especially in the countryside, easily ride their bikes to school or work for 20 to 30 kilometers one way. With lots of rain year round, those people can be seen wearing rain jackets or outdoor jackets. Probably all high school kids that go to school on their bike are made to bring a pair of rain pants in their bag, but you’ll rarely so one wearing them. Because, you know, it’s so much more cool to get wet than wear those idiot pants. Many of us have mastered using a umbrella when cycling.
And reflecting safety jackets? Bitch, please.
3. Bring everything and everybody
Have kids? No problem. Dutch cycle companies invented the mom bike: a sturdy and heavy bike with a super low instep so you can have a toddler in a front seat, a kid in a back seat, double cycling bags to put in your day’s groceries and a basket in the front for you hand bag. Have more stuff to bring? Get your self a ‘bakfiets’!
No kids? No problem. You can go to a party or to school with your friends sharing a bike. Just hop on the back carrier and go.
And if the back carrier doesn’t have enough space, try using your handle bars as a rack to hang your grocery bags on or let your friend use it as a seat. If you’re a guy, your girlfriend or kid can sit between your arm on the frame.
4. Own the street
So you go to school with your friends. Part of your route will probably be on special bike lanes, creating the safest and shortest route from a to b possible. And if it’s not, no problem. A part of the road will then be sectioned off for cyclist. And even when that’s not the case, still no problem. Just ride with your friends in the middle of the road and let cars trail behind you. There’s nothing they can do.
5. Own the sidewalks
In the cities there are many places you can stall your bike. At train stations you can choose between paid bike parking and rows and rows of free bike parking racks. Elsewere, you can stall your bike at racks the city government has installed. But if you can’t find any proper place to park your bike in front of the place you need to be, just use anything available. Think lantern posts, fences, trees, walls or just plainly on the sidewalk.
6. Keep doing what you’re doing
Motorists can be fined for 140 euros when not calling hands-free. Cyclist on the other hand, can do what ever they want and get away with it. If a car and a cyclist get in an accident, the driver in the car is held fully liable. Period. Even when the cyclist was listening to music, texting, or calling with the phone in his hand. So motorists are annoyed with the arrogance of cyclists, but they know better. Be careful around cyclist, or it will cost you dearly.
There’s really not much too it, honestly.