In the last week of April I visited the Netherlands with a group of tourists from Slovenia for a bike tour around Amsterdam. We rode bikes between Amsterdam, Leiden, Haarlem and Volendam, the part of the Netherlands we can really call Holland. It was a good opportunity to see how strangers react on Dutch cycling infrastructure. What strikes a Slovenian on the bike in Holland?
Does everyone ride a bike in the Netherlands?
Well almost. In rain and sunshine, in the morning, at night, in the city and outside of the city, Dutch people ride their bike. Because they all love to ride a bike? No. The bike is the cheapest, most convenient and often even fastest means of transport. If you go to work, to school, to a shop, for a drink, for a visit you take the bike. It’s not a choice, it’s natural. There are 13,5 million Dutch with a bike (84 per cent of the population) and together they ride 15 billion kilometres in a year.
Most people who ride a bike in Slovenia, ride a bike for recreation. It’s a choice. They do it because they love to ride a bike. And if they have to go to school, to work or anywhere else, there is a big chance they will take the car. In Slovenia there isn’t any data about the number of bikes, bicyclists and kilometres ridden by bike. And that probably on itself says it all.
There is so much nature.
That is the strangest thing to hear from someone from Slovenia. Slovenia, with its rivers, lakes and sea, mountains and forests has plenty of pristine nature. While in the Netherlands most, if not all, nature is made by men or at least has to be maintained by men. And everywhere you see the next town in the distance. But many bike paths take you straight through the Dutch nature and therefore give you a rich experience of this nature. And thus, even a Slovenian can be surprised by the Dutch nature.
The bikes are so simple.
On Dutch roads and cycling paths you see a lot of bikes. But most bikes are far from fancy, noticed the Slovenians. Dutch ride bikes, any bike. Nobody cares much about the bike as long as it takes the rider from A to B. Old bikes, dirty bikes, broken bikes, if they roll, they are ridden. In Slovenia bikes have to be perfect before people even think of riding them.
People ride so fast.
Youngsters and elderly people all flashed past us. Dutch bicyclists don’t dawdle but keep a high tempo. Are these Dutch super humans? No. They just ride their bike to get somewhere and they don’t like to waste time. While Slovenians ride easy and enjoy the scenery from the bike, Dutch bicyclists just try to be somewhere on time.
How many bicycle paths are there?
Well a lot! Everybody is amazed by the amount of bicycle paths in the Netherlands. Bicycle paths are everywhere. In fact, all bicycle paths in the Netherlands together measure 35.000 kilometers. We hardly rode on roads where cars go.
Really everything in the Netherlands is for the bike.
Bike infrastructure in the Netherlands doesn’t only consist of bicycle paths. There are also tunnels and bridges just for bicyclists. This is a bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians in Purmerend, one of the stops on our route.
And then there is…
…a parking garage for bikes, in Zaandam.
..there are really that much bikes in the Netherlands.
Not only a lot of Dutch ride bikes.
Bicycle tours through the Netherlands are increasingly popular. On our tour we rode from Amsterdam to Leiden, Haarlem, Purmerend and Amsterdam, passing major tourist attractions like Keukenhof, Zaanse Schans and Edam and Volendam. We spent each night on a boat that followed us. And we weren’t the only ones. Dozens of other boats with hundreds of cycling tourists did the same. Here on the photo you see the bikes of tourists who were visiting Keukenhof.