Cycling culture in the Netherlands: to bike or not to bike

To cycle or not to cycle? That is the question. Well, not really. Certainly not for most people in the Netherlands, the world’s most bike-friendly country. And yet somehow it took me two weeks of living here to actually get a bike.

Cycling culture in the Netherlands

While there were always bicycles available they weren’t always within my budget (#studentlife). Not only was life without a bike the ultimate workout, but all the time spent walking also gave me plenty of time to contemplate the pros and cons of bike-life. It also allowed me to really get to grips with the great wheels vs feet debate.

Cycling culture in the Netherlands: will you cycle or not? Image: Thomas Bormaans/Unsplash

The pros of cycling in the Netherlands

  • Everyone else has a bicycle. 
  • People STARE at you wondering how such a peasant came to be when you are walking and not cycling. 
  • Who doesn’t want to be part of that innately Dutch cycling-everywhere thing? 
  • Tote bags are fun when holding free t-shirts, pens and leaflets about all the activities you’ll never sign up for. The fun quickly disappears when these are replaced by (deep breath now) a laptop, charger, notebooks, water, pens, folders, a shopping bag, umbrella, spare jacket, etc. You’ll soon be dreaming of a bike with a basket! 
  • Riding on the back (or front) of someone’s bike is a great way to make friends.  
  • Cycling is simply just faster than walking.  
  • The wind in your hair, cityscapes flashing by – what’s not to adore? 
Moving to the Netherlands to reunite with family
Cycling in the Netherlands is definitely an adjustment. Image: 3194556/Pixabay

The cons of cycling in the Netherlands

  • We had feet before bicycles, right? Relish in the superiority of your own independence and self-sufficiency. 
  • Google Maps is very often more of a hindrance than a help. Now imagine trying to navigate it while cycling. 
  • You know for sure you can always walk. You might think you can always cycle but think again. Traffic lights, pedestrians, bicycles, more bicycles, hand signals, cobbled streets, the triangles on the road indicating whose has the right-of-way – it’s a minefield! 
  • Finding your bike. No further explanation required. A picture speaks a thousand words, and this one is saying ‘Bike, Bike, Bike, Bike, Bike’… 
  • The hassle of locking your bike, chaining it to something secure just to redo it all later. 
  • Losing the keys for the locks and chains – leaving you with no other option than to carry your bike home. Like a FOOL. 
  • De Fietsstewards. They wear bright yellow jackets and stand outside your local supermarkets. Real-life personifications of fear. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but when you see them it means you can’t just park your bike willy-nilly, anywhere you like. No, no, the bike stewards are armed with saddle cover and stickers, ready to mark you as a #FietsHeld if you park correctly and a #FietsAso if not. 
  • The constant paranoia that your bike could become one of the 311 stolen every day. 
  • More paranoia – is this bike you bought through Facebook a stolen bike? What if the original owner steals it back? What if this cheap as chips bike just falls to pieces as I’m cycling? 
  • Cycling while intoxicated – is this even legal?
Image: Pexels/Pixabay

Having lived both as a pedestrian and as a cyclist, I can now say that I stand firmly on the #bikelife side of this debate. Yes, they can be a pain but let’s be real here, life with a bike is simply better.

Do you cycle? Let us know in the comments!

Feature Image: Thomas Bormaans/Unsplash

Editor’s Note: This article was originally written in February 2019 and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.

Laura Corrigan
Laura Corrigan
An Irish girl studying in the beautiful city of Groningen. With a long time passion for writing and photography and a new found passion for bikes, Saturday markets and Dutch snacks. You'll find her in the Arts Building possibly working, more than likely daydreaming and most definitely drinking tea.


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