In Holland, Everyone Can Ride a Bike

In Haarlem
In Haarlem

I remember that in my youth back in Holland in our village of 13,000 a teen called Sjaak (from ‘Jacques’) with Down Syndrome cycled by our house regularly. He had an upright bike with two enormous mirrors. His bike was his pride. The freedom for him was fantastic. He could go where he wanted, was sent out for errands by his mom and everyone knew him. Note that this was the 70’s, indeed over 40 years ago when Dutch bike infrastructure was probably not even 10% of what there is now. But Sjaak cycled on a busy road, with vehicles on one side and a canal on the other side of Sjaak.

A group of seniors in the Kennemer Dunes. We saw several of these very fit seniors cycling groups. Note they use upright bikes even though they likely do 40 km tours.
A group of seniors in the Kennemer Dunes. We saw several of these very fit seniors cycling groups. Note they use upright bikes even though they likely do 40 km tours.

Everyone can ride a bike

A couple of years ago, at Citizens for Safe Cycling, we decided to print a new banner. I suggested we added a slogan “Everyone can ride a bike“. Of course we knew that someone out there was going to comment on that. We are long enough in advocacy that we more or less know the reactions.

The CfSC Ottawa banner
The CfSC Ottawa banner

We put a pic out on Facebook and low and behold, someone out there commented something along the lines that not everyone can ride a bike, that we’d better be careful etc. Of course, not everyone can ride bike in the traditional sense of the concept of balancing on two wheels. But there are many options.

People being taken out for a bike ride through North Netherlands green space. Perhaps they were even going to a medical appointment for example, driven by volunteers perhaps.
People being taken out for a bike ride through North Netherlands green space. Perhaps they were even going to a medical appointment for example, driven by volunteers perhaps.

Think out of the box

Last month I spent nearly three weeks in the Netherlands, and I saw more or less confirmed that everyone can ride a bike. That is because the Dutch think out of the box and don’t see a bike as an upright thing on which you set new personal records (in fact of all sold bikes, racing bikes are less than 9%). They see it first and foremost as a practical means of transportation. That is why you see people from every layer of society riding bikes.

Pet owners never see no if you ask if you can take a picture. The dog has dementia and couldn't walk so the owner just built a box.
Pet owners never say no if you ask if you can take a picture. The dog has dementia and couldn’t walk so the owner just built a box. We were having a chat him, while waiting for the bridge to open (or close, that is the eternal debate, depends on how you look at it)

6 ft tall blonds

In the bigger cities, it is not difficult to take a couple of thousand pictures of 6 ft tall girls on oma bikes. But when you are 52, you better be a bit careful taking pictures of young women, else you find yourself thrown in a canal all of a sudden. To play it safe, I  changed my focus on ‘all those others’ who usually don’t make it to bike blogs.

The 6 ft tall blonds from 40 years ago are the 5 ft 11 gray power cyclists of today.
The 6 ft tall blonds from 40 years ago are the 5 ft 11 gray power cyclists of today.

Below is a collection of pictures I took in July 2015. Remember, I wasn’t waiting for them nor was I watching out for them. I just bumped into them, passed them, spotted them when waiting for a light. Day to day situations in a nation of cyclists.

This open space used to have the old elevated train tracks in downtown Rotterdam until the early nineties. There are now plans to add way more green space. The train runs underneath this large square.
This open space used to have the old elevated train tracks in downtown Rotterdam until the early nineties. There are now plans to add way more green space. The train runs underneath this large square. It is great for all cyclists today. Saturday there is a big outdoor market. The church on the left was one of the very few buildings that survived the bombing by the Nazis in 1940. Three days later, the Netherlands surrendered.
This old lady must have been in her eighties. IT looked like she was cycling on an e-bike but still going strong.
This lady must have been in her eighties. It looked like she was cycling on an e-bike but still going strong.
Some of my family members, safely cycling on a path.
Some of my family members, safely cycling on a path.
I am guessing he was coming from his allotment garden, just outside the village of Loon op Zand (Loon on Sand population 23,000 on the edge of
I am guessing he was coming from his allotment garden (cucumbers and lettuce), just outside the village of Loon op Zand (Loon op Sand population 23,000 on the edge of “National Park Loonse en Drunense Duinen”)
Another dog. The owner had experimented with different ways to bring the dog; a trailer didn't work, the dog was barking all the time. IN the end a crate fixed to the frame, not the bars, worked best, he assured me.
Another dog. The owner had experimented with different ways to bring the dog; a trailer didn’t work, the dog was barking all the time. In the end a crate fixed to the frame, not the bars, worked best, he assured me.
Back in Haarlem, we dropped in at bike store
Back in Haarlem, we dropped in at bike store ” ‘t Mannetje”. I had a chat with the owner, he employs 15 people, and is specialised in special needs bikes. They do modification on cargo bikes but also on normal bikes. Isn’t this cool? They export to Canada too.
I hadn't realised it, but Karen noticed the woman had no legs. But still goes around on her own power. This was at a health centre. (next to a bar of course)
I hadn’t realised it, but Karen noticed the woman had no legs. But still goes around on her own power. This was at a health centre. (next to a bar of course)
Two pictures from a green space in Zoetermeer, somewhat of a bedroom community for The Hague. These ar my parents of 7 and 79. They bought new e-bikes last year so now they can cycle even further from home.
Two pictures from a green space in Zoetermeer, somewhat of a bedroom community for The Hague. These are my parents of 76 and 79. They bought new e-bikes last year so now they can cycle even further from home.
 The father was cycling with -I assume- his daughter, who appeared disabled. He urged her to 'bike a bit harder' although I noticed it was an e-bike. Note the nice bike bridge design.
The gentleman was cycling with -I assume- his daughter, who appeared disabled. He urged her to ‘bike a bit harder’ although I noticed it was an e-bike. Note the nice bike bridge design.
I had not seen a two seater recumbent before. The chairs look a bit like the ones we had in primary school in the seventies.
I had not seen a two seater recumbent before. The chairs look a bit like the ones we had in primary school in the seventies.
Just for the cuteness factor, but also to show that the father wasn't rushing to cross the intersection but took all the time of the world.
Just for the cuteness factor, but also to show that the father wasn’t rushing to cross the intersection but took all the time of the world.
We were really impressed with the high numbers of seniors on bikes. And all very fit and certainly a lot of them in their seventies. Even Santa cycles.....
We were really impressed with the high numbers of seniors on bikes. And all very fit and certainly a lot of them in their seventies. Even Santa cycles…..
And of course, we had to try to the amazon, with the passenger with both legs on one side. A lot more comfortable then one leg on each side. Whole generations of Dutch guys picked up their dates this way.
And of course, we had to try the amazon sitting position, with the passenger’s both legs on one side. A lot more comfortable then one leg on each side. Whole generations of Dutch guys picked up their dates this way. Canadian purists would not survive this sight: no helmet, one hand on the bars and a passenger on the back. With safe cycling infrastructure you can do all that PLUS you don’t need to wear Spandex.

And what about Sjaak? My mom estimates he passed away about ten years ago. I am sure his bike added to his quality of life. Isn’t that what cycling is all about?

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8 thoughts on “In Holland, Everyone Can Ride a Bike

  1. Sweet post – quite an amazing variety of bikes. it brings back great memories of cycling in holland.

    Hope your vacation was as good as the pictures!

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    1. The vacation was even better. Didn’t always have the camera ready else I’d have even more photos.

      What I really like that there are so many varieties to get everyone cycling.

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  2. Great post with fantastic photos. This really shows how much better life could be for everyone if we copied the best Dutch practices.

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  3. I debates, it seems that there’s always someone who (claims at least) to represent disabled people and state that cycling infrastructure would interfere in their mobility because the handicapped minibus wouldn’t be able to get through to their house anymore and therefore we shouldn’t do the cycling infrastructure project. (I suspect that this is just a red herring but probably some people buy it.)
    This shows that with the right infrastructure and the right types of bikes, handicapped people would have personal mobility and not dependent on others as much.

    That bridge with the cube outlines should have wisteria vines on it. That would be cool.

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  4. Holland looks like the one of the places to be for cyclists! 🙂 It’s always inspiring to see such places where you can see bicycles almost everywhere – especially when senior citizens are riding them.

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