At times I will post a guest entry on this website. This one is from Romana, an international student who studied in Groningen in the college year 2004-2005. If you are interested in also posting story here, please feel free to contact me.
Contrary to popular belief not everyone in the Netherlands wears clogs, lives in a windmill or grows tulips, but everyone does own a bicycle. In fact, this small country with a population of about 16 million people has more bikes than people. So the bike is not so much a stereotypical symbol of the NL but rather a necessity of Dutch life steeped in tradition and national identity.
Every minute, almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week you can see cyclists pedaling leisurely through the streets and along the canal banks, alongside one another, and enjoying a gossip or even singing. All roads have cycle lanes and I do not mean the narrow two-foot excuse of a cycle lane that have recently been painted along some of the roads in my country. I am talking about king-size paths with plenty of room for any manoeuvre. Perhaps what is most satisfying to a Dutch cyclist is that sense of priority that is always given to him or her. And if they do not have it they take it anyway because the Dutch cyclist knows that the law is nearly always on their side when it comes to accidents with cars. I watch them with constant anxiety as they glide nonchalantly through the traffic, often managing to talk on their mobile at the same time, career around comers and shoot blindly through traffic lights. Without a doubt, they are the kings and queens of the roads. In fact, the Dutch Queen, Beatrix, is often rumored to have been seen pedaling through the Hague on her sit-up-and-beg style bicycle.
The bicycle in the NL is not just a means of transport, it often functions as a great shopping carrier, too. I am constantly amazed by how much can be carried on one small bicycle and am convinced that the Dutch are born with a greater sense of balance than the rest of us. I will never forget the time I saw a mum skilfully balancing her three children (one on the front, two at the back), her weekly shopping and a huge bunch of flowers all on her trusty bike.
However, there is also a rather dark side to cycling in the NL. With over one million bikes being stolen every year, bike theft has become a lucrative profession. That is why most Dutch people do not own a bike that is worth more than about 70 EUR. Although the Dutch do value their bikes enormously, they also favor an ´easy come easy go´ type of attitude that helps when it is stolen. Which at some point it inevitably will be.
That is why there is a very unique anti-theft invention developed by the Dutch themselves – they make their bikes look individual and distinctive by painting them. Thus the many brightly colored, graffiti-decorated bikes are not just an artistic expression of individuality but also a deterrent to a bike thief and works on the premise that a bike with a leopard skin or silver and orange snake design is perhaps easier to trace than a standard black bike. Resourceful people, the Dutch.
Whatever the problems, be it congestion and stress on the city cycle lane or the risk of having one´s bike snatched by a thief, bicycles will always be at the core of Dutch culture. And without a doubt cycling through the Dutch countryside is still a real joy and a cheap day out for everyone. Also the environmentally-friendly aspect of the bicycle surely makes this a vehicle that will be encouraged to use however technically advanced Dutch society becomes.