How To Get On To Our Bikes: Lessons From The Netherlands

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Have you ever found yourself wondering why you don’t cycle everywhere? Have you ever found yourself making excuses for not cycling? Like being afraid of motorists, breaking into a sweat on the way to work, not knowing where to park your bike etc.

But there’s one country that has been able to change the public’s mind on these matters.

I know you know where I’m talking about.

The Netherlands has a fantastic mentality towards the bicycle.

But what is it about them that has made cycling a main mode of transportation? The roads? The climate?

Let’s take a look!


Protests – Stop the Child Murder

Cycling protest tour 1979, Amsterdam.
Photo courtesy of Bicycledutch

Well, it all started with the voice of the people. Cycling was always a popular choice for the Dutch, but like many countries after WWII, cars became an increasingly popular mode of transportation in the Netherlands too.

That was until the 1970s.

In 1971, deaths by cars broke records in the Netherlands, with 3,300 people dead.

500 of them were children. 

This pushed people to their limits and protestors took to the streets to stop these needless deaths. The protests became known as “Stop de Kindermoord” which literally translates into “Stop the Child Murder”.

The success of the protests, along with oil shortages in 1973-74, spurred the Dutch government to make some policy changes. Soon, motor vehicles were banned from certain areas, particularly in towns and cities, leaving cyclists to travel in peace and quiet.

But that’s not all the government did.



Photo courtesy of Bikediva

Under Dutch law, if any cyclist is hit by a car, it is automatically the motorist’s responsibility.

This means that if a motorist hits a cyclists, the motorist’s insurer has to pay for all of the damage to the cyclist and their bike.

Unless, of course, it was the cyclist’s fault.

In which case, the motorist’s insurer must pay 50% of the damage to the cyclist and the bike. Yup. Either way, the motorist has to pay.

And if it’s a child cyclist that was hit, the driver must pay 100% of all damages. No matter what.

That’s a pretty good motivation not to drive, huh? And even if you do, you can bet that you’ll be extra cautious.



Photo courtesy of Massimo Catarinella

An extremely important aspect of creating a good environment that allows for people to cycle is the infrastructure.

In the Netherlands, many roads have one or two separate cycleways along them, creating a safe separation between the cars and the bikes. If there is a segregated cycle facility, it is actually illegal to cycle on the roads themselves.

If there is not a segregated cycleway, cycle lanes will be marked on the road (usually in red) and these roads will typically have very low speed limits.

Not only that, but the surfaces of the cycle paths are smooth, have their own traffic lights, tunnels, signals and rules. They bend gradually and are sign-posted well for cyclists to navigate more easily.

Technically, it’s legal to park your bike anywhere on public roads but there is usually bicycle parking provided next to every store. This is often available in bicycle stands or there are also bicycle parking stations, some of which hold thousands of bicycles.



kids reading a book

It’s not only the outwardly things that are different, however. With 75% of children cycling to secondary school, accidents are going to happen.

That’s why Dutch children are actually trained to ride their bikes.

Yes, that’s right.

Children have to pass their test and gain a certificated called “Verkeersdiploma” (traffic certificate). Children usually achieve this around the age of 12, so that they can cycle to school on their own.

With all these things in mind, it’s clear that cycling isn’t as simple as getting a bike and going down the street. Roads in many other countries are simply not prepared for cyclists, nor are laws enforced to protect them.

  • Sarah Burke

    Sarah is a graduate of the University of College Dublin. After receiving her MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, she taught High-school English and History for three years before moving to Vancouver to pursue a career in writing. In her spare time, Sarah likes to write poetry, go to music festivals and drink wine. Her favorite food is the burrito. She is an avid reader of fantasy novels, an active participant in feminist circles, and will always have an adventure planned in the foreseeable future. Interesting fact: Sarah is fluent in Irish (Gaeilge).

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