In discussions about the rate of cycling in different countries, people often make remarks along the lines that "the Dutch cycle because the Netherlands is flat". It's just an excuse, of course. They're either trying to excuse the low cycling rate of their country or sometimes it's an attempt to disregard the effect of the infrastructure which the Netherlands has used to achieve its high cycling rate.
I think this is a much overemphasized difference between the Netherlands and other places. Many settled areas in many countries are also flat, or nearly flat. They don't all have a high cycling rate. An example which I've used on this blog is Lincolnshire in the UK. The area has many residents descended from Dutch immigrants who drained the low and flat landscape, despite being so much like the Netherlands, Lincolnshire consistently does the wrong things to encourage cycling and there is very little cycling there.
What's more, the Southern Dutch province of Limburg is actually rather hilly. Limburg hosts the Amstel Gold Cycle Race which is known for its particularly vicious hills. The capital of the province is Maastricht.
I covered Maastricht a few weeks back. They already have a cycling rate of around 30% of journeys, higher than anywhere outside the Netherlands, and are working hard to increase this.
Putting aside demographics, the only thing which seems directly related to cycling rate is the quality of infrastructure.
The Netherlands spends more per head than any other country on cycling infrastructure, Dutch infrastructure is the best in the world for cycling and this country has the highest rate of cycling as a result.
Second place is taken by Denmark, where they don't spend enough and have a declining cycling modal share. Germany spends less again, and has significantly worse infrastructure, but is stable with around a third as much cycling as in the Netherlands. It's quite easy to see why if you move between the borders of these countries. It's simply more pleasant here to cycle here and this is why people do it.
Make cycling convenient, safe and pleasant and people will cycle.
Stop making excuses !
See also coverage of Trondheim - a city which has huge hills, very challenging winter weather, but which is growing cycling from an already high base by building infrastructure.
For people who really like cycling up hills, there is an organisation here in the Netherlands which provides information about where to find nice steep hills to ride up. The photos of hills here in the Netherlands come from their website. this looks quite a challenge. Another example is Switzerland, which has a cycling rate which is above any English speaking country. Switzerland is definitely not flat.
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