Thursday 13 October 2011

Safe cycling for 8 to 80 year olds

The wide age range of people on bicycles is one of the more striking things for visitors to the Netherlands. Very young children can be seen cycling with their parents on the streets, sometimes even still with stabilisers on their mini-bicycles. Younger children are often passengers. These kids start cycling to school and other destinations unaccompanied at the age of 8 or 9, giving them an independence and freedom which is unparalleled in the world. On the other end of the spectrum the senior citizens keep on cycling to a very high age indeed. Sometimes aided by electric bikes, but more often just because they simply still can. It gives this age group health and other benefits similar to the young children: freedom and independence.

Certainly not 8 yet, but why wouldn't you ride with your stabilisers
on the public road...
Safe streets for people from 8 to 80 is not a concept to strive for in the Netherlands, it has already become every day reality. Dutch streets are complete streets and Dutch cities are cities for people. Decisions that led to this reality were taken deliberately in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The (re-)construction of the cycling infrastructure mainly took place from the 1980s up until now. First an a smaller scale but really nationwide from the mid 1990s to the present day.

Certainly not 80 yet, but showing that cycling can be done gracefully
at a more senior age.
Early examples of Tilburg (1977), The Hague (1975-1981) and Delft (1979-1986), already showed that creating a sufficiently dense separate cycling infrastructure network does increase cycling and at the same time makes it safer. The Dutch also learned from their initial shortcomings. Later projects, with many improvements in the details of the infrastructure, ranging from the angle of kerbs (curbs), via widths of paths and smoother surfaces, to more priority on junctions, had even better results in cities and towns in every region of the country. Interestingly enough there are no real separate cycling infrastructure projects anymore. The projects are embedded in an integral transportation policy approach. Making cycling equally important and valuable as motorised and public transport. And more: in recent transport policies cycling is seen as the preferred transportation option in a city or town and as such given benefits and priority over the other means of transport.

Looking at it on a macro scale reveals that all this led to the country with the highest modal share of cycling in the world’s safest streets, and with the widest age range of people cycling. Yes, you can truely say everyone cycles in the Netherlands, which is very visible in the above video.


perthcyclist said...

I love this video, and you even got a lycra roadie in there ;)

David Hembrow said...

I think it's worth pointing out that the people in this lovely video come from all over the Netherlands. Some of the shots are in places I recognize here in Assen. Others are in Utrecht, 's-Hertogenbosch, Houten and probably other places too that Mark happens to have made video.

The whole country is like this, not just isolated islands of it.

Mark W. said...

@Perthcyclist; Thanks! And yes, we have people racing on bikes too! We just don't call them 'cyclists' but wielrenners ("Wheel runners") And did you notice his gray hair? He is perfect in this video!

Well spotted David! This is the full list of cities and towns in this video, by order of appearance:
(that last town will be in one of my upcoming posts.)

So really from all over the country.

webmaster said...

Great compilation. And funny those kids at 3:35, negotiating to stop or ride on. The bicycle is a social machine.

Anonymous said...

I love the bike we can see at 4:24. Do you know what bike it is?

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: Generically, they're referred to as "bakfietsen". This isn't one of theirs, but makes very nice bakfietsen (there's a nice film on their own website), also workcycles has their own versions.

The Bakfiets / Azor factory is just a few kilometres south of here, and I made a video there a couple of years ago.

Frits B said...

I think "Anonymous" would appreciate knowing the brand :-). Looks like a Gazelle Cabby to me.

Anonymous said...

I was under he impression that the Workcycles Bakfietsen were made by, and then upgraded by Workcycles, or am I mistaken in this?

The sad thing is, if I talk to our town about about infrastructure for people from 8 to 80 year olds, they'll say "We've got it already, as far as is possible", and talk about the routes through the fields, and sharrows, and cycling maps, an hills. (because hills make cyclists evaporate, or something)

If we ask about extending the network in towns or making a safe way to cross major roads, tha comes under the 'not possible' bracket, an I don't know how to get past that.

Actually, I'm coming to the conclusion that the council here already know all that you're saying in this blog, and that more cyclists is exactly what some of them don't want...

Frits B said...

Workbike: See this interview with Jan Rijkeboer, owner of Azor,, or this one explaining the build,
Both in Dutch, but the pictures say it all. is a joint enterprise with Azor, at the same address in Hoogeveen.
WorkCycles bakfietsen are also made there but to somewhat better specifications, according to WorkCycles.

David Hembrow said...

Jan Rijkeboer is quite a character. He's really dedicated to making a good bike, and looks at all these details of paint finish and built quality of all the components. The "Azor Lamp Test" is great, isn't it. Also the test of paint finishes by using a bath of hot brine ensure somewhat better than average longevity !

The Workcycles frames from Azor are the same, of course, but I think they may fit a wider range of other components. I'll email Henry and ask if he'd like to explain.

henry said...

Henry from Workcycles here,
Thanks for asking. It is indeed a strange relationship between Azor, and Workcycles. Firstly we make no effort to disguise the fact that many of our bikes are (proudly) made in the Azor factory... which probably confuses many people. Some clarification: is simply Maarten van Andel. He designed several bikes but the Cargobike is the one everyone knows and will remember for a long time. Born in about 2000 it is the inspiration for all of the current long-wheelbase family bikes. Azor licenses the design and van Andel has little involvement anymore.

Workcycles was amongst the first dealers to sell the Cargobike, and certainly the first to export them in considerable quantities. Being perfectionist nuts we're never content to leave things as they are so the Cargobikes assembled for Workcycles have always had so many special parts, paintwork etc that it made sense to call them something else. Workcycles has likewise also had considerable influence on the development of the Cargobike, the latest standard models being equipped much like the ones we were selling several years ago.

And just to clear up another point some people seem confused about: Azor also builds city bikes for Workcycles (also to our own specs) but far from all of them. In particular all Fr8's, Gr8's and their upcoming siblings were developed entirely in-house and come out of another factory.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous video - some great shots to demonstrate that cyling is a part of normal, every day life in NL, and not just for eccentrics, as can be the perception among some here (UK). I think that well designed, separate routes for cyclists would make such a difference here too because it would mean more people would cycle (who, rightly or wrongly, currently don't for safetly fears). With such a critical mass, you'd get more dirvers being also cyclists which would also make the roads safer for all. I cycled to Amsterdam from Hoek Van Holland in April and it was an absolute joy. Not one incident with any driver. Returning, as I got off the ferry in Harwich, it was only minutes before the first dangerous overtake by an impatient driver. The UK is light years behing NL in terms of facilities and attitude.