When the sun shines people like to go to the beach. The Dutch are no exception. However, how they get to the beach is perhaps a bit different. See the video for thousands of bicycles parked at a beach near Assen on a sunny week-day afternoon during school holidays.
How hot was it today ?
Today the official temperature according to the local weather station reached 34 C. Our own thermometer in the shade in the garden said 37 C, but I don't do "hype" so let's trust the official figure, presumably taken by a proper calibrated thermometer sited in a way that corresponds to some official standard or other which leads to consistent readings, above our cheap domestic digital thermometer.
Isn't 34 C "too hot for cycling" ?
It's often the case that people elsewhere claim that their high temperatures make cycling impossible "because it's too hot". Others claim that they can't cycle "because it's too cold". Now I don't doubt that in some extreme parts of the world it is sometimes genuinely too hot or too cold, but I've yet to see a temperature here in Assen at which people stop cycling.
|Assen today. When it's hot in the Netherlands,people ride to|
the beach. When it's cold they ride to go skating.
Peak temperatures are of course lots of fun. The hottest temperature recorded since 1981 in this area is 34.7 C, not all that much hotter than today when I shot the film above (it was really lovely cycling weather, I went out just to go to the beach but rode another 20 km anyway because it was so pleasant), and the lowest recorded was -22 C. The lowest we've experienced since we lived in this area was -18.6 C in March 2012. People kept on cycling when it was that cold just as they kept on cycling today when it was hot.
|Climate data for Groningen Eelde airport, approximately mid-way between Assen and Groningen. The average summer high temperature is 22.2 C while the average winter low is -0.6 C. Note that these are averages and that temperatures outside those averages are not uncommon. Peak temperatures in Groningen have hit 34.7 C and the lowest was -22 C.|
As a child I lived just south of Auckland in New Zealand. While when I was a child there in the 1970s we all cycled to school and for recreation. It was never "too hot" and certainly never "too cold". However, a few weeks back I was contacted by someone in Auckland who asked me about the problem of temperatures being too hot in Auckland for cycling. So how does Auckland compare with Groningen ? Here's the climate data for Auckland:
|Climate data for Auckland. In the summer, the average high is 23.7 C while the average winter low is 7.1 C. Certainly no great problem here compared with Groningen|
|July 2015. A temperature of 34.8 C|
in Assen. Once again higher than
ever recorded in Auckland. An
identical map in blue shows when
kept cycling through -18.6 C
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and also the warmest city. All the other cities are further South, so colder.
The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. Wellington's climate is very mild. Average highs in summer are 20.3 C while the average lows in winter are 5.9 C. The record low was just -0.1 C while the record high was 30.1 C.
What about Invercargill, right down on the south coast of the South Island ? Invercargill is not only the southern-most city of New Zealand but also one of the southern-most cities in the world. It's also known to be the coldest city in New Zealand. Summers are relatively mild there with an 18.8 C average high, but it's perhaps surprising to find out that the winters are quite mild as well. Even Invercargill's average winter low is well above freezing at 0.9 C. Much milder weather than winter in Assen and Groningen, where the average winter lows are below freezing.
I conclude that there is nowhere in New Zealand where it makes sense to claim that the weather is either too hot or too cold for cycling. In fact, New Zealand's weather is perfect - especially around Auckland.
The United Kingdom
I also recently found myself discussing climate with people from Scotland. Scotland is of course known within the British Isles as a relatively cold place. All of Scotland is further North than Groningen and you might well expect that this makes it colder in the winter. However, like the rest of the British Isles, Scotland's temperature does not vary as much you would expect because of the warming effect of being surrounded by ocean. Aberdeen is "the coldest city in the UK". Here is the climate data for Aberdeen:
|Climate data for Aberdeen. Average summer high is 18.3 C, average winter low is 0.2 C. No problem here compared with Groningen|
Similarly, cities on the south coast of the UK, where it is warmest, have temperature ranges which fall well within normal for Assen and Groningen. For example, Plymouth (where I studied) has average highs of 19.8 C and average lows of 3.6 C. Really nothing to get excited about weather-wise. You need to look elsewhere than the weather for the reasons why British people cycle for such a small percentage of their journeys.
The most populous city in Australia is Sydney. It's on the South East coast, far from the extremes of the North of Australia which can be very harsh indeed in the summer. Sydney's climate data follows:
|Climate data for Sydney. The warmest we've looked at yet with average summer highs of 25.9 C and average winter lows of 8.0 C.|
It might well be that an average 3.7 C higher temperature on the hottest month of the year reduces cycling a little in Sydney relative to Groningen, but I'm not so sure. Today's temperature in Assen was considerably higher than an average high in Sydney and it was very pleasant to cycle. It doesn't seem logical to think that a 3.7 C difference is enough to explain why just 0.8% of commutes are by bicycle in Sydney but even if we accepted that this was so, shouldn't the city be able to make up for this with a higher rate of cycling for the four months of the year when Groningen's average low temperature is lower than the lowest temperature ever recorded on the worst day ever in Sydney's history ? Believe me, it's much more difficult to cycle when it's really cold than when it's really hot.
People used to cycle in Australia in large numbers. In the 1960s, school cycle parking in Australia looked much as it does in The Netherlands now. It's no hotter now than it was then.
Toronto is Canada's most populous city. The climate data is here:
|Climate data for Toronto. Average peak in the summer is 26.6 C. Average low in the winter -6.7 C.|
Also note that Toronto isn't all of Canada. Vancouver by contrast has relatively mild weather, about the same as Groningen in the summer, not as cold in the winter.
I wrote about Ontario recently with regards to the low quality of the recommendations of their new Bicycle Facilities manual and this is something that Canadians with an interest in cycling should keep an eye on. Average commute lengths in all Canadian cities certainly are not a problem.
Not single one of the big list of myths and excuses explains why people don't cycle in other places as they cycle here. However the claim that "it's too hot" or "it's too cold" is used in many places where temperatures are not really particularly hot or cold.
The main reason why people do not cycle, regardless of where they live, is that the conditions simply don't feel safe. a high degree of subjective safety is required to make people want to cycle and to achieve this people must be able to complete their journeys by bicycle without being threatened by cars. This requires a comprehensive grid of very high quality cycling infrastructure. The better the conditions for riding a bike, the more people will choose to do it.
Really not "anti-car"
We still find that people are confused about how the Netherlands can be so pro-bike without being anti-car. Another example in Assen this evening. The same road as was closed to cars in order that a time-trial could take place earlier this week was closed to normal cars this evening so that David Coulthard could drive a Formula 1 car along it at a speed somewhat above the speed limit.
|The start of the rush home|
If you read this post and then find yourself with the desire to write a comment along the lines of "oh, but it's this", please go and read the big list of myths and excuses first and look for your objection within it. Almost all these myths have already been busted. If you think of a genuinely new reason why it is that your country has a low level of cycling then I'd be pleased to hear about it.