Tuesday 9 September 2008

Everyone cycles

The Steco Baby-Mee is designed to safely carry a baby
Everyone cycles here. Yes, everyone. OK, so I have to admit that's a very slight exaggeration as there is a small minority who genuinely don't, but it's really a very small minority. Officially, 93% of the country's population cycle regularly (every week), and just 7% cycle "rarely or never."

I've only met one Dutchman so far who said he never cycles, and he was a fake - he continued on to tell stories about cycle trips he'd taken a couple of years previously.

Let's take our street as an example.

We've got neighbours in their 80s who cycle, both for fun on the weekend and to go shopping or to visit friends. The stats for the whole country show that even the over 65s cycle for 24% of their journeys, so perhaps this should be expected.

However, we also have very young children in the street, some born just over a year ago, and when they're not riding around the street on tricycles or in the trailer pulled by a big brother or sister, they are seen travelling by bike too. Even the youngest children travel by bicycle - you can buy child-seats for tiny babies in this country, as you can see on the left. It's recommended for four months and up, but I've heard rumours they're also used for newborns.

A Mamafiets with a front child seat with windscreen, a rear
child seat and a device for carrying a pushchair. The bike also
has a sturdy centre stand and an anti-flop steering damper.
There are also special bicycles sold factory fitted for carrying two children together with shopping and which have a special attachment at the back for carrying a buggy. Neither these nor the baby seats are rare devices in the Netherlands.

Some people in the middle of their careers end up working a long distance from home and find it hard to make all their commuting journeys by bike, but everyone here cycles at least some of the time, and a large percentage of them do so daily.

Virtually all primary school age children arrive at school by bike - they need to as the schools arrange trips by bike too. In primary school, children travel independently from an average age of about 8 and a half. Secondary school children cycle up to 20 km each way, most of them continuing even in winter (we were told on a Study Tour that the rate of cycling to a local secondary school drops from 100% of children to 95% in the depths of winter).

Most customers at shops arrive there by bike. Again, this also continues right through winter.

I've never before lived somewhere where people cycled in anything like the numbers they do here. In Assen the average number of bicycle trips per day per person is around 1.2 (It's 0.8 for the Netherlands as a whole - still very high compared with most countries), which explains why it always looks like everyone seems to be riding their bikes.

The environment for cycling here is such that everyone wants to take part. That's how it should be, and how it has been made. It's not happened by accident, but by policy, and the changes over the years have been dramatic. Dutch planners plan for cycling.

The child seat support shown in the photo is available from Dutch Bike Bits. It is manufactured by Steco, who make a large range of items including very popular front luggage racks.

1 comment:

dale said...

Hello from Omaha, Nebraska, USA. Thanks for leaving a comment on our commuting blog. I like your info; it will help us become more bike friendly here.

We lived in Amstelveen for a year in the mid 90's. Our daughters were 1 and 3 years old and we had a bike with windshield, handlebar seat, rear seat, and hook for stoller.

Lots of good memories from that time of our lives.

Europe is much more open to socialism and government control, though the US is more socialist then many acknowledge.

Our personal transportation infrastructure is almost completely car centric. The cost to retool is high and the timeframe is long. US people are motivated mostly by economics. Higher costs are needed to change people's decisions about living closer to work, retail, and choosing alternative transporation such as the bicycle. Cyclists can commute now on the current infrastructure if they choose, but it is not beginner friendly.