Thursday 23 June 2011

When the shops close on a Saturday

Dutch shopping habits are often frowned upon by foreigners. Shops close early (6pm on working days) or are even closed all day (on Sundays). This means that most working people can only go shopping on a Saturday. At least before 5pm, because shops close even earlier on a Saturday...

What's that got to do with cycling? Well... why don't we stand on a street corner one such Saturday from 4 to 5 pm and see all the people coming back from that very shopping trip. The whole demography of a Dutch city cycles by right before our eyes! And it's pretty!

Many people carry bags. A lot of the bags are just hanging from the handle bars. Officially that is illegal, but that would not be widely known.

Note that all ages are represented. Not just the 20 to 40 year old commuting males. In fact that age group seems under-represented in this video. And, since this is a Saturday, hardly anyone is a commuter in this video anyway. Many children cycle on their own, some are even also unaccompanied. A great number of the cyclists are over 60, men as well as women. The weather wasn't very good that day, just 16 degrees (61F), it was very windy and it had rained off and on... but that didn't stop any of these people from taking their bicycles to go shopping.

All signs of a healthy cycling culture. But it may be under threat.

On June 22nd many people in the Netherlands became rather concerned by news reports that the European Commission would want to make it mandatory for all these cyclists to wear high visibility vests. For the Dutch an alarming thought. One Dutch member of the European parliament immediately stated: "This [report] implies that cycling is dangerous when in reality it is the safest means of transport. Cyclists should not be yellow canaries". Which from the Dutch view point is understandable. Just imagine all the people in the above video in those vests or even worse, the ones in this rush hour video. It would blind everybody! So is this really what the European Commission wants? It is always good to go back to the source of such reports. I found the press release and the message is not quite what it became in the Dutch press: "High-visibility reflective vests should be carried in vehicles for all occupants, say MEPs. Cyclists, too, should be encouraged to wear helmets and reflective vests after nightfall, they add".

"Encouraged" and "after nightfall". So not mandatory and not at all time. Still, from a Dutch view point a ridiculous idea going against everything cycling stands for in the Netherlands, where road deaths have already decreased enormously by investing in good cycling infrastructure.


Anonymous said...

Nice video!

1. Not that many omas and opas... Why are the cycle chic folks making such a hooplah about these kinds of bikes?

2. At some point, two dudes on a moped get on the bike path... Is it legal?

3. As well are these electric wheelchairs legal? We had a controversy in Montreal about these which finally got approved. I find them dangerous and I don't why they cannot stay on the sidewalk...

Keep up!


dr2chase said...

Sigh. If they're going to be a nanny state, I wish they could be rational about it. Not getting enough exercise is one of the highest-risk common activities that there is -- there's a Danish study, that found a 39% higher mortality rate, for non-bicycle commuters, even after adjusting for other risk factors.

So if you're going to do the nanny-state thing, and be rational, you clearly need to discourage frivolous use of automobiles, to the exclusion of walking and cycling. That's FAR more important than high-vis clothing.

Mark W. said...

@Sophie; (1) there are quite a number of the oma/opa type bicycles (coaster brakes, no gears) to be seen, but it is indeed not the most used type of bicycle in the Netherlands anymore. Many people have 3 to 7 gears and hand brakes. (2) Yes slow mopeds (<25kph) are legal on this specific cycle path. The faster ones (those that require helmets) are not. There is a lot of debate going on in the NL about mopeds on the cycle path. Because moped riders do not stick to the speed limits they are very dangerous. Cyclists want them on the road. (3) There is no debate about the mobility scooters. These are also available in two types. The small slow ones that are used to replace walking stay on the sidewalks, the bigger faster ones for longer distances really replace cycling and those are normal and accepted on the cycle paths. The speed differences between these larger mobility scooters and cyclists are so low that they pose no thread.

Michael S said...

I saw a helmet, I saw a helmet!!!

(a man on a racer bike at 11:30...)

Dr C. said...

On a road network where all users of the most popular modes of transport wear high-visibility tabards, the man dressed normally would be the one who stands out

creating my life said...

i noticed no one wears a knapsack. i wonder why?

Frits B said...

When "Europe" says people should be encouraged to do something for their own safety, it's usually not long before national governments turn it into law, "because Europe wants it". That is our main concern. What might work in countries without cycling infrastructure, is not per se the perfect solution in other countries. Reflective vests in cars have long been advised, no more, but police now tell you to don your vest when leaving the car after an accident or when you are stopped by them on the roadside. It may not be legally mandatory yet, but it's creeping in.

And re knapsacks: why carry the burden yourself when the bike has racks, panniers an/or a basket?

Rebecca said...

Two children at 3:08 with helmets. Helmets are creeping in. Before long parents will be shamed into putting helmets on their kids; otherwise they will be seen as irresponsible parents. And then parents will be told that they need to wear helmets in order to set a good example!

Anonymous said...


Oh God, yes! I know! I'm seeing those hateful things more and more this past year.
I wish I could make a mocking/funny documentary about helmets, in the style of 'De keuringsdienst van waarde', or, of course, have some documentary maker do it for me.

The problem with people is that they don't tend to think for themselves. They see helmets in American sitcoms and movies, they are selling them now in the HEMA (for real!) and think, "300 million Americans can't be wrong, can they?"
Add to that some Euro pressure and before you know it, half of us Dutch are riding with a lid, before it's even legislated (which won't be long).


David, I would love to work for/help with any organisation that lobbies against this helmet and high-viz business and which tries to highten public awareness about these things, but I don't know how or where. I checked out the Fietsberaad and Fietsersbond website, but these organisations seem small and self-contained. Would you have any suggestions how to 'get into' the cycling-awareness-lobby thing?


kfg said...

". . .then parents will be told that they need to wear helmets in order to set a good example!"

How come they never tell parents to not operate motor vehicles or do exploitative labor to set a good example?

Anonymous said...

You probably should use one of these felty tribbles-like covers for your mic (if you are not doing so already).

What camera do you use anyway?

Nice video - as always

Luis Peters said...

This mandatory to wear high visibility vests isn't a thing of the car industry?
The WHO and UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 have something wrong.
One must follow the money to understand what is probablu going on:

Michael S said...

sigh... I missed the children with helmets...

Anyway, despite all campaigning, the helmet use rate is dropping in Germany according to offical sources: (english summary at the end of the page)

kfg said...

"One must follow the money to understand what is probablu going on:"

Indeed, but it is not sufficient to follow it part way; one must go all the way to the source.

Take the red pill.

Willie B said...

All the fuss over flo' jackets. I wear one, but would resent it if the fact that a cyclist wore ordinary clothing was cited as "contributory negligence" in court. What about people who drive dull-coloured cars? are they going to be penalised?

2whls3spds said...

Is it just me or did the guys on the moped look "chunky" compared to the rest on bicycles in their age group?

Also the two youngsters with helmets, the younger one, that helmet was worthless the way it was being worn, like many I see in the US.

Interesting to note while not that many of the bikes were Oma/Opa style, they all were upright and had fenders and racks ;)


Rona said...

Love the video.. I'm an American in Hoogezand. We have a lot more of the oma/opa fiets up here for teens. Must be a regional thing.

The helmets were kinda weird to see. A lot of the racefiets folks wear them here but to give them credit they are going a lot faster and a crash at higher speed hurts a lot more. Kids don't wear them and my kids certainly wont. What a bother!

Back in America? I didn't let my kids out on the street. I had been run off the road once myself by a hit-and-run. It's too dangerous to even think of biking. A helmet is not going to fix a Chevy truck to the ribs.

David Hembrow said...

Cyclo: Fluorescent jackets are not a solution to anything. However, they are a symptom of a problem. This was the subject of one of my very first blog posts.

kfg said...

Rona - The younger folk in the crowd (or those older folk who simply never paid much attention to the racing folk) may not realize that the pro racers have been wearing helmets for less than 10 years. Go watch some racing clips on YouTube. You can see the transition by year.

They also put up a hell of a fight against them, to the point of staging non performance strikes in the middle of race stages. Why? They knew how little value they had. But they're the paid help and if they want to work they have to comply, the racing game being world wide a closed shop.

There was a rare fatality in the Giro d'Italia this year. The cause of death was due to brain injury so massive the examiner figures he never had a chance to feel a thing. He was wearing a helmet; and not one of the cheap department store helmets either. It is also interesting to note that he also had internal injuries so severe that they likely would have proven fatal by themselves.

It is quite rare that one has a serious accident that involves only bumping one's head. You tend to get banged up all over.

Here's an interesting factoid that even people who follow the racers may not know; more motorbike riders trying to keep up with the racers on the descents crash and die than racers. The motorbike riders are wearing a couple kilograms of hard composite shell over twice as much energy absorbing material.

If a motorbike helmet doesn't do the job, what the hell is that featherweight little shrink wrapped styrofoam colander supposed to do at faster speeds?

Well I'll you; It's supposed to provide an example. It's symbolic. It sells helmets to the amateurs and wannabes who want to "look pro." Back in the day I actually took a lot of shit for wearing a helmet while racing. Why? Didn't look pro.

It also removes the point of reasoning from the general riding public that "If the professional racers don't need them, why do I need one just to pootle down to the pub?"

Never forget that professional sports are about selling things. The Tour de France was invented to . . . increase the circulation of a newspaper. It was a publicity gimmick from the start.

Now the racers do acknowledge that helmets provide some protection; for the ears. Keeps 'em from getting ground off when you're sliding down the pavement at better than 50 kph.

But that's not what they base "helmet safety on," is it?

Rona said...

Thanks for the comments! I saw that crash in the Giro.. this is the first year I've been interested in bike racing and I still don't understand much about it, but you are totally right. Helmets aren't going to help much on those serious crashes.

I love the comment about the styrofoam colander. I wore one very briefly when I lived in Germany and decided the thing was more distracting and annoying than useful. It sat in the closet for a long time before I finally threw it away.

As I get better at biking, I think more and more about buying one...the comments about the ear protection might persuade me! lol

Slow Factory said...

Some more thoughts on hi-viz and helmets. I am sure that promotion often turns into soft compulsion, making hard compulsion (laws) unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Europe may pass a dumb yellow vest law, but no-one in the Netherlands will ever, ever enforce it.

What would be even better though is if they trot out the auto mortality rates and insist that everyone adopt a rule that all cars be painted with fluorescent stripes (of varying colors so they don't all blend in together), and that all car drivers wear flashing lights, clown hats, and other highly-visible items.

In particular, drivers from nations with high auto mortality rates (say, Spain) should be forced to carry even more humiliating, expensive warning items like flags, bunting, an 'just-married' style strings of cans.

That will get the bike vest law put in perspective.