Sunday, January 8, 2012


Bicycling in the Netherlands is not a national sport, it is a way of living. There are more bicycles here than people. No matter what time of the year it is, you can see people cycling everywhere. Also those autumn days, when there's freezing cold water coming down from the sky and it is pitch black, you can see kids biking to school and adults going off to work.

Since I was a kid, it has always been said that you should never ever ever even dream of cycling without a helmet as it basically means immediate death or at least a brain injury that will spoil the rest of your life. I think all kids of my generation got from our schools this really ugly styrofoam helmet, which did not make the wearing of the thing very easy. Last time I had a look at it, it was still as ugly as I remembered.

The Finnish Law states that you should "in general" use a helmet when cycling. This leaves some room for not getting fined when eg. you are riding a short distance (of course nothing happens then, right??) or that your hair gets messed up.

Apparently in the Netherlands they have own rules, which I've empirically interpreted to be something along the lines of "never wear a helmet unless you want to be on a racing bike and go 80km/h". One of the first times I visited my work place I took a taxi during the rush hour from the train station in Den Bosch to the office. I was amazed by the amount of people on bikes - and without helmets. The moment I still remember is seeing a mom with two really small kids (somewhere around 4 years old), all with bicycles and without helmets going through really narrow spaces between cars and buses. I was absolutely convinced that these people are going to die right in front of my eyes or at least end up with a severe head injury.

When I moved here, I learned that there are two kinds of cycling; the professional wearing-silly-tight-clothes type of thing where the essential point is, that you never do it for actually getting somewhere but just to start from point A, do a lap of x km and then return back to point A. This is probably because of the ridiculous riding bicycle clothes and the fact your bike is worth like 5000 euros, so you don't feel like parting from it, at all. The other cycling is the one which I'm more familiar with - getting-your-grandmas-bike-and-going-grocery-shopping. However, variations exists there also. Basic compilation is for example having two kids fitted to your bike, or having someone sitting in the back of your bike.

There are all kinds of bicycle things I stil need to learn such as how to have somebody sitting in the back of your bike, how to bike in busy Utrecht when the rush hour is actually consisting mainly of other bikes (I try to learn the advice I got: whatever you do, don't do anything unexpected). One thing I will probably never master is the skill of biking really close to someone (I need my own space) let alone talking to the cellphone while having an umbrella in the other hand and a christmas tree on the back of your bike. The Dutch Guy is also trying to convince me, that every Dutch person knows how to bike and kiss at the same time, but I don't really believe that is even possible..

And btw. the question I immediately started to wonder is whether there really are lot of people (and kids) getting injured each year because of not wearing helmets - the figures seem to be quite modest. According to this it is more probable die of drowning than while biking in the Netherlands. And there aren't many places to swim here (but maybe the mean the dikes..?)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the blog Anu. These are a great read!

    The people of the Netherlands are to a large degree protected by their numbers: The more there are cyclists, the better car drivers remember to be on the watch for them. And cyclist-cyclist accidents are in general not that serious.

    This is why nowadays the cyclist organizations in Finland are more concerned about the number of cyclists than wearing helmets as a security measure. At least this is so at Jyväskylän pyöräilyseura and Helsingin polkupyöräilijät where I've been active.

    Here's a link to a nice picture that reveals the relation between the number of cyclists and pedestrians and the accidents in general:

    Unfortunately, our cycling infrastructure in the cities doesn't at the moment encourage cycling nor support large numbers of cyclists and because of this the number of cyclists is rather low. Just look at Hämeenkatu at Tampere!