The bicycle is one of the most important means of transport in the Netherlands. Going to school, work, shopping, many Dutch people choose to ride their bike for their trips.
Anywhere in the Netherlands you go and no matter the weather, you will see the Dutch on their bikes. Why is it that cycling is so popular? And has it always been this way?
The two-wheeled history of the Netherlands begins at the end of the 19th century, when the first bicycles were imported from England. Back then, cycling was purely a hobby for the wealthier class. As technology improved and therefor the prices for a bicycle cheaper, the popularity for bicycles increased enormously among the common people as well. By 1920, cycling became a standard for the Dutch. (See also this article by The Guardian).
That trend continued until 1940. By then, there were 4 million bicycles in a population of 8 million. During the German occupation, many of these bicycles were confiscated.
But, after liberation, their popularity rapidly increased again. The Netherlands was a poor country then, there was not enough money for cars and other means of transport. So, back on the trusty bike it was!
In 1960, cars became cheaper and more and more Dutch people preferred cars to bicycles. For a while, the Netherlands seemed to lose their pedaling identity.
This changed when, around 1970, Dutch people took to the streets to protest against motor vehicles, which caused many fatal accidents involving children. The 'stop the infanticide' protests, combined with oil shortages, brought more attention to a better cycling climate. Which is where they stand now!
What the Dutch may take for granted, is not at all common in other countries; the cycling road network. The government has invested heavily in a good cycling infrastructure. The bike paths in the Netherlands literally take you all over the country. The safe paths, bicycle garages and road signs ensure that there are no obstacles in any route in the Netherlands when you are choosing to ride your bike.
Nowadays, cars are increasingly averted in cities to free up extra space for cyclists, to make the roads even safer and more convenient.
What of course plays a role in the popularity of cycling in the Netherlands is that the country is almost completely flat. With a few hills in the south and some bridges as exceptions, you don't have to climb much.
It also helps that the Netherlands is a small, densely populated country. As a result, most destinations are nearby.
Cycling fits the Dutch identity and values, such as independence, modesty and stability. In addition, sustainability is important to the Dutch. So they make environmentally conscious choices. Taking the bike instead of the car is an easy way to stay active and healthy, another important value for Dutch people.
And what is THE cliché about the Dutch? The frugality. Your bike ride costs you nothing! This can also contribute to the popularity of a bike ride.
So why is the good old bicycle so popular in the Netherlands? It's ingrained in the culture, infrastructure and flat nature. It's easy, healthy and fast. Did you know that 38% of Dutch people use their bikes daily?