Biking is a way of life in The Netherlands. We bike everywhere we go: school, work, grocery store, etc. Although cars are being used more and more (and what a shame that is!), bikes are still the primary mode of transport for the vast majority of the Dutch. There are, in fact, more bikes than people in the country, although I do have to wonder how they count all the bikes. Are the ones ditched in canals included?
Expats and other foreigners living in the country often adopt the bike lifestyle. For the Dutch (and other long-term residents), however, it’s easy to tell the foreigner bikers from the locals. Here are a few helpful hints:
Helmet. A helmet is a dead giveaway. Whoever is on their bike while wearing a helmet is most definitely not Dutch. The Dutch do not wear helmets. I don’t think I would even know where to buy one! The only time you’ll see a Dutch person wearing a bike helmet is when they are racing (and sometimes, not even then).
This is my bike. I call her Pinky.
Quiet bike. Dutch bikes always rattle. ALWAYS. Whether it’s a loose lock, basket, light… the list goes on and on, Dutch bikes are most certainly not quiet. Every speed bump I hit, causes something to rattle on my bike. I could get annoyed. Mostly, I just think how well I’ve integrated into Dutch society.
Bike traffic lights. I nearly had a collision with a foreigner as he suddenly stopped because the pedestrian crosswalk light turned red. I screamed at him, “What are you doing?” He pointed at the red light. I explained that’s for pedestrians. I’m sure he left The Hague thinking Dutch speak really good English but are a bit aggressive on their bikes. Correct on both accounts.
Car blockage. Living in the city, it’s not unusual for cars to block the bike path at intersections. This doesn’t stop a Dutch biker – not even a little bit! We weave around the cars while shaking our heads at the drivers. A foreigner, however, will not move around the cars and instead block the other bikers who want to get going!
Pants clip. I actually had to look up the word because I’ve never used one before. Apparently, a pants clip is something other people (read = not Dutch people) use to keep their pants from getting caught up in the bike chain. All Dutch bikes come with chain guards. No need for pants clips here.
Carrying stuff. The Dutch can handle just about any transportation issue with a bike. Friends will hop on the back of a bike for a ride. Hockey sticks are thrown over shoulders as they bike along. Beer crates (full!) are balanced on the handlebars. If you see someone struggling with a few loafs of bread or six bottles of wine (I couldn’t help it! I was slightly inebriated!), you know their heritage is not Dutch.
Why does it even matter what nationality the person is who is biking? Am I being a bit ethnocentric? No, actually, I’m not. It’s important to pay attention to a biker who is not Dutch, because – chances are – they are not paying attention to you!