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Getting around by bike in the Netherlands – more than just a mode of transport

6 February, 2023
Sylwia Szerszeń

The Netherlands has become the most cycle-friendly place. Even in the cold months, it’s hard not to notice thousands of Dutch people on the streets who choose two-wheelers as their main means of transport. A bike in the Netherlands is almost indispensable, or at least something that will greatly facilitate your everyday life. What is cycling culture like in the Netherlands?

A population of 17 million with 22 million bicycles

In many Central and Eastern European countries, cycling is mainly associated with recreation, while in Amsterdam alone, 490 thousand Dutch people negotiate a total distance of 2 million kilometres by bike every day. If you have already read our mini compendium of basic information about the Netherlands, you know how important two-wheelers are to the people of the tulip country. Your age, education, wealth, or social status don’t matter in this respect – both the CEO of a large corporation and a first-grader can pass each other when riding their bicycles – one will be going to meet their family, the other one – top school.

The only factor that significantly influences the choice of mode of transport (bicycle or car; other vehicles are of marginal importance – e.g. trains are used by less than 5% of the population) is distance. If the distance exceeds 7 km, there is a greater chance of a Dutch person choosing to get behind the wheel. For shorter routes, however, they will almost always choose a bike.

Why so great popularity of the bike in the Netherlands?

Two-wheelers have become deeply embedded in the culture of the Netherlands – they became a national symbol as early as 1920. However, the real boom in cycling culture happened for far less lofty but no less important reasons, i.e. safety and the fuel industry crisis. In the 1970s, a veritable revolution began that continues to this day. It has changed the face of the country for good, making the bicycle an everyday essential for practically every Dutch person.

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A bike for every occasion

The Dutch use bicycles for exactly the same purposes as people in other countries use cars. There’s even a profession of a taxi cyclist here! Amsterdam and Utrecht are known as the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world; in Utrecht, more than half of the residents use bicycles every day!

More often than not, residents cycle as part of their daily routine – shopping or commuting, but also when visiting their families or meeting friends. Also, they’re keen to choose this means of transport in their leisure time, exploring the more or less popular attractions of the country. Even school trips are organised in a way allowing children to explore cities on bicycles!

A bike in the Netherlands is simply more than just a vehicle. You can see it e.g. in the train stations (see how train & bike are combine together in planning). The phenomenon is particularly evident in the monumental cycle parking areas, where dozens, hundreds or thousands of bicycles are parked side by side. Located in Utrecht, the world’s largest bicycle parking area accommodates 12,500 unicycles, and residents criticise the authorities about it as still being insufficient!

This is great news for you, too, if you choose the bicycle as your primary means of transport. In both metropolitan areas and small villages, cycling culture is exceptionally strong. The Netherlands has brilliantly developed facilities such as:

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What does this mean for a foreigner?

At first sight, the sight of hundreds of bikes standing in adapted car parks or mazes of cycle paths may be astonishing. It’s extremely easy, however, to change the way you think about cycling, and even more so when coming to the Netherlands to work, as it comes with many benefits. A two-wheeler opens up a whole new range of possibilities without having to spend a substantial amount of money on travel (and by the way, it’s worth checking out the cost of living in the Netherlands). The bicycle means that, even if you live far from the city centre, you can still have a nice time after work – enjoy city breaks, explore the beautiful Dutch villages, or organise a weekend trip into nature.

When choosing to work with Carrière, you can rent a bicycle for work-related purposes. It means a great convenience for all those starting out in the Netherlands and a way to reduce the time needed to get to work and back. In many cases, workers’ flats are located close enough to the companies where they’re employed that the bicycle can easily become their means of transport of choice throughout the year.