(Dutch Corner at Alpe d'huez (Tour de France) velo passion personified)
As I have previously reported the passion for cycling in the UK has grown exponentially over the last few years but for one neighbouring country in particular that passion has always been there.
People often remark that Norwegians are born with skis on, well the Dutch have a similar trait.
They are virtually born with a bicycle - or fiets - attached to them.
Almost as soon as a Dutch child is able to walk, he or she learns to ride a bicycle. They grow up on bikes. They ride them to school as soon as they are able to and when they are nine years old, they are expected to pass an informal test - an actual cycling demonstration - and earn a cycling diploma.
As teenagers, they go out on dates on bikes, with one person on the front and one perched side-saddle on the back. Lovebirds, young and old, ride side-by-side, precariously holding hands. People of all ages and socio-economic status - including government and other dignitaries - regularly commute to work on bikes (a flat bicycle tire is a common excuse for being late for work). Police patrol the streets on bikes, and most holidays of choice involve bicycles.
And bicycle use continues throughout old age.
Cycling in the Netherlands is a way of life. It is second nature. The Dutch do not typically get up in the morning and say "Today, I think I'll go biking." They just do it routinely, as a matter of course. They run errands, shop, go to work, and socialise on bicycles. They also carry anything and everything on a bike, including furniture, numerous shopping bags, four or five children… and even the family dog.
Practicality and day-to-day bicycle usage go hand in hand in the Netherlands; indeed they are the cornerstones of life in this traditionally Calvinistic nation. There is very little that is not done on a bicycle in this cycling utopia where an astounding 29.000 kilometers (18.020 miles) of dedicated bicycle paths (Fietspaden) lace this tiny country of only 41.526 square kilometers (16.033 square miles).
Global model for cycling
With the largest proportion of bicycles transportation and the highest density of bicycle facilities in the world - including a cycling-dedicated infrastructure bar none - the Netherlands is considered to be the global model for cycling. Bike paths run alongside almost every road here, and there are even separate traffic lights for cyclists at virtually every intersection, with the bicycle symbol appearing in red, yellow and green. The infrastructure is totally geared toward cycling, making it a serious mode of transportation and an integral part of Dutch society. The Netherlands is the only nation in the world with more bicycles than people. In a country with 16,5 million people, there are 1,1 bicycles for each one - or roughly 18 million bikes. In Amsterdam alone, there are approximately 550.000 bikes, versus 215.000 autos. 75% of all Amsterdam residents (aged 12 or older) own a bicycle; half of them use it daily. That astounding, nationwide fleet of bicycles - the highest bicycle density in the world - has a major impact on such a tiny country.
If you happen to come into contact with a car the driver of the car is deemed to be at fault unless he or she can prove otherwise.
If Heineken did cycling - they would surely use Holland
Maybe that why it’s a Dutch Brewery.
Earlier this year we were contacted by Rob van der Plas of the Toerclub Volendam, which was founded in 1989 and has over 400 members.
They wanted to do a mini tour riding from Volendam to Rotterdam (Ferry to Hull) 100 miles or so around East Yorkshire before getting back on the Ferry and riding home.
They asked for some local guidance and support and the Mules were honoured to help.
On the morning of their arrival the heavens opened to ensure a traditional English welcome.
I had mistakenly thought that there were 17 riders an amount that one might expect on a mini tour.
I was wrong -There were in fact 70 !!!!!!!!
Comprising of men and women of all ages and sizes there were some common themes.
They could all cycle with skill, politeness and etiquette that sadly I rarely see in group riding within this country.
They snaked through the countryside of East Yorkshire with tempo and self-discipline providing a spectacle for the locals who instinctively put their hands together in applause. The first part of the route was confined to the Holderness plain (Flat lands), which would have been similar terrain to what they would be used to.
We then turned inland to Burton Agnes, Kilham, Langtoft and then over to Sledmere Hall for lunch.
We were joined for lunch by the ‘sun’ that obviously decided to come out in appreciation that the rain failed to dampen anybody’s spirits.
After lunch the course got a bit lumpy towards Fimber, Fridaythorpe and Huggate before dropping down to Beverley via Middleton on the Wolds and Lund.
The feeling of leading such a large bunch was exhilarating even more so when some of the riders asked me to slow down. It was not something that I have often had say to me before, but something that i have often said as I slip off the back on a big climb.
I eventually left the group close to Beverley with a great feeling having had one of my most enjoyable rides ever.I hope to stay in touch with the Dutch for a return visit.