After living in the Netherlands (Rotterdam) for a year I really got into the habit of cycling everywhere. It became the first option to get around locally. So much so that when you did go to drive somewhere you’d have to hunt around for your keys again.
Lots of people ask why New Zealand can’t be like The Netherlands when it comes to cycling. There are some very obvious differences. But NZ could still do so much better.
Here are some thoughts on how. This is from someone who does own a bike in NZ but only uses it a few times a year, and has never ever worn lycra.
- Everything is cycle-centric. Bikes have the shortest routes, the best pathways, the most parking, and they’re allowed on almost all public transport.
- And it’s not just about putting cycle lanes in. Bikes are protected, almost religiously. If you’re in a car and a cyclist fails to give way, and you hit them, you’re still in trouble as the bigger vehicle.
- Biking for Dutch people is like breathing. I swear their babies develop in order to crawl, walk and then cycle. You can’t instantly impose this mindset on Kiwis, but it can be slowly encouraged.
- In the Netherlands there’s no such thing as an uncool bike. I rode a dazzle purple and pink ‘girls’ bike with wrap-around handle bars for a while and no one batted an eye.
- Cycling in The Netherlands is scary at first, I won’t lie. It’s busy. Unless you’ve grown up there, you’re in the deep end. The moment you start to feel like you can relax is the moment you crash (I know). You need to stay alert until you’re really familiar with it.
- Bad weather is no excuse. The Netherlands is bitter in winter. They still cycle, they just wear better clothing. Most teenagers cycle along with both hands in their pockets in cold weather.
- The Netherlands is flat. NZ isn’t. The steepest parts in The Netherlands are the bridges over the dikes. But e-bikes can make a huge difference in NZ, and they’re only getting cheaper.
- The Netherlands is also very compact. Where I stayed on the outskirts of Rotterdam, it was 6km into the city centre. 6km in the other direction put you two small villages away. But e-bikes can help with longer distances as well.
- The Dutch seem to eat a lot of sugar and deep-fried food. Yet their obesity rate is 20%, NZ is 30%. Cycling has to be good for their national health.
- As a guy who’s had a buzzcut since the age of 15, having messy hair isn’t an issue. The Dutch guys tend to have longer wavy hair which I guess suits cycling. They also don’t wear helmets here so they don’t get helmet hair.
I would love to be able to cycle every day in Auckland. That’s one of the biggest things I’m going to miss from the Netherlands. It’s so nice to just pop down the road, get some fresh air, and know that you’re actually doing yourself and the environment some good.
The number one reason that stops me commuting by bike in NZ is safety. If we had separate bike lanes going almost everywhere in Auckland, it would be my transport of choice. Like it has been for the last year in Rotterdam. But currently there’s no way I’m going on those roads in Auckland without a change in attitude and infrastructure.
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