all about bicycling in the Netherlands
There is an interesting difference between English and Dutch when it comes to cycling. As many of my readers may know the Dutch word for bicycle is fiets. (Which is singular; the plural is fietsen, bicycles.) But fiets cannot be used for just any bicycle, it’s a specific type of bicycle . The ones the Dutch think are ‘ordinary’ and the type English could only describe with extra words: ‘sit-up bicycle’ or ‘utility bicycle’. If the Dutch need to describe what most native English speakers perceive as a ‘normal’ bike, they are the ones who need extra words: race fiets or wielrenfiets.
This makes clear that what is perceived as the standard in both languages is reversed. And it also shows which type of cycling is the dominant type in the areas those languages are spoken.
Because the same goes for fietser or cyclist. To a Dutch person that can never be someone in specific clothes on a race fiets. The Dutch have a different word for those people, they call them: wielrenner (literally ‘wheel runner’ and it is pronounced almost like that). A fietser is someone in every day clothes on a sit-up bike and nothing else!
Fietsen is not only the plural for bicycle, it is also the noun; cycling. And that can also only be used for the utility type of cycling. When the Dutch talk about cycling as a race sport it is almost always translated with wielrennen (literally ‘wheel running’ ) or wielrensport (“wheel run sport”).
This phenomenon can lead to misunderstandings. In English the Dutch will say things like: “Cyclists in the Netherlands do not wear special clothes for cycling” (because in their minds only ‘racers’ do that). And “No cyclist in the Netherlands wears a helmet” (since only sports cyclists do). Forgetting that in English cyclist is a more generic term than fietser in Dutch is.
To show you that there really are some sports cyclists in the Netherlands I made a video. Two years of filming gave me this collection of images. You will probably see more lycra (spandex if you are from the US), more helmets and more race fietsen (sports bicycles) than in all my previous videos combined. So a very different look into cycling in the Netherlands, because yes, there is lycra in the streets of the Netherlands!