When a video goes viral

One of my videos went viral… again… and while that is in itself rather pointless, it does make clear that a lot of people in the world are completely in the dark when it comes to every day cycling. I published the video over a year ago. It shows a cycle path in Utrecht near the central railway station where all the main cycle routes of Utrecht come together.

The Utrecht morning bicycle rush hour in 2010
The Utrecht morning bicycle rush hour in 2010

The video was meant to simply show the huge number of cyclists that pass this particular point. But since the attention span of many people is rather short on YouTube I decided to speed it up so they wouldn’t zap away. This unfortunate decision somehow made the video very attractive for a much larger audience than it was intended for. Numerous sites showed it. Sites that have absolutely nothing to do with cycling advocacy. Most viewers obviously didn’t have a clue about cycling, especially the ‘every day type cycling’ in the Netherlands. And this was painfully reflected in a lot of the almost 1,000 comments. Very weird: the word ‘car’ was used most in those comments (71x) closely followed by ‘fat’ (52x) and ‘American(s)’ (41x). Strange, because the last time I looked there were no ‘fat American cars’ in the video at all… Granted, ‘Wow’ and ‘Awesome’ were also used 15 and 14 times respectively. But someone shouted ‘fake’ as well and there are those who think they know from watching this 2 minute video that there are no cars in the Netherlands. A country which they feel must be a third world country where people are obviously too poor to drive a car like the rest of the developed world. The lack of helmets (a word used 64 times) was apparently also very striking to a lot of viewers. Some really seem to think all the cyclists in the video will be vegetables soon. Completely clueless about how safe it really is to cycle, especially in the Netherlands. That there is only a handful of countries where helmets are worn –the ones they live in– is too hard to grasp for a staggering number of commenters. This sort of ignorance was also displayed on US television in SportsNation that showed a tiny fragment of the video in a segment called ‘Weird Web Stories’ [but has since been taken off line]. That was in itself insulting enough, but they also decided to add ‘1920s tooting car sounds’ while saying things like: “Amazing there aren’t more accidents”. And “I’ll be at work in two and a half hours”, “Plus, what if I wanted to go to the drive thru and get food? … you can’t carry it!

SportsNation on US television showed the video in the segment ‘Weird Web Stories’
SportsNation on US television showed the video in the segment ‘Weird Web Stories’

A Dutch site picked up on the buzz too. The Dutch commenters had -in turn- a good laugh about the non-Dutch commenters. Making it a freak show in a freak show. Oh, and some other Dutch site assumed a foreigner had filmed it. As no one in the Netherlands would have filmed something so ordinary. All this was good for half a million views and then things calmed down a bit. But last week, a year later, the video made it to ‘reddit’, a site with the subtitle: ‘the front page of the internet’. They at least have a lot of visitors. Good for 100,000 views in just one night. After which the video was picked up by YouTube itself, placing it on the top ten trending videos for last week. Now that really made the video go viral. We are now nearing one million views. The press picked it up too. Dutch quality paper NRC proved equally surprised about all the fuzz like many Dutch before them. A pity they referred to one of the numerous rip versions of the video that can be found all over the internet. (And I really do mean everywhere!) And now CBS News chimed in too. You guessed it: in the section ‘Strange News’. Their conclusion: “on the one hand, healthier living; on the other hand, a brand new infuriating and stressful situation to deal with. I think I’ll just stick to the subway and avoid it altogether, thank you very much”. More people -even on cycling blogs- have commented that the traffic situation in the video looks so intimidating. This has probably to do with the fact that the images were sped up four times. So maybe it is time for an all new and improved version. Here it is, the same location, a little over one year later, showing five minutes of real time bicycle rush hour. Nothing more, nothing less.


This will probably open up a whole new range of interesting comments. (That I must admit are also very entertaining and amusing). I am guessing the word “s l o w” will be all the rage this time… If you are really patient or you have a lot of time on your hands or you just can’t get enough of looking at these cyclists, there is also a 15 minute version of the new video.

This post, written by me, was first published on a different platform.

The original 18 comments:

Paul Martin said… People are strange aren’t they, Mark? I’m impressed that it has received so much attention and very disappointed that much of it was the wrong type. The response by the US viewers is sadly not unexpected – and I’d expect the same reaction from most Australians too… it’s almost a defence mechanism – a juvenile one at that – to dismiss what they’re seeing flippantly. The scary thing is that we’ve been responding to many good ideas around the world in the same way and one day, perhaps sooner than we think, it is going to come back to bite us in the arse. Keep up the great work. It gives me goosebumps to know that we’ve stood at that very spot with you and Marc from Amsterdamize to watch the ballet of bicycles. If we could have just 1% of that in my city I’d be happy 🙂 Cheers, Paul 7 July 2011 00:16

Maggie said… Mark, Great post as always. This is off topic, but I couldn’t help cringing over the sportscasters on the ‘Weird Web News’ segment. It seems that whenever I hear female & male announcers paired together for a U.S. sports newscast, the male will make some ignorant comments. The female sportscaster will counter with valid arguments (although in this case, this female is slightly misinformed). The male will push on until the female will say something like, “I guess you are right.” or “That’s a good point.” It drives me nuts! 7 July 2011 00:53

Bicilenta said… That’s what ignorance and inculture about what daily cycling really is do. Most US people think themselves the center of the universe and the rest is weird and unberable. And, of course, bicycles must be shown in an sports TV program. I’ve pedaled in Amsterdam and around the IJsselmeer and didn’t feel strange or unsafe or intimidated by so many people moving on bicicles. I pedal every day in my hometown and it is rare if I ride across four of five bicycles. That’s weird, not what is shown on your video. Congratulations! 7 July 2011 07:59

kfg said… The common comment words are interesting. I’m afraid mine don’t make list; “Dutch Women.” “five minutes of real time bicycle rush hour . . . This will probably open up a whole new range of interesting comments.” OK, yeah, got a couple more for this one; “Too Short.” 7 July 2011 14:06

mediumspiny said… Don’t be too depressed. If a million people have watched the video, some will have got the right idea. The TV programs that you refer to have to distort such things to make them funny, or at least what they see as funny. Hopefully the idea of decent cycling infrastructure will also become viral in Anglo Saxon countries. If it does, part of that will be down to your efforts, so keep it up. 7 July 2011 15:06

Micheal Blue said… Mark, I had a good laugh reading your post. People will take what they want from what you offer. If someone is against cycling, that person will use whatever he/she is presented with as a justification for his/her point of view (whether it makes sense or not), and there is nothing you can do about it. Yes, it is important to present things clearly, but then it’s out of one’s hands. The reaction of people is also the product of their intelligence… Thanks for posting videos/articles about cycling, Mark (and Dave). 7 July 2011 15:33

Corey said… I think you’re being a bit too critical. I see very few “dislikes” and the general response appears positive. I’m excited to see the in-line link to the new video to encourage more views! 8 July 2011 01:21

BB said… I love the man and his son pulling up to give way at about 20 secs in. The cup of the head as a reward for stopping, holding his hand for a short while, and then helping the lad push off with a hand on his shoulder. I wonder if the affection and closeness could have been expressed as well if Dad had driven him home. Lovely to see. 8 July 2011 04:49

Richard Grassick said… Great post, Mark. I guess we international cycling advocates are very aware of this “habitus” issue – how people living in their own little (or big) cultures cannot digest simple facts as facts, and distort what they see to suit their own world views. Infuriating, yes – especially when professionals like traffic engineers (sigh) display such narrow-mindedness. But possibly something to think about for we film-makers, when we explore how better to deliver “the message” to a largely ignorant public? Keep up the good work. Whatever the reactions, it’s vital to keep documenting best practice in the real world. 8 July 2011 11:38

Anonymous said… One of the problems we have in Australia (and the US) is cyclists breaking the road rules and “giving us all a bad name”. I was surprised to see cyclists (and pedestrians) running the red light so often. Care to comment? Also there was not one car!! – Codger from Aus 8 July 2011 12:00

Neil said… > not one car ?? There were cars in both videos? But not on the cycle path and agreed not many. 8 July 2011 13:02 Neil said… oh, and I think ‘getting a bad name’ is probably less of an issue when you are not marginalised. 8 July 2011 13:06

Clark in Vancouver said… The “us vs them” thing is largely constructed by newspapers wanting to create controversy. It’s their nature and most adults who have been around awhile can see through it. Some newspapers will foment anger and increase any divisions about anyone. They also work on creating an enemy and directing hatred towards that enemy while sitting back and pretending to be non-biased and raking in the money from sales. One thing they do is to make people who do an activity into a “class”. The headlines read “cyclists…” and not “People who cycle…” This turns them into a type of person as opposed to just a state that the person is in at the moment. Easier to create controversy that way if they can create the appearance of a threat. It’s exhausting when you’re the “enemy of the week” but we’ll survive it though and they’ll move on to someone else in a year or so. What can change it is having more people cycling. At some point someone can no longer conclude that “all those cyclists are bad” when there are so many of them that they see the differences. Some riding sensibly and some riding foolishly. Personally I see it as just a stage we’re going through. I’ve been cycling as an adult for a few decades now. Initially it was just unusual but nobody saw it as threatening, then it became more common and so I wasn’t alone and we could compare notes, now it’s picked on by the media and opportunistic politicians, and in the future I hope it’ll just be yet another choice for all people in how they can get around. Last year when Vancouver got it’s first separated lanes downtown the media whipped up a controversy about it, I was at a gay friend’s house and he was going on about the bike lanes and getting rid of “this flakey mayor” and so on, I asked him why all the years of having to read anti-gay things in the papers didn’t inform him of anything. If we can’t believe what the media is saying through their “framing” of an issue about gay people, why should he believe what they’re saying about “cyclists”? I think he got the point. In any case, the story isn’t over and reading this blog from another land and seeing the videos of everyday life there gives hope to us. We can already see now here in Vancouver how well things work and how resilient the streets and the car traffic are. Thank you for David for writing this blog. 8 July 2011 18:47

Mark Wagenbuur said… Thanks for all your comments. You shouldn’t take everything I write in this particular post too literally. I am not hurt in any way by all the ignorant responses. I thought that would be clear from the remark that I find them quite amusing and enjoyable. And yes, most thumbs are up so that is a good thing. And knowing that millions (when you count the TV-audience too) have seen my video, so they at least have seen every day cyclists for once in their lives, is a good feeling. @Codger from Aus All the pedestrians you see are really cyclists who have just parked their bicycle in the background, so there is no difference in behavior. Also you can’t really tell when it is red for whom. The traffic lights for pedestrians could be green while at the same time the lights for cyclists going one way are red and those going the other way are green. That is because the lights for pedestrians work only for the particular lane they cross and the lights for cyclists work for all the lanes and the light rail tracks they will cross. There is one bus lane in the front and two lanes for cars and buses in the far back and in between the two light rail tracks. Because it is such a long way all across all these, cyclists coming from the far end who had a green light when they were starting their crossing meet cyclists already waiting on this end because in the mean time in the far end traffic will start driving. This explains that not everybody you think is running a red light is really doing that. That said: there are some that do. Here in the west of the Netherlands (it is a bit different where David lives) we don’t really like it when we are told to do things. Including traffic lights telling us to stop. So yes it is not considered a really a big deal when some people treat traffic lights only as an indicator that it would be wiser to have stopped. Although you will be ticketed when the police sees you doing it and yes bus drivers will honk if you are in their right of way. And rightly so. That the lane in the front is a bus lane explains why there are so little cars there. Only taxi’s can drive there too. The double lanes in the background can be used by private vehicles. But only people dropping off others at the railway station would be driving there. This is no through street. It is only the one way street coming from the railway station. “Them vs. Us” is indeed alien to the Dutch, at least when it comes to cycling. 8 July 2011 23:07

Severin said… I think I originally discovered your videos when a site re-posted Rush Hour in the Netherlands 3 a year or two ago. Boy am I glad that somehow I stumbled upon your videos! I think it also led me to discovering this blog. That your content or at least one of your videos went viral is a good thing… even if it has also been followed by a bunch of ignorant comments 10 July 2011 07:44

Anonymous said… Isn’t the lack of outcry against cyclist running red lights also because people realise it isn’t the same as a motorist doing so? A cyclist running a red light only endangers his own life, a motorist endangers the lives of others. I find that this distinction is often not made in English-speaking countries, and the UK is about to introduce a bill that will make ‘death by dangerous cycling’ an offense (I don’t know how often that actually does happen in the UK, but the Dutch accident database shows one instance in the last ten years). 10 July 2011 16:24

kfg said… “you just can’t get enough of looking at these cyclists” Indeed; and as I cannot simply go out and sit on a bench for a while to look at them, I thank you. 11 July 2011 13:58

8 thoughts on “When a video goes viral

  1. It is not that hard to carry drive through food if you really wanted to with a Dutch bicycle, not that drive throughs are common destinations of Dutch cyclists. Really any bike with a rack or basket in the front of back will suffice. If someone wanted to cycle for two and a half hours straight, they would probably be cycling at least 50 km away, if not more. That is not required for almost all Dutch people. If you wanted to commute like that, cycling 50 km away, than getting a velomobile would be a good idea, if you just needed to go that far, like from S’Hertogenbosch to Utrecht, you walk or cycle to and from the railway station linking both cities and take the train. It is very common in the Netherlands to be that multi-modal. Even Mark here does it. In fact I described his exact commute pattern.

  2. I like this story. I saw it when you originally posted it, and I’d seen many Dutch cycling videos before that. I’d also been to Utrecht by the time you posted this. It. Is. Not. A. Big. Deal.

    It’s mostly annoying to read comments on YouTube videos. I posted a video of this battery-powered speaker set I had built and there was so much criticism in how I created it and which song I chose to feature.

    If you’re interested, although they have restrictions on HD videos for free accounts, the community at Vimeo is much more intelligent.

    1. I know you’ve been to Utrecht (and Houten etc.) and we should have met! 🙂 I have indeed opened a Vimeo channel. Slowly getting the name ‘BicycleDutch’ everywhere now. I am not really affected by ignorant comments. I only show reality. If people can’t handle that because of their frame of reference… then that’s their problem! People spreading lies, now that’s another story. But simply showing reality even more helps.

  3. After your repost I read some of the older comments with the video. I thought it was especially funny how some people were really amazed at someone cycling with two bikes (shown even better in your video ‘what defines Dutch cycling’). Apparently this cycling culture is so alien to many people that it evokes all kinds of emotions. I guess the underlying sentiments are both joy and fear, as they are most times. Well, I think it’s good that you unknowingly managed to stir up some things. Shows there might be different ways of doing things.

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