What defines Dutch cycling? (2)

When compared to other countries The Netherlands has a unique cycling ‘culture’. Three years ago I showed you some typically Dutch cycling traits. Mannerisms you certainly won’t see in countries with a more ‘racing’ type of cycling culture. Even in Denmark or Germany, however, the countries with a culture that comes closest to the Dutch, you will not find people who are always cycling side by side, or together on one bike, holding up an umbrella, or with a dog running alongside of them. To open this new year I would like to show you new peculiarities that could be seen as typically Dutch.

Dutch couples do not only love cycling side by side, they like it even more to cycle hand in hand. And what about cycling with a suitcase in tow? That’s what those suitcase wheels are for, aren’t they?

To her surprise, this couch surfing foreign tourist was picked up from the station by her host on his bike. It took some persuasion, but then she did take place and he towed her luggage. She had to take a picture of course and laughed when she saw me film.
Standing tall on the back of mum’s bicycle. Dutch children have no problem balancing on a bicycle. That’s why this girl doesn’t even hold on to her mother…

In the first video I showed you how people cycle with a passenger. It is perfectly legal to ride with someone sitting on the back of your bicycle in The Netherlands. But that back seat of a bike is not so comfortable. For a passenger the blood circulation in the legs quite quickly suffers from the hard metal seat. So especially children choose to stand upright instead. Is that also legal? Probably not, although I cannot imagine the law describes how you need to ride as a passenger. So I doubt you will be stopped while you ride in town with a passenger standing tall on the back of your bike.

The Dutch are also masters in cycling with large(r) objects. A guitar in a case is just child’s play. A chair, a double bass or a surf board, now that’s more like it!

This young lady was in a hurry with what seems to be a surf board in the centre of Utrecht (nowhere near the sea!). I had just enough time to get out my smart phone to film her in pursuit. I lost her… she was too fast.
The street organ ‘The Arab’ in Groningen, attracting an audience in the 1950s, many of whom stopped with their bicycles.

The music with this video is also typically Dutch. Street organs can still be seen and heard in many of the cities in the Netherlands, but this 1979 disco hit features the most famous of them all. It is called “De Arabier / The Arab” and its sound is considered the archetypal Dutch street organ. Built in 1925, it toured various cities across the Netherlands in its first decade. From 1935 it was owned by well-known Amsterdam organ family Perlee and they roamed the streets of Amsterdam with the organ until 1952. Then it was moved to Groningen, to be played by Hendrik Elderman. He made the organ really famous. It featured on numerous hit records and it was a familiar sight in the streets of Groningen. It also toured the world and could be seen in New York and London. But in 1977, when the Groningen organ player passed away, the organ was brought back to Amsterdam by the Perlee family. There it livened up the streets again until the organ found its final place in the Dutch organ museum in Utrecht in 2008, where it now plays its well-known tunes. Amsterdam, Groningen and Utrecht must be familiar names to anyone following cycling in The Netherlands. Three cities with a very strong cycling culture. With that connection it was the perfect organ to play the music in my cycling video.

The horse-drawn street organ ‘The Arab’ in Groningen made this boy on his bicycle stop and listen. The Dutch city streets were still so quiet in the 1960s that children could play in the streets.

With this video showing some more eccentric habits of the Dutch on their bicycles, I would like to festively start the new year of my cycling blog. Wishing you all the best for 2015 and I hope to entertain you yet another year with informative and positive videos about cycling in The Netherlands.

The elaborate and colourful decorations of the organ were restored to their original splendour in the Utrecht museum. The organ is still out on the streets often on special tours or organ festivals.

Video: Eccentric Cycling Mannerisms of the Dutch


28 thoughts on “What defines Dutch cycling? (2)

  1. I rode along the other day with a massive packet of mulch on the back of my bike. It was noticed by onlookers, however I knew it wouldn’t be if I was in Denmark having been there only 6 months ago. Similarly, 3 days ago whilst riding it was teeming with rain and I thought ‘If I was in Denmark, I’d just put up an umbrella and that would be normal. Here in Australia that would, well, be noticed by onlookers. Maybe changing this is taking action as cyclists – carry mulch and put up umbrellas, I say.

  2. Another thing that tends to define Dutch cycling today is waving to the person photographing/filming you for one of the several very good cycling blogs that are helping to show the world that it is possible to have nice streets we can all live in once again! 🙂

  3. You missed the annual getting your 6ft christmas tree home by bike – film the streets of Utrecht the first couple of weeks in December, and there are endless ways to get a christmas tree on a bike!

    1. Two other typically Dutch cycling habits:
      Riding without your hands on the handlebars. I quite like being able to stretch my back even more upright.
      Transporting a crate of beer (24x 33cl bottles) on the carrier rack of your bike, keeping it in place with one hand. Especially a typical sight in university cities.

      1. I scored an orange (of course) plastic handle looking thing that firmly attaches to your back carrier and holds crates in place using the space under the middle carry handle of the crate. It cost 5 euros from the Blokker. I love holland 🙂

  4. “Is that also legal? Probably not, although I cannot imagine the law describes how you need to ride as a passenger. So I doubt you will be stopped while you ride in town with a passenger standing tall on the back of your bike.”

    When it comes to regulating traffic, the Dutch approach seems to differ a bit from the rest of Europe. When the Dutch government ratified the Vienna Convention on Road traffic, an exception was made for a number of articles, including part of article 27. This article forbids almost all show behaviours from your video. Even the transportation of people on bikes and mopeds without an extra saddle would not have been allowed without this reservation. The stated reason for this exception was that such a rule would contradict the philosophy of the RVV1990 (road traffic act) that traffic rules should be limited to a minimum. The instruments for the police to act in case of clearly potentially dangerous situations are sufficient (such as article 5 of the ‘wegenverkeerswet’).

    1. Surely the Dutch police have many more important things to pursuit than some cyclists having a bit of harmless fun.

    2. Actually, a few years back when I was in Antwerp, I found out that in Belgium it is not allowed to cycle with someone on the back who has two legs on one side. Police told me when I was doing so. So I think there might be regulations in The Netherlands as well, but I’ve never heard of them. And I certainly think nobody would follow those regualtions 🙂

  5. Mark: You are an absolute gem! So much informative and entertaining content. I am a 75-year-old Canadian, originally from U.K. Now in Florida where I bike every day. Hope to get to NL again in spring with Dutch friends. Thanks so much for your unique take on cycling. Canada still has lots to learn about cycling as sustainable transportation! Love what you do!

  6. In the 1980s, when windsurfing was all the rage, on summer days the roads leading to the lakes and beaches were full of bicycles tugging trailers with wind surfboards, masts and sails.

  7. You write: “But that back seat of a bike is not so comfortable. For a passenger the blood circulation in the legs quite quickly suffers from the hard metal seat.”

    I think it’s not the hard metal that’s the problem, but having no rest for the feet, yet being forced to keep your legs steady (if you let them hang or move too much, you risk getting a foot in the wheel or hindering the person doing the pedalling). That’s not pleasant on your leg muscles.

    1. I think having to keep your muscles tense is initially the most inconvenient, but in the longer run, the metal carrier rack can block off your nerves and make your limbs go numb. I once collapsed onto the ground when jumping off the back seat after a 15min ride; a very strange sensation.

  8. Thank you Mark. I was very grumpy this morning but after watching your video with its catchy tune the endorphins are kicking in again.

  9. When I was a kid in the 80’s, people in the same street as my parents used special biketrailers to ride their glider planes (they had two) to the airfield. The wings were disasemled en stored lengthwise along the body. The whole contraption was probably at least eight meters long. They had to cycle from Etten-Leur to Seppe and the roads along the industrial estate were quite uneven.

  10. I love the little things about the Netherlands that you don’t see elsewhere. I came up with two that I found particularly identifying for Dutch cycling:

    1) Trying to lock your O-lock through your rear wheel, you find that a spoke or the valve is exactly in front of the latch. Instead of carefully adjusting the rear wheel, you just lift it up, give it a good kick, and hope that jolts it enough to be able to engage the lock.

    2) When you have to wait for an extended period, like at a level crossing or a movable bridge (or just a big junction), a mass of cyclists builds up on both sides. If you’re on a bidirectional path, or just a road that has a certain volume of cycle traffic that filters to the front, you end up playing a game I like to call Dutch Chicken where everyone lines up across the full width on both sides and you have about two seconds to get ahead of everyone else and move over to the right before you hit the stream of oncoming cyclists.

    1. I do the second thing all the time, simply because I don’t like slow cycling and can get up to speed pretty quickly. Someone should go to a busy place where that happens often and make an aerial view. It’d look pretty damn sweet I’d think 🙂

      1. A beautiful spot to film that would be the bridge at the end of the Overtoom in Amsterdam (near Surinameplein). A lot of cyclists are salmoning on the one directional bike path (since the proper route means a detour around Surinameplein with at least 3 traffic lights). When the bridge causes a buildup of traffic, the game of chicken there is extremely funny. It always surprises me though how it never causes any real issues, and how polite people resolve conflicts.

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