A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
If you’re currently impartial to the notion of cycling, then have no fear – you will learn to love it. You will learn to cherish it. You will learn that cycling 100m to your friends place whilst wrapped in a duvet at 2am really isn’t such a bad idea because why walk when you could cycle? In return, your trusty steed will transport you far and wide, through wind, through rain, through hail and even through that particularly elusive weather condition known as sunshine.
And then when you fall foul of the dastardly bike thief or teenage comedian who decides that it would be ‘funny’ to fling your pride and joy into a canal, you will instigate a personal vendetta against said miscreant. Despite the glorious visions of hunting down this abominable individual and ruthlessly avenging the death of your beloved bicycle, you will gradually accept that there are over 13 million bikes in Holland – the sort of figure that makes a full-scale bike hunt rather tricky.
To illustrate, upon exiting Leiden Centraal station, you will be greeted by this:
The sea of bicycles.
A man-made wonder which inspires awe in every foreigner to set foot in this land.
It is impossible not to ogle at the sheer immensity of it but it was, initially, quite the source of intimidation. My mind was plagued by questions upon beholding such a sight – where do I cycle? Where do I walk? What do all these road markings mean? Will I get sued if I cycle into somebody?! Thankfully, after a thorough consultation of wikiHow, I realised that I had over-estimated the complexity of this task. Cycling in Holland is incredibly straight forward; there is no hidden ingredient to this phenomenon and it does, very rapidly, become second nature.
Nevertheless, here’s a list of 10 cycling commandments – compiled from past experience – to get you rolling:
1. Thou shalt ring thy bell.
There’s nothing like the shrill ‘DING, DING’ of a bell to startle you into consciousness on a morning as you weave about the bike lane. People are swift to reach for their bells if your cycling aptitude isn’t up to par, and whilst it’s all reasonably light-hearted, you also have the privilege of a bell at your disposal, to ‘DING’ at any unsuspecting amateur who isn’t paying attention. This leads us nicely onto:
2. Thou shalt always remember to cycle on the right hand side of the bike lane.
Perhaps an obvious statement for those who come from outside the UK, though thankfully the occasional memory lapse is permissible.
3. Thou shalt not park thy bicycle too close to a canal.
Otherwise, you may have to enlist the help of a very tall man with a very long metal pole in order to fish it out. For questions regarding how best to go about this, please contact Saleem.
4. Thou shalt not be afraid to purchase a bike with back-pedalling.
Whilst very easy to master, this wondrous invention of braking whilst pedalling backwards may at first be a tad disconcerting – especially when hurtling precariously towards oncoming cyclists and clutching desperately at your handle bars, only to remember that those brakes were a thing of the past.
5. Thou shalt always cycle with lights.
You may manage to scrape by with the occasional police officer screaming ‘LICHT!’ (light) at you as he whizzes past in a flurry of blue, but then again, you may not. The fine for cycling without lights is €40 and, considering you can buy some for as little as €2-3 in shops like Halfords, Hema or V&D, it’s really not worth risking.
6. Thou shalt invest in a decent lock.
This is an absolute necessity that can be purchased from any bike shop. Locks come in various shapes and sizes though by far the most common is a handy contraption permanently attached to the back tyre that uses locking skewers, or a standard chain lock to keep thieves at bay.
7. Thou shalt not park thy bike outside the designated areas.
‘Fiets fout = fiets weg’ – a rather ominous threat renowned throughout the Netherlands – if you leave your bike outside the designated areas then it will be removed and you’ll be forced to pay €15 to retrieve it. To peruse the list of orphan bikes, click here.
8. Thou shalt not cycle over broken glass, 3 consecutive days in a row.
If, like me, you’re unlucky (or daft) enough to do so, then I would recommend Budget Bike for all your bicycle needs. They’re cheap, thorough and willing to throw in some light-hearted mockery at no extra cost.
9. Thou shalt paint thy bicycle in a multitude of garish colours.
Garish/aesthetically pleasing: both are very relative terms. Nevertheless, painting your bike does act as a deterrent for thieves (not only because it’s garish but also because it makes it more traceable) and there’s nothing like seeing a fluorescent yellow bike coated in equally luminous flower stickers to brighten your day.
10. Thou shalt attempt to cycle in true Dutch style.
Once you’ve purchased your traditional omafiets (literally translated as ‘Grandma bike’), you’re ready to start practising the art of Dutch cycling: the extra passenger on the back, the shopping bags on either handlebar, the hands in the pockets – all executed seamlessly.