A survival guide to cycling in the Netherlands
Dutch babies are placed on a bicycle right after birth. At least, that's the perception many foreigners have when they witness Dutch people of all ages cycling around effortlessly (and without helmets!). Interested in discovering the true cycling prowess of the Dutch and joining the Dutch cycling culture? Dive into the details right here!
Bicycle facts & figures
Let's begin with some fascinating facts and figures about cycling in the Netherlands. These will come in handy for your next "kringverjaardag" - that's the kind of birthday party where everyone sits in a big circle in the living room and (if you're unlucky) snacks on cubes of cheese and slices of liver sausage.
There are more bicycles (23 million) in the Netherlands than people (17 million).
Over half of all trips taken in the Netherlands are done by bicycle. In comparison, only 1% of trips in the US and a slightly higher 2% in the UK are made by bike.
Cycling to work is the norm here. Even our Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, commutes by bike, as do many members of the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives).
On average, the Dutch cycle a staggering 15 billion kilometers per year, which amounts to about 2.4 kilometers per person per day or 880 kilometers per year.
The Dutch cycling infrastructure boasts an impressive 35,000 kilometers of bike lanes, with 70% of them being separate from the main road. In Eindhoven alone, you'll find 270 kilometers of bike lanes.
The largest bicycle parking facility in the world is in Utrecht, with a capacity of 12,500 bicycles. You can find the largest parking facility in Eindhoven at the train station; this parking accommodates 5,000 bikes.
Eindhoven ranks 11th worldwide as the most bicycle-friendly city (source: Copenhagenize Index).
A short history of bicycle and bike paths
For enthusiastic learners, let's delve into a concise history lesson on bicycles and bike paths. Not in the mood? Feel free to scroll down to "Types of Bicycles"; we won't judge.
History of the bicycle
The first bicycle was invented in 1817 by Karl Drais. He aimed to create a means of transportation independent of animals and devised a balance bike for adults. It was known as the Laufmaschine, which translates to "walking machine" in German. Pierre Lallement, a French baby carriage maker, found all the walking rather inconvenient. Consequently, in 1867, he introduced the first bike with pedals, called the vélocipède. The pedals were attached to the front wheel axle. We'll spare you the physics behind it, but these bikes, with two equally sized wheels, didn't achieve high speeds. Consequently, the so-called "Penny-farthing" emerged in 1871, featuring a bicycle with a colossal front wheel. These models could easily reach speeds of 30 kilometers per hour.
In 1885, John Kemp Starley from England invented the "Rover safety bicycle." This bicycle was the first to incorporate a chain, separating the pedals from the front wheel. His invention essentially resembles the bicycles we know today, except for the tires. Until 1888, solid rubber tires were used, which weren't particularly comfortable on cobblestone roads. Industrial designer John Dunlops (a familiar name among bicycle enthusiasts) invented the inflatable tire. Thanks to him, we no longer have to endure bouncing around on our saddles.
Popularity of the bicycle in the Netherlands
Between 1890 and 1900, the bicycle experienced a growing popularity in the Netherlands. During that period, a bicycle would cost between 50 and 100 guilders (22 to 44 euros), which was a considerable expense considering the average weekly wage of a worker ranged between 10 and 15 guilders. This made bicycles particularly favored among wealthier individuals. However, many workers also owned bicycles, often provided as "company bicycles." Dutch employers were notably quick in implementing this practice, compared to other countries, which undoubtedly contributed to the bicycle's popularity.
Toward the end of the 19th century, public transportation in the Netherlands was somewhat unreliable. Trains were frequently overcrowded, and bus and streetcar connections were limited. By providing their employees with bicycles, employers circumvented the issue of late arrivals. Moreover, this granted employees more freedom and leisure time, fostering increased loyalty. Throughout the 20th century, the popularity of the bicycle, often referred to as the "steel steed," continued to grow in the Netherlands. This was largely due to the construction of bicycle paths by numerous municipalities, aiming to promote healthier modes of transportation.
Wooden bicycle paths
In 1896, Eindhoven got its first bicycle path, initiated by the Nederlandse Wielrijdersbond (the Dutch Cycling Association). It ran along Stratumsedijk from Geldropseweg to Leenderweg. It's hard to imagine, but this path was made out of wood, which provided a remarkably comfortable alternative to Eindhoven's numerous uneven and dusty roads. This path gained immense popularity, leading to the subsequent construction of numerous other bicycle paths.
During the 1930s, concrete gradually replaced all wooden bicycle paths. While wood was certainly an improvement over dusty dirt roads, the wooden bike lanes were susceptible to wear and tear, requiring regular maintenance. Additionally, they became slippery after rainfall. And, as you might know by now, rain showers aren’t as uncommon as we would like. We'll delve into that hurdle for new cyclists later! Nowadays, most bicycle paths are made of concrete or asphalt. However, you can still find wooden bicycle paths in certain nature reserves.
Juliana the influencer
In 1936, Princess Juliana got engaged to Prince Bernhard. As part of the traditional engagement photo shoot, the couple rode a tandem bicycle. The result was an iconic photograph that further elevated the popularity of bikes.
Europe's most notorious bicycle thief: Hitler
Unfortunately, Dutch cycling history also includes a dark chapter. Towards the end of World War II, in 1944, fuel became scarce, and many military vehicles were in disrepair. Hitler issued orders for his soldiers to seize as many bicycles as possible. As a result, over 100,000 bicycles were stolen in the Netherlands. This act still elicits anger from many older Dutch individuals toward the Germans.
Types of bicycles
Okay, now that you're caught up on our selective history of bicycles, let's move on to the many types of bicycles that the Netherlands has to offer. This is especially useful if you're new to the country and want to choose one for yourself. We're certainly not exhaustive here, so feel free to seek advice. At one of these bicycle shops, for example!
Do you have a bike already? Skip to bicycle rules & bicycle etiquette or our tips for new bike owners!
Pro tip: Check if your employer has a ‘fietsplan’ (a bicycle plan). This arrangement often gives you a great deal on a new bike.
Children's bikes (and why we're all such good cyclists)
Dutch babies aren't exactly placed on a bicycle saddle directly from the womb, but they don't have to wait very long. Many children receive a balance bike before they can walk independently. This is often followed by a tricycle with pedals, which is a nice and stable introduction to their future as amazing cyclists. When children are around three years old, they often get their first two-wheeler with training wheels. As soon as they can balance a little, those wheels come off. Children's bikes often have a tall flag on the back, so motorists can see them from a distance. In the last two years of primary school, children take a traffic exam. This includes a cycling exam, in which they demonstrate that they can cycle safely.
Grandma and grandpa bikes (perfect for parking near the train station)
By far the most popular bicycles in the Dutch streetscape are the omafiets and opafiets (which translates to grandma and grandpa bikes). These are no-nonsense bikes without gears or hand brakes. Little fuss, so there's little that can go wrong. Many Dutch people have a grandma or grandpa bike as a second bike. Often a rusty old thing they picked up for a few tens of euros, so it isn't a big deal if it's stolen. They use these as ‘stationfietsen’, in other words: bicycles they use to get to the train station, a popular spot for bicycle thieves.
Pro tip: Many bicycle shops and bicycle repairers sell (refurbished) second-hand bikes with a warranty.
City bikes (for those who want to go fast)
The slightly more active cyclist often chooses a ‘stadsfiets’ or city bike. These are bikes with a number of gears and hand brakes. You can go a little faster on them. These bikes usually have a closed chain guard, so you don't have to do as much maintenance. There are also super sporty city bikes with dozens of gears. A bicycle shop can tell you all about them.
Road bikes and mountain bikes (bikes for sports and fun)
For people who see cycling as a sport, there are road bikes (also called racing bikes) and mountain bikes. The former has thin tires that allow you to go fast. The latter has very thick tires so you can cycle on rough terrain. As a sporty cyclist, you can immerse yourself in the rich cycling culture in Eindhoven. Join one of the many cycling groups or enjoy a well-deserved beer with fellow cyclists outside a bike-friendly café after a long ride.
Electric bicycles (a little cheating is allowed)
Lazy people, those who don't like sweaty armpits, and/or those who must travel long distances daily can cheat a little with an electric bicycle. Nowadays, school children also ride electric bikes en masse. Standard electric bikes can go up to 25 kilometers per hour. Does your e-bike go faster? Then it’s officially a moped. That means a helmet is mandatory and you have to cycle on the road if the maximum speed on the bike path is less than 50 kilometers per hour.
Pro tip: always be careful when crossing a bike path because you can easily be knocked off your feet by a cycling commuter or a delivery person on an electric bicycle.
Folding bikes (convenient and compact)
You might occasionally see them on the train: folding bikes. These bicycles can be folded, hence the name, and conveniently carried to the office or on public transportation. Another advantage is that you can easily store them in your house.
Cargo bikes (who needs a car anyway?)
The cargo bike has become an integral part of the Dutch cycling culture. You often see them near schools, with a bunch of children in the cargo area. These practical bikes are also handy for transporting heavy groceries or moving a small inventory. Cargo bikes are often electric; otherwise, riding them would require too much effort.
Recumbent bikes and tandems (for eccentric cyclists)
We conclude with some peculiar bikes. First, the recumbent bike. This type of bike was invented in the 1930s but didn't really hit the market until the 1970s. You occasionally see one riding by. Like many niches, there are special recumbent bike events for enthusiasts. Next up is the tandem, which you already saw with Juliana. This bike for two people was invented in 1880 as a specialized racing bike. Nowadays, it's primarily used for enjoyable bike rides with your partner or a friend. If you search for "Tandem rental Eindhoven," you'll find plenty of places to rent one, often with a beverage arrangement included.
Pro tip: If you're unsure about your duration of stay, you can temporarily lease a bike through a service like Swapfiets. If it gets stolen or accidentally damaged, you'll receive a replacement. You can also temporarily rent an ov-fiets at the train station or one of the many electric rental bikes on offer in the city.
Biking rules & bike etiquette
We wish it were a no-brainer to follow traffic rules, but anyone who has cycled in a Dutch city for more than 5 minutes quickly realizes that many people don't know the rules very well (or deliberately ignore them). Are you new in the Netherlands? On behalf of all Dutch people, we urge you to memorize these rules. Bike etiquette is optional, but it'll definitely make you some friends. Or at least not enemies.
Pro tip: In many neighborhoods in the city, you can take free bicycle lessons for adults. Google "fietsles Eindhoven" and see what options are available in your area! The websites are in Dutch, but Google Translate can help you out. And most instructors will be able to teach you in English (or at least in Dunglish).
The bike rules (avoid getting fined)
Keep right. Like all traffic, cyclists stay on the right side of the road, unless there’s a two-way cycling lane on one side.
Give way to traffic on your right unless there are signs shaped like shark teeth painted on their end of the road. They’re the Dutch equivalent of the single give-way triangle.
If you're turning right or left while a pedestrian is going straight, the pedestrian has the right of way.
Stop at zebra crossings. Especially in the city center, people often don't take it seriously, even though there are many pedestrians around.
Don't bike on the sidewalk. Only children under 12 on kids' bikes are allowed to do that.
Keep your mobile phone in your pocket. Even if you're just holding it, you'll get a hefty fine if caught. Plus, there's nothing more annoying than a cyclist who's texting and swerving in front of you. You don't want to be that person!
Ensure you have proper lighting. And not just a "I have a light so I won't get fined" kind of setup, but actually good lighting so that cars can see you in the dark.
Signal your turns by extending your arm. Do it well before your turn so that people behind you can anticipate. Bonus points if you also signal when you're halfway on a bike path and leaving the path.
Bike etiquette (avoid getting yelled at)
Don't cycle two abreast when the road is busy, or on narrow bike paths. If you do and someone wants to overtake you, speed up to cycle in front of your companion. Don’t slow down!
Don't bike against the flow, unless there's no other choice. As a wrong-way cyclist, you never have the right of way, not even over pedestrians crossing the bike path.
Look behind you before overtaking someone. A speedy cyclist can't brake in time if you suddenly veer to the left.
Speaking of braking, do it when you're right in front of the traffic light, not meters before. Blocking an intersection by braking at a distance is super annoying for anyone who wants to cross that intersection.
In any case, don't block intersections, but wait before the intersection if there's no room at the traffic lights.
If you're not the most skilled cyclist, try to wait as far to the right as possible at a traffic light. The "left lane" is for speedy departures. So as an inexperienced or slow cyclist, it's better to wait behind someone.
Want to learn more about safe cycling for yourself or your child? Check out these links!
Tips for first-time cyclists
If you want to immerse yourself in Dutch bike culture, it all starts with getting a new bike. But what else should you keep in mind as a brand-new bike owner? We've got you covered!
Get an extra lock
With a sturdy chain lock, you make stealing your precious bike much harder for bike thieves. Just make sure you buy a decent lock. Luckily, there are quality certificates for that. A lock with an ART 2 or 3 certificate (or higher) is top-notch. Always lock your bike to something secure. Just looping a chain lock through the wheels is only a minor obstacle for thieves; they'll load your beautiful bike and its proper lock into their white van.
Is your bike nowhere to be found?
The municipality isn't a fan of illegal parking. Not even with bikes. If you do it anyway and find your bike missing, it's likely impounded. You can retrieve it at the gemeentedepot (municipal depot) on Vestdijk 147. It could also have been loaded into one of those aforementioned vans. If this is the case, the chances of you being reunited with your steel friend are slim. But if the municipality or police find your bike, they'll post it on verlorenofgevonden.nl, a site for lost and found bicycles.
Ensure proper lighting
We briefly mentioned it in the rules and etiquette section, but it's important to have good lighting. If you often ride on dark roads, it's smart to carry a set of detachable LED lights in case your bike light fails. A safety vest isn’t a luxury either, especially on country roads.
Get some good rain protection
As a cyclist in the Netherlands, chances are you'll get drenched a few times a year (okay, per month). So, get yourself a good pair of rain pants and a rain jacket, or one of those ponchos that covers your handlebars to keep your legs dry. Experienced cyclists may try a storm umbrella, but if you're reading this, you're probably not ready for that.
Pro tip: Want to truly integrate into Dutch bike culture? Get matching cycling outfits for you and your partner, like those available at the ANWB store.
Beware of smelly armpits
Cycling can be hard work, especially when it's hot out. On behalf of your colleagues, friends, and family, we advise you not to bike so fast that you're sweating profusely. If this is unavoidable, pack a clean shirt and deodorant for a quick freshen-up at your destination.
Treat your bike to regular maintenance
If you've bought a nice bike, make sure to have it tuned up annually at a bike shop. It'll ride like a dream, and your trusty steed will last much longer. Keep your tires pumped up regularly and avoid leaving it outside in the rain too often.
Eindhoven bike routes
Got all excited about cycling in Eindhoven? Awesome! We've got some great tips for you. How about these bike routes? From the "Rondje Eindhoven" tour around the city to a trip to the famous Van Gogh bike path. Another fun way to explore the city is through our Hotspot Bike Tour or Street Art Bike Tour with a guide!
For those who love unique bike paths, make sure to check out Hovenring and Fietsbrug Tegenbosch. Both are spectacular bike bridges. Berenkuil (Dutch for bear pit) is also worth a visit. This traffic square, officially known as "Insulindeplein," gets its name from the concrete "bears" surrounding the roundabout. Especially for foreigners, a bike roundabout under highways is quite extraordinary. But thanks to the graffiti, it's fun for everyone to take your bike a spin through here.
After a nice bike ride, take a seat at one of these bike-friendly cafes and enjoy a well-deserved beer!