For the first time in bike industry history, ebike sales surpassed bike sales. There is only one place in the world where this could happen, and that's the Netherlands.
The Dutch community holds the highest number of bikes per capita, averaging 1.3 bikes per person. Biking is the primary mode of transportation, and it's just as natural as walking or driving.
This is a big reason why our European headquarters is based in Utrecht, Netherlands -- one of the most bike-friendly places in one of the world’s most bike-friendly countries. We want to be at the center of mass-biking culture and apply what we learn there to bring biking normalcy to the rest of the world.
Achieving The Trifecta
In the U.S., there is an ongoing debate about what it means to be a cyclist. Bikes were originally designed to be a mode of transportation, but some riders are adamant that biking should only be for exercise. In the Netherlands, bicycles are a way of life, and cyclists appreciate that they can be used for leisure, exercise, and transportation.
Take Teun, our European Commercial Sales Rep. He takes his kid to day care on his RadWagon and uses it to commute in to work and generally get around the city. During the mornings, evenings, and weekends, he rides his road bike to exercise and participate in races.
The authors of “Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality,” put it this way: “The Dutch have wielrenners, or ‘wheel runners’ -- the sporty cyclists -- and they have fietsers, or just ‘someone on a bike." When you talk to somebody in the Netherlands about what makes biking special, most of them will look at you quizzically, sort of like asking someone in the U.S. what makes their car commute a special time for them.
Growing Up On Two Wheels
Biking is in the blood of the Dutch. Children in the Netherlands will learn how to ride a bicycle by the age of three. School buses do not exist. Kids bike to school throughout their entire education and start taking bike-skills courses around age 10 or 11. The class is as robust as driver’s ed, and includes both written and riding components. When kids enter a secondary school that is farther from home, they will often switch to an ebike.
No Helmet, No Problem
As a visitor from North America, one of the first things you tend to notice about Dutch bikers is that they don’t wear helmets. What might seem like the opposite of bike safety, the authors above explain, is actually very safe. “It’s far more important to build this culture of everyday cycling, and to build safe streets, instead of requiring people to protect themselves.”
In Utrecht, a city that's not quite 40 square miles, there are more than 250 miles of bike infrastructure. All lanes have traffic lights for bikes, and often turning lanes as well.
As reported in the New York Times, Utrecht is home to the world’s largest bike parking garage. It's just one example of how the Netherlands’ federal government has been building up the country’s bike infrastructure over the last decade, despite cuts in other sectors. The increased infrastructure has led to more people using their bikes daily and contributes to the reduction of road accidents for both cars and bikes. The growth in ridership is also attributed to electric bikes, which allow riders to travel longer distances and lengthens the time that many older people can ride for.
Important PSA: We still recommend that people wear helmets whenever they are on a bike, but we appreciate the Dutch community's commitment to safety in multiple forms.
It’s refreshing to see the bikes in Europe. Most of them are old and rusty, built with make-shift baskets and seat attachments, and cost less than 300 euros. They're tools, not jewels, and it's this casual, approachable mindset that should inspire anyone to hop on board.
The Netherlands is consistently cited as an example of cities around the world that aim to improve their own unique biking communities. At Rad Power Bikes, we're motivated by their long-standing culture and will continue to leverage our presence in the area to help improve biking for riders worldwide.