Monday, September 5, 2011

Flat Lands ... NL

I'm sure most of you who know me beyond this blog know that I am now in the Netherlands. There is a lot that I love about the Netherlands: being a part of my heritage, there is a natural attachment to the culture, the language, the way of being. From a riding standpoint however, the flats really challenge me. Many cyclists really like the flats: the ease of it on the bike, the speed, the flow. However, being a bit of a lightweight mountain climber, I find the flats especially difficult: I would rather tough it out on a mountain any day!
I will give you a list of things that are unique to the Netherlands though when it comes to cycling:
-Helmets are not manditory. In fact, helmets are not even suggested! There are very few cycling accidents in the Netherlands despite the plethora of bicycles on the road.
-Bicycles are build to carry entire families: there are cargo bikes used in the Netherlands that have wooden boxes at the front of the bike. These (usually covered) boxes can carry 3+ children who are protected from rain!
-The "green heart" of the Netherlands near Hilversum is an area of farmland with long open roads (perfect for cycling). It is a beautiful area to ride. Farms back onto one another and are owned by different farmers, however, I have yet to see one fence between any of them. I'm not sure how they keep track of whose cows are whose! :)
-Cyclists do not acknowledge each other in the Netherlands. This is interesting since, in France, you are considered rude if you do not say "bonjour" to other cyclists on the road. The only reason I can fathom for this difference in culture is that there are so many cyclists in the Netherlands that you might lose your voice from saying "hello" so much!
-Despite a lot of rain, people, more often than not, commute by bike.
-The infrastructure for cycling in the Netherlands is far superior to that of any city in North America. Cyclists have their own lanes completely separate from the road (separated by a median). They have their own traffic light signals and their own bike highway signs indicating directions and city locations. There are red and white signs for more direct routes and green signs for rural routes that are more scenic. Superior system indeed!
When it comes to cycling as a lifestyle, the Netherlands is the best city I have found to date. A dutch friend of mine who has lived in Canada for about 12 years now recently informed me that she is considering a move back to the Netherlands. When I asked why, she answered with, "I am tired of getting on my bike everyday in Toronto and worrying for my life. Cycling is my lifestyle and I would like to live in a city that supports it". My move might be coming just as quickly!

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