If you ask a Dutch person what makes riding bikes so special, they won’t get the question. And if they do get it, they will simply reply it’s not special. It’s just the way…? Do you use your car to go grocery shopping or cafes to meet friends? Or travelling to other cities on weekend? That doesn’t make any sense!

However, for someone who grew up in India and spent couple of years in disturbingly organised, clean and tidy place like Singapore—biking in Netherlands is nothing less than “special.”

For the first fourteen months of the pandemic, I generally felt… pretty blah. Thanks to cycling, the last couple of months haven’t been so blah. Since April, I’ve cycled about 1500+ kms in total — odd rides in and around nearby cities and countrysides which made me realise how special biking in Netherlands is.

Replace this already glorious activity of biking with e-bikes in the Netherlands and you’ve got yourself a unicorn of experience [1].

In theory, I always knew how Dutch city planners treat pedestrians and cyclists as first class citizens and any other modes of transportation as second. In the past 1500+ kms I’ve seen that theory realise into practice. Dedicated biking lanes all across country, exclusive access to bikes (and pedestrians to exotic beaches), immaculate biking navigation system that doesn’t depend on GPS, you name it and that infrastructure exists.

Did you say you wanted to leave your bike at the station while you stay in the hotel or walk around the city? Train stations across The Netherlands have a bike storage system (free and paid (secure access if you’re willing to pay)) where you can leave your bikes. If you fancy, you can also pick up a perfectly fine bike from the station and explore places with it.

I am amazed every time to see bikes (and my bike) being carried in the trains. Once I’ve seen this made possible with human centric infrastructure, I feel like a fool to not fully utilise this from the very beginning of my move here. I also feel sorry for other cities and countries where the possibilities and potentials are still to be realised.

My bike and other bikes being carried in the train

Hello e-bikes #

After experiencing what cyclists get to experience in this country, I upped the game by getting an e-bike. At first, I was skeptical — guilty even — because e-bikes seem like cheating in some sense…? It felt almost as If I started riding an e-bike I would be stripped off my ‘cyclist’ rights.

This was until I came across “pedal assisted” e-bikes. With these kind, I still end up working out but exert about ~80% of effort compared to regular bikes. [2] Now this enables rides of much larger distances — ~80 kms and more without bonking. It is a weirdly freeing feeling that I can cycle from a city to another without running myself into ground.

Radmission 1

As a welcome side effect, I’ve started going out more often with this e-bike.

I am still finding the right words to describe the feeling of riding e-bikes but so far, I can say is this: E-bikes leave out every “average” aspect of regular biking and double down on the essence of what makes biking great in the first place.

Exploring “official” biking routes #

The last ride, and the longest yet (~86 km), was last weekend when we cycled from Den Haag — political capital of the Netherlands — to Amsterdam. We followed a part of the route called LF Kustroute, with wind on our side (we must have done something good to deserve this). Just by looking at the map, my expectation was that North Sea would always be in sight. But this was not the case. Instead, for the majority part we were surrounded by the “sand dunes” — known as Hollands Duin.

These sand dunes were a result of natural and man made phenomenon in a sense that after the dunes were formed naturally and then Hollanders extracted water from the “dune soil” and planted forests which is now a residing place of a thriving flora and fauna ranging from squirrels to deers to foxes and rabbits.

 LF Kustroute

Official LF Kustroute is 610 kilometres long, spread over 11 stages and I can’t wait to get to cycle the rest of it.

When I hear stories of other cities such as Tokyo where there’s a deeply problematic lack of commitment to providing the quality cycling infrastructure, biking in Netherlands feels like a secret, weirdly undeserving, privilege. There’s hardly a moment when the cyclists are not in their own dedicated lane. This writeup was one of the ways to honour that special privilege.

  1. For the lack of a better analogy. This experience isn’t real ↩︎

  2. Or this is a lie I have been telling myself. ↩︎