What have the Dutch Done For Cycling?

14th March 2018
Bikes Bikes

Despite its relatively small size, the Netherlands has had a huge impact on world cycling. We look at some of the ways Dutch influence may be playing a part in your own experiences on the bike.

Cycling culture

Normally if you say to somebody you’ll ‘go Dutch’ it means you’ll split the bill. But if you’re talking about bicycles, any mention of the Netherlands, Amsterdam or ‘Dutch style’ instantly brings up a very vivid idea of a type of cycling and cycling culture. Perhaps more importantly, that popular notion of Dutch bike culture — essentially, where cycling is part and parcel of everyone’s daily life and not a specific lifestyle choice — isn’t just a myth. In the Netherlands almost 90% of the population really does cycle regularly and just under half the population uses their bike every day. Add in the impression that cycling in the Netherlands is very easy, flat and relaxed (OK, that might not be always true!), and to the rest of world, Dutch cycling culture represents pedaling utopia.

The ‘Dutch Reach’

The invention of the Dutch Reach comes a relief to any cyclist work their salt. In an effort to make the world a safer place and avoid the fear of being ‘doored’ on your weekend ride, the Dutch Reach can literally be a life saver. 
In the Netherlands, because of the number of bike riders on the roads, people are routinely taught to open car doors with the hand furthest away, thus causing them to turn their body and look behind as they pull the handle. It’s such a good idea that Britain’s national cycling charity Cycling UK says adopting the Dutch Reach would significantly prevent ‘car-dooring’ accidents, which have lead to eight deaths and thousands of injuries in the UK over the last five alone.

The evolution of e-bikes

Electric-assist bikes are a global phenomenon that have enjoyed input from countries worldwide, not least the technical powerhouses of the Far East and Germany’s engineering giant, Bosch. But when it comes to supporting and promoting e-bikes to the rest of the world, the Dutch have done more than their fair share. In 2015, Dutch e-bikes sales accounted for €514 million — that’s 57% of the total new bike sales revenue generated in the Netherlands. In addition to this, e-bikes sales have helped raise the average amount Dutch people spend on a new bike to €1,058 — a world record. With such a discerning cycle market, we’re proud to say that Gazelle’s fantastic e-bike range has played a big part in this electric-assist boom, too. 

Cycling-centric city design

Dutch cities weren’t always focused around bikes. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a very real possibility that bicycles would all but disappear from the Netherlands’ urban areas. Then, however, two things happened. One was the oil crisis of the 1973 that sent petrol prices through the roof. But more important was the horrifying realisation that thousands of people, including hundreds of children, were dying on Dutch roads. That led to the Dutch government creating a series of initiatives — such as ‘car-free Sundays’ — and investing more in cycling infrastructure, particularly segregated cycling facilities. This vast network of cycle paths continues to expand, as does the Netherlands’ already impressively cycling levels: in Amsterdam cycling has grown by more than 40% in just the last 20 years. It’s a perfect example for the rest of the world to follow, and it’s not only cycle paths where the Netherlands leads the way. Which brings us to…

The ‘Dutch Roundabout’

The ‘Dutch Roundabout’ hasn’t (yet) acquired the title officially in quite the same way as ‘the Dutch Reach’ or a ‘Dutch Bicycle’, but everyone with an interest in cycling will know exactly what it means. Naturally, if it’s a piece of road design named after the Netherlands, there must be a bicycle involved and in this case the ‘Dutch Roundabout’ refers to a design where cyclists are given their own orbital lane, separate from motorised traffic, around the outside of the roundabout. This makes negotiating the roundabout far safer for cyclists, which is particularly important as two-thirds of collisions involving bikes happen at junctions. In fact, the success of this roundabout design is such that it is now being adopted across the world; the UK got its first ‘Dutch Roundabout’ in Bedford in 2014.

Pro cycling

Obviously, at Gazelle our focus has always been more on day-to-day real world bike riders rather than Lycra-clad racers, but we can’t deny that the Netherlands has played an important role in world cycle sport. Whether it’s one-day Classics such as the Amstel Gold Race, or the legendary track cycling ‘Six-Day’ circuit, there’s a lot of history in Dutch bike racing. We’ve also given the world some of the greatest pro cyclists, such as Jan Janssen and the fantastically named Joop Zoetelmelk, both winners of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. Or Hennie Kuiper, who won both the Olympic and the World Road Race Championships. Then there’s cyclo-cross, where the Netherlands has produced six male world champions. And we haven’t even mentioned the legendary Marianne Vos yet: the record-holding seven-time female cyclo-cross world champ, three-time road world champion, and Olympic track and road gold medal winner.

Great bikes...of course

Yes we’re proud of ‘Dutch Reach’ and ‘Dutch Roundabouts’, but the biggest namesake of them all is our beloved ‘Dutch Bike’. Actually, we’ve got the British to thank for that, because the archetypal ‘Dutch Bike’ is really based on a tradition English roadster. A more truly Dutch invention would be the bakfiets ‘box bike’ or cargo bike, which Dutch riders use to cart everything from shopping, to deliveries, to work equipment, to children. However, if you’d like a more manoeuvrable bike that’s been informed and inspired by so much of the Netherlands’ proud cycling heritage, take a look at the Royal Dutch Gazelle range online or visit your nearest Gazelle dealer. 

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