I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid. Or at least that’s what I thought until I moved to live in the Netherlands.
First of all, forget about getting a fancy bike – anything more than EUR 50 will most likely get stolen within a week if you live in any of the large university cities (Leiden in my case). Think cheap, rusty, screeching, pedal-break type. And definitely double locked – once with an integrated rear tire lock and once with a chain lock, just to be sure! Oh, and don’t forget to pick a strange, easy to recognize color to paint the body, so you can spot your bike among the hundreds of bikes parked at Leiden Centraal.
So I bought a used bike on my first week in Leiden and went on to explore the city. The Netherlands has a very extensive network of bike paths – I am sure you can go from A to B anywhere in the country with just a bike. However, there are some things to keep in mind – always stay in the bike lane – usually they are red in color or have the bike sign drawn on them. Careful, some of them are one way, and people will look at you funny, even ring their bells if you ride the wrong way. Always have both rear and front lights, you can get a pretty hefty fine if you get caught without one at a regular police checkpoint (usually at a busy part of the city, at night). Luckily, almost anything counts as having a light, even tiny LED blinking lights you can attach to your regular (most often not working) lights. You can buy them at any convenience store for a few bucks. Drunk biking is also a reason for a ticket, sily as it sounds – the Dutchies take their biking pretty seriously! Crossing a street while the bike light is red is also not advised.
Alright, I have a bike now, with working lights, side bags to put groceries, working breaks, even a bell. I am only riding in the bike lanes and I even stop at the traffic signals. So far so good, until it starts raining! And the wind comes out! Usually I am not a whimpy kid, I think I can stand a bit of discomfort, but that wind just knocks the breath out of you! Not only that, but sometimes it is side wind, so I almost got shoved into the canal running by the bike lane! Interestingly enough, most Dutch people around me just continued on, while I got off my bike and went on to push it miserably along the way. I also seemed to have forgotten my rain suit – a pretty spacy-looking water resistant pants you put on top of your regular clothes, and a gigantic jacket with a hood. Some people looked like mini ships at full sail! But, when it is not windy or raining, biking in the Netherlands can be pretty awesome. There are a ton of tiny villages and pastoral scenery to enjoy. And, if you are in Eindhoven, you most definitely need to see the Van Gogh-inspired luminescent path that looks like straight out of Starry Night!