The two-wheeled phenomenon
The Dutch came late to the game, with the “fiets” as the bicycle is generally known in Holland. Not until the beginning of the 20th century did the two-wheeled contraption gain widespread popularity on the Low Countries. But once the Dutch had discoverd the convenience and fun of biking, bicycles took the country by storm.
In spite of what many people think, the Dutch did not invent the bicycle. The credit is usually given to a German baron named Karl von Drais, who in 1817 created a heavy wooden two-wheeled behemoth that had to be propelled forward by awkwardly kicking the ground beneath one’s dangling feet. Next up was the Scotsman Kirkpatrick MacMillan who greatly sped up the developent of two-wheeled propulsion by creating a rear-driven bicycle, but ironically, he was also the first person in history to get a ticket for a traffic accident involving a bicycle - for knocking over a little girl with his new contraption.
Bicycles are eminently suited for Holland, which is mostly flat and criss-crossed with an excellent network of paved roads. The only downsides to biking in Holland is the strong and almost continuous winds and the rain – which can take you by surprise by drenching you before you have a chance to get your raincoat out. But on a sunny day, there is no greater joy than zooming around the countryside under the vast cloud-speckled blue skies – and you will not be alone. Millions of Dutch people use their bikes not only to commute to school or work, but also to run errands, go shopping, or go on trips and vacations. Riding a bike embodies all the values that the thrifty and practical Dutch hold dear: it is no-nonsense, convenient, healthy and, yes, it is cheap as well.
The Dutch love to tinker and innovate, and Holland leads in the design and construction of unusual bikes for practical purposes:There are cargo bikes for transporting groups of toddlers, reclining bikes that can almost go as fast as a car, covered bikes that allow you to arrive crisp and dry at work and even a “office” bike that features pedals mounted around a mobile circular meeting table (there is also a “party” version of this model which features a pedal-driven beer pump for less formal gatherings). Some two-wheeled projects are more ambitious: the Dutch currently hold the land speed record on a bike with an impressive 133,78 kilometers per hour. But if you’re not in rush, just grab a plain rental bike next time when you find yourself in Holland, and peddle away at your own pace. You will be sure to have a great time.