If you have ever ridden a bicycle in Holland, you know that coming back to your Winnipeg bike is a little disappointing. I experienced that disappointment last June.
My spouse, Nelle and I took a seven-day cycle trip in the Netherlands, cycling from Amsterdam up along the northern coast to Texel Island and back.
Nelle (who is Dutch Canadian) had been on a prior cycling trip to Holland. That first evening out with our cycling group, she waited for my reaction.
The guide took us to the outskirts of Amsterdam. I was amazed and delighted! It wasn’t just the very pretty scenery, which describes most of Holland, it was also the comfortable, non exerting and upright ride on my sturdy two wheeler!
My thought returning to Canada is why don’t we have these types of sturdy, reliable bikes here in Winnipeg like they do in the Netherlands?
Imagine my pleasant surprise reading a story in a local paper about a Winnipeg couple, Anders Swanson and Leigh Anne Parry, who want to ship 100 refurbished Dutch bikes to Winnipeg.
That’s the number of bikes it would take to fill a shipping container from Tilburg, Holland to Winnipeg. Anyone interested can purchase one of these plain yet attractive and comfortable Dutch bikes at a cost of $250 plus tax plus a PayPal fee.
Parry explains they are not into making a profit – they simply want to do their small part to make the bicycle a viable means of short distance transportation.
Having sat down and chatted with the hipster couple, I learned the blithesome yet serious minded Swanson is a former bicycle mechanic who traveled to the Netherlands to learn more about bike repairs. That trip opened his eyes to the concept of mode share in action.
Parry adds Hollanders ride their bikes for transportation and not for sport. Nor would they necessarily buy a new bicycle. You can go to any second hand store and see rows of sturdy bikes on sale.
“I feel that we are trying to suggest that it’s for anybody,” says Parry. “You go over there and nobody is a cyclist. That was a big perspective shift for me.”
Holland is a cycle nation where everyone owns a bike and probably more than one. Whether you are a university student or a senior citizen, you own a bike. And why not, major intersections in Dutch cities yield to bicycle traffic – bicycle riders basically own the road.
It is no wonder, then, Holland is at the top of the list when it comes to the country with the most bicycles per capita. As many as 99.1% of the Netherland population are cyclists.
Amsterdam has 400 km of bike lanes and nearly 40% of all commutes in Amsterdam are done on bike.
Denmark comes in 2nd with the cyclist population pegged at 80.1%. The Danish capital, Copenhagen boasts that 37% of its citizens ride their bikes on a daily basis. See more at Top 10 Countries with Most Bicycles per Capita.
Closer to home, Minneapolis was named top bicycling city in the U.S. in 2010 by Bicycling Magazine. This past February the Minnesota capital was chosen as the site for the 3rd annual Winter Cycling Congress.
Director of Transportation, Maintenance and Repair for Minneapolis, Mike Kennedy, attended the Congress and says the twin city has a good reputation as a winter cycling city and was likely chosen for that reason.
Kennedy admits cities in Europe such as Finland do things differently.
“They have an entirely different transportation culture when it comes to bicycling,” he says. “They build entire networks around it. It has always been that way. While in the U.S. it is being introduced as a new mode of transportation” Kennedy concludes.
There’s an economic argument to be made for investing in cycling infrastructure. In Canada, we know there is a growing health crisis due to a sedentary lifestyle.
Cycle Canada’s website states: “The direct health care costs of treating conditions associated with physical inactivity in Canada are estimated to be more than $2.4 billion per year. Cycling has a preventative effect on many illnesses whose cause is due to this inactivity.”
Swanson goes further. “It’s the savings in health costs that will pay for the bicycle infrastructure,” he says.
The deadline to purchase a Dutch bicycle has been extended to Nov. 16, 2016 since Swanson and Parry have not yet met their 100 bicycle quota. They have, however, reached the 58 mark, probably more than any bike shop in Winnipeg has sold over this past winter. Swanson figures it will be easier to sign up people over the summer.
As for Nelle and I, we hope to be riding solidly built Dutch bikes by the spring of 2017. You can read more on the project at plainbicycle.org.