Perhaps the most important safety rule in dealing with other road users :
MAKE YOUR INTENTIONS CLEAR.
AND MAKE SURE YOUR INTENTIONS ARE UNDERSTOOD.
Meaning : looking ahead, using hand signals when changing course, and
MAKE EYE CONTACT.
In the Netherlands, bicycles are a normal and accepted part of traffic.
Car drivers are used to bikes, and generally take them into account.
But also in the Netherlands there's the category aggressive and asocial. Though you can find them with cyclists as well, of course.
So always be alert.
Out of own experience : especially be wary of cars with foreign number plates and obvious foreigners, who may come from a country where they're not used to bicycles. Or where bicycles are simply considered an inferior species.
When you cycle along parked cars, keep an eye on somebody sitting inside.
The door may open suddenly.
Make sure you have been seen, or swerve away. After you looked over your shoulder !
Very few people use them in the Netherlands. Mainly young children (who are forced by their parents), sport cyclists, and tourists.
Consider that 90 % of the bike rides in this country are NOT for sport or recreation, but for practical, everyday needs. Bringing the kids to school, doing the groceries, cycling to work, etc.
So, people don't cycle fast, and a helmet is cumbersome. Where do you leave it when you're in the supermarket, for example ?
Every now and then, discussion over bike helmets flares up.
Globally along these lines :
Sure, a helmet can prevent head injuries. But from the other side comes the argument that helmets give a false sense of safety.
What weighs heavier ? The global benefit of many people cycling. Or possibly more casualties. Less people will cycle if they have to wear a helmet, that's pretty certain.
In any case, so far there's no legislation imposing bike helmets. Not even for children.
For an impression of everyday bike traffic in the Netherlands, watch this video :
(click on image to play)
Just some statistics, to illustrate the status of the bicyle in the Netherlands :
There are about 18 million bicycles in this country. More bikes than people.
On average, five million cyclists make 14 million bike rides per day.
80% of all Dutch cycle at least once a week.
Those rides have an average of 3 kilometres, or 15 minutes each. To compare, in the USA that's 0,1 km, UK 0,2 km. Closest to the Netherlands comes Denmark with 1,6 km and Germany with 0,9 km.
Bicycle share of trips : USA and UK 1%, France 3%, Denmark 18%, Netherlands 27%.
These share figures are not the same for all Dutch cities. Amsterdam is average, 27%. Lowest Rotterdam 16%. Highest with between 35 - 40% Leiden, Zwolle and Groningen.
In the cities, the fastest and most flexible way to move around is the bicycle.
Although, allow me to note : if you're not used to cycle in an urban environment, cycling in a Dutch city centre swarming with bicycles, like Amsterdam, is not without risks. Many tourist do it for the kick of having cycled in Amsterdam. Sure, but practical for visiting ? Not really.
All main sights in the old centre are perfectly within walking distance. Also, when walking, you don't have to look for a place to park your bike. And no worrying about it being stolen either.
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