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Dutch customs

Bicycles in the Netherlands

There are a lot of bicycles in the Netherlands. It's one of the first differences that a visitor will notice — and one of the most important.

The pre-eminence of bicycles is not just an intriguing fact. Bikes take precedence in traffic. Technically, a bicycle has penultimate right-of-way — only the authority of a tram supercedes it. Everybody else must yield.

In 2007 a law decreed that lights must be attached to the frame of one's bicycle — could not be worn instead. Disagreement resulted. In Gelderland province, the police authority said they'd allow individual officers to make the decision.

From 2008 it's okay to wear proper lights properly affixed to one's body.

It's not as easy as it sounds. It's almost inevitable that a visitor will step into a bike lane, in all innocence — and get a taste of that angry bell.

The typical Dutch street has a bicycle lane on each side (usually red or yellow) and traffic flows quite smoothly. The interplay of bicycles in and out of laneways is a bit of poetry. The Dutch are good at it.

A typical of the Dutch bicycle is modest, with a standard tubular frame, straight handlebars, full fenders and three gears in the rear hub switched by a cable attached to a lever on the right handlebar. The bell is on the left, and on the left and right are the front and rear hand brake. A simple, cheap lock is attached to the frame above the rear wheel, made only to keep somebody from just riding your bike away.

Above the rear fender is a flat strong luggage rack used for carrying almost any object, or carrying a person. For a large object one may reach back and hold it on the rack with one's left hand — the right being necessary for gear-switching and rear-wheel braking. For carrying a person in normal mode, the rider starts to pedal and the passenger hops onto the rack sidesaddle.

Flat delta land, the Netherlands is natural bicycling terrain. Even so, the number of operable bikes is remarkable — greater than the population.