Cycling in the Netherlands: How to stay safe
The ways you can stay safe whilst cycling in the Netherlands may seem self-explanatory. However, this sports-loving editor has seen how quickly a situation can become dangerous when someone forgets a simple action like sticking out their hand to indicate a turn / change in direction.
First things first
Before you even make the first move of getting on your bike, have you checked whether your shoelaces are tied, and if they are, that the loops in the bow are not too long?
There is nothing worse than that feeling of desperation you experience when your shoelace gets wrapped around the pedals of your bike and it seems impossible to get yourself unstuck without either taking off your shoe - if that’s even possible, or letting your bike fall on you. Have you checked that the others items of clothing you are wearing won’t get caught in your wheels, chain etc?
Once this is ticked off of the list, have you got bike lights with you? If it is going to get dark, you will need them. You might think, oh people will see me, it’s not that dark... But truth be told, you genuinely can’t see a cyclist when it gets darker and they don’t have any lights on their bike - especially when you are on a busy cycle path, or they come from the wrong direction and you don’t expect them. Lights check!
Many of us may be cycling on worn down bikes, and whilst they may not look pretty or be in top form, the most important thing is that the brakes work.
Brakes are different per bike. Nowadays, the newer bikes have all kinds of fancy systems in place to make sure that when you squeeze the brakes, you actually stop. Some bikes, however, will have brake pads which wear down quite quickly, so make sure to have these replaced regularly to avoid an accident.
Pay attention to signs and others when cycling
Now that the basic steps to cycling are safely out of the way, let’s move on to when you are on the road / cycle path. Many people are let loose onto the cycle paths without knowledge of what the traffic signs painted in white mean or what you should do in certain situations. Here is some clarification, so you know for next time.
A very easy one is a zebra crossing; here traffic must stop for those crossing the road. Sometimes, these crossings will be accompanied by traffic lights, meaning those on foot can only cross with the green man.
As a cyclist, you should stop here if someone is crossing when the light is green. You should also stop if someone is crossing at a zebra crossing which doesn’t have traffic lights. Be wary around zebra crossings, as they often run across the cycle path and people tend to start crossing outside of the zebra crossing.
Shark teeth or give-way markings
Have you ever noticed those triangle markings on the ground? They are give-way markings, or shark’s teeth (haaientanden in Dutch). At these markings, you have to stop and give way to other people making use of the road.
The same is true vice versa, if you have right of way, other people have to stop at these markings. Usually, this is the case and you will be unhindered on your journey, but watch out because some people don’t pay close attention to these markings and you may find yourself having to dodge the people who should have stopped at the shark’s teeth.
Indicate a turn when cycling
Do you always stick out your arm when you are going to turn? Many people don’t, or they just point with their arm low to their side - so it’s impossible to tell if they are signalling or not.
It may not be the most elegant way to indicate a turn but it is the most obvious and safe way. Even if you don’t see someone behind you, it is best to indicate your direction by sticking out your arm; there might be a scooter behind you in the distance who sees you and doesn’t hit you, you can thank me later.
Also, make sure to look behind you before signalling, you don’t want to hit someone in the face with your arm, and you also don’t want to crash into someone because you want to turn - make sure there is a space.
Cycling next to friends
It’s always nice to cycle next to friends, it makes the whole experience that much nicer. However, when you cycle next to someone, together you take up most of the space on the cycle path. So, if you choose to do so, please remember to be wary of those who want to overtake you.
Those wanting to overtake will appear behind you on the left-hand side of the cycle path. Once you notice them, speed up and go in front of your friend, don’t slow down!
The left-hand side of the lane is supposed to be for faster-moving traffic, so if you slow down to move behind your friend, you will disrupt the speed of the person looking to overtake. They may not realise your intentions and will have to brake hard.
Have fun and stay safe
Cycling is enjoyable and you are meant to have fun, but do remember that it stays fun if you also stay safe. Keep these tips in mind the next time you hop on your bike!