I waited ten whole days before buying a used bike and equipping it with a set of panniers. Despite being relatively comfortable on a bicycle, I was a bit nervous because there are so many bikes here. It seems that it’s how everyone in Groningen gets around. I decided that my first few outings should be at quieter times of the day, so as not to get swallowed up by rush hour traffic.
When I first found out that I would be living in the Netherlands, there were many things that I was excited about. One of them was having the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in a place where cycling is really the primary mode of transportation. I have not been disappointed in this regard. I’ve always enjoyed being on a bike and so I was eager to give it a try here.
In comparison to California, the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is incredibly well-developed. In the towns, there are dedicated bike lanes that have their own traffic lights. On major roads, these bike lanes are sometimes two lanes wide in each direction. One of my first challenges was figuring out how to negotiate the large intersections. When the cyclists have a green light, its green in all directions. No cars move, but there are bikes everywhere, coming at you from the left, right, and every imaginable diagonal. I believe that you are supposed to yield to those coming from the right, but you also do not want to stop in the process, so the trick seems to be to carefully increase or decrease your speed until you make it through the gauntlet. I’m still not completely confident when traversing a busy intersection.
There is also a network of bike routes that extends all over the country, 32,000 km in total. I’ve started to venture onto the routes that make up the “junction network” of paths. On these routes, intersections are numbered which makes planning your journey pretty easy. You can purchase a map of all the routes, or visit an online planner. Then, it’s a bit like doing a “connect the dots” activity. Today I road from 86 to 87 to 95 to 55 to 57 and so on. You really don’t need to consult a map (or your iPhone) at all when your riding. It’s really cool.
On today’s ride, I made it out of the city and into the countryside. I cycled along canals, polders, drawbridges and country roads and saw various birds, sheep, shaggy ponies, cows and a windmill. It was awesome! The only negative is the wind that whips across the perfectly flat countryside. I had forgotten that sometimes you don’t notice a tailwind until you change directions and suddenly find yourself face to face with a nasty headwind.
Next up on the bike front for me is figuring out how to take it on a train so that I can explore a little further afield.