Updated: Jan 18
By Lisa Montanaro
Thirty-two years ago, it was the summer of 1990. The Berlin Wall was dismantled, Madonna was on her Blonde Ambition tour, and a young woman was studying abroad in The Netherlands between graduating college and attending law school. She was immersed in all things Dutch — art, history, law, politics, cheese, windmills, and the cycling culture. It was an epic experience on every level. One that started her life-long love affair with Europe and cross-cultural experiences, fed her sense of social justice, and made her a lifelong cycling fan.
Fast forward to today... that young woman is now decades older and finally made her way back to her beloved Netherlands! In September 2018, my husband and I visited, spending half our time in Amsterdam, and half in Rotterdam (with a side trip to the charming town of Gouda, of cheese fame!). Amsterdam was as wonderful as I remembered: the van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank’s house, Stroop waffles, the parks, the gorgeous canals. We admired the architecture, visited cafes and shops, and peeked into apartments through windows. Everything we saw became a still life painting. Dutch beauty was everywhere. But it was only when I jumped on two wheels and cycled through the cities that I began to fully reacquaint myself with the local ethos. I felt connected with the world on a more intimate level, open and at ease. I waved at fellow bicyclists and stopped to admire the sites. I was in awe of Dutch bicycle culture. In Amsterdam, I watched hordes of workers commuting to work by bicycle, and parents trailing their children and dropping them off at a daycare conveniently located in a park right next to the commuter train. At the end of the day, I watched workers disembark from the train, jump back on their bicycles, and head to beer gardens located in those same conveniently situated parks. In Rotterdam, I saw a parking garage outside the train station, but not for cars – for bicycles! It had a two-tier storage system. We watched someone pull down the lever and easily put his bike on it. Impressive. Throughout the city of Rotterdam, there are grooves next to the staircases so you can easily walk your bike up and down alongside you. Such smart and thoughtful engineering.
It was remarkable to witness these clever innovations. It was such a wonderful marriage of engineering meets quality of life meets beauty. These innovations reminded me of what the Dutch know well: you can engineer beautiful things, but they are also the product of a lot of hard work. You must be able to dream it, plan it, and execute it. Cruising along on bikes, we navigated effortlessly between neighborhoods, parks, and sites. Compared to most Americans’ daily routine of being stuck in traffic and looking for parking, the experience felt joyful and relaxed. Our trip to the Netherlands was a reminder that we travel partly to glimpse new possibilities for our lives back home. We travel to be changed, hopefully for the better. Biking in the Netherlands made me imagine the pleasures of Dutch cycling culture being brought to pockets of America.
Indeed, some of those pockets already exist! Here in Yolo County, California, we are privileged to live in or near one of the most bike-friendly towns in the United States – Davis, CA. Biking has become a way of life for many in Davis, so much so that many residents manage to drive no more than a few days a week. Parents report that bike riding with their kids to and from school can often feel like the best part of the day. When you’re on a bike, you feel closer to neighbors, local shops, and nature. That cycling ethos is spreading to many other towns in Yolo County and beyond. Indeed, the town of Woodland is working hard to become a certified Bike Friendly Community and is making improvements to its infrastructure to encourage more riding. Bike paths and lanes abound – and are expanding. Local towns and their residents are paying attention to transportation on two wheels. Organizations like The Bike Campaign are working hard to marry biking with quality of life, infrastructure, and transportation.
What can you do on an individual level? Cycle more for work, school, and pleasure, and encourage others to do the same. Be innovative in planning out your transportation and stay flexible. If you see something that could change to make bike riding a better experience for all, speak up. The Bike Campaign and other organizations are all ears and would love to hear from you. I am looking forward to future trips to the Netherlands, not just to see windmills, experience amazing art and architecture, and enjoy the camaraderie of the friendly people. But also, to be both witness to, and a part of, the whole cycling culture, in all its awesome functional beauty. And to get even more inspiration to bring back home with me.
This article was written by Lisa Montanaro, commissioned by The Bike Campaign. For more information about how to “Drive Less. Ride More.”, contact Maria Contreras Tebbutt at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.TheBikeCampaign.com.
Lisa Montanaro is the author of the book The Ultimate Life Organizer and is a freelance writer for print and online publications. She is currently revising her debut novel. When not writing, Lisa helps organizations and people be more productive. And when not working or writing, Lisa can be found on two wheels cycling!