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From NYT: Bikes in Holland

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  • Richard Risemberg
    ... http://tinyurl.com/lcmnp ... -- Richard Risemberg http://www.rickrise.com http://www.bicyclefixation.com http://www.newcolonist.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 14, 2006
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      > In the Netherlands, Life Runs on 2 Wheels (Sometimes 3)
      > IJMUIDEN, The Netherlands, Sept. 7 — With more than two bicycles
      > per person and a landscape as flat as a pancake, the Netherlands is
      > a cyclists’ Eden.
      > That was evident one recent balmy afternoon as a gentle surf washed
      > the beach and another wave, far more daunting, headed to the beach
      > from the opposite direction. A stream of bicycles five or six
      > abreast, some with a single rider, others with a parent and one or
      > two children aboard, stretched as far inland as the eye could see.
      > Parallel to it, also headed to the beach, was a puny single file of
      > cars.
      > A generation or so ago, bicycles were popular substitutes for cars,
      > which were too expensive for many people and wasteful, in a country
      > below sea level and thus finely attuned to environmental matters.
      > Now, with greater affluence, more free time and even greater
      > environmental concerns, the Dutch are turning to bicycles in ever
      > greater numbers. Sales are booming, and there is a proliferation of
      > designs for all sorts of purposes.
      > Take Hendrik de Buyzer, a retired patent office engineer in this
      > fishing and steelmaking port of 15,000 people. Mr. de Buyzer, 61,
      > explained that he owned two touring bicycles, plus a tandem that he
      > rides with his wife. He recently bought an English Brompton folding
      > bicycle that he can collapse and carry wherever he wants.
      > As if all those were not enough, he recently paid about $3,000 for
      > a Christiania bicycle from Denmark for his daughter, a kind of
      > three-wheeled utility vehicle that she uses to transport her
      > preschool-age children. “The kids love it for a ride,” he said.
      > “She takes them out to the polder,” the land reclaimed by building
      > dikes.
      > His wife, he said, has her own bicycle, plus a Vespa scooter.
      > “Whenever it’s not raining, which it does all the time, I’m on my
      > bike,” he said.
      > Bicycles were in decline as recently as a decade ago, Mr. de Buyzer
      > said, as the Dutch increasingly turned to cars. “Now what you’re
      > seeing are recreational bikes, and more expensive bikes,” he said,
      > with a glance at his folding bicycle. He added sheepishly, “I take
      > this one with me when I go sailing.”
      > The bicycle vies with the automobile for space in bigger Dutch
      > cities, like Amsterdam and Rotterdam; bicycle lanes and parking
      > spaces reserved for bicycles are everywhere.
      > Given the Dutch appetite for bicycles, it is little wonder that
      > Frank van Oirschot joined two friends to open a business here they
      > call Amazing Wheels. In a sprawling warehouse along piers where
      > fishing trawlers once dumped their haul, Mr. van Oirschot runs what
      > is arguably the largest wholesale bike dealership in the
      > Netherlands, and possibly in Europe.
      > Leading a visitor through the warehouse, he pointed out touring
      > bicycles, the way the Dutch like them; electric bicycles, from
      > mountainous Switzerland; recumbent bicycles, whose riders look like
      > they are on a two-wheeled gurney; and all sorts of three-wheeled
      > models, for hauling groceries or tools or children. There is even a
      > bicycle that folds up into a suitcase, for carrying on planes.
      > “We have house painters in Amsterdam who love the three-wheeled
      > bikes,” he said.
      > In neighboring Belgium, Coca-Cola recently ordered 13 SmartTrikes,
      > three-wheeled bikes for carrying children or goods or both, which
      > it plans to use to sell Coke at amusement parks. “Thirteen is not
      > what I’d call an impressive investment, but it’s one way to bring
      > the brand to consumers,” said Wouter Vermeulen, a spokesman for
      > Coca-Cola. “It’s a bike-loving country.”
      > Mr. van Oirschot, 37, a heavyset former software expert, said
      > bicycles were increasingly seen as an expression of a lifestyle.
      > “It’s, like, for hanging out, almost as a fashion statement,” he
      > said, pointing to Phat Cycles from California, with their laid-back
      > look reminiscent of the movie “Easy Rider.”
      > Biking, it is clear, is a Dutch way of entertaining children or
      > grandchildren. Michael Pronk, 31, and his wife rolled along a road
      > leading to the sea, each with one of their 3-year-old twins on the
      > back of their bicycles. “On a day like this,” Mr. Pronk said,
      > motioning to the high scudding clouds, “instead of walking, we take
      > a bike ride.”
      > No wonder then, that on work days the train stations here and in
      > nearby Haarlem look like buildings afloat in a lake of bicycles.
      > At traffic lights, explosions of bicycles come forth whenever a
      > light turns green. When day care is out, young mothers pick up as
      > many as four children in comfortable wagons attached to the rear of
      > their bicycles.
      > Like all Dutch cities, Ijmuiden has bike lanes on the sides of all
      > its roads and bicycle parking places at all public buildings. At
      > any given moment in the downtown area, with its quaint red-brick
      > buildings, there are more bikes than cars on the roads.
      > Mr. van Oirschot said the increased use of bikes for recreation and
      > for staying in shape fueled business. “People have more free time,
      > and more people are trying to keep healthy,” he said. “And
      > bicycling is a popular way of doing it.”
      > Yet at bottom, he said, his success was a result of the Dutch love
      > affair with bikes. The average price the Dutch pay for a new
      > bicycle is $960, he said; the Danes come in second in Europe,
      > spending an average $700 for a bicycle.
      > “The Netherlands is primarily bike country; it’s something they use
      > daily,” he said. “It’s no surprise that we’re having such a success.”

      Richard Risemberg
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