Wetenschap - 6 september 2001

The golden rule: buy a cheap bike with an expensive lock

The golden rule: buy a cheap bike with an expensive lock

On your bikes!

One of the main features of the Dutch urban landscape is the bicycles: they stream through the streets every morning and evening as people go to work and children to school. They are parked on every street corner and in their masses outside train stations.

Everyone arriving from other countries notices and comments on this form of transport which is so suited to the flatness of the Netherlands. Those staying for longer, like the international students and researchers, are all likely to acquire their own bike while here. It is far cheaper than a car, and quicker than walking or waiting for the bus.

The newly arrived MSc students have already been able to have a quick cycling lesson during their introductory week. Fortunately Wageningen, and the rest of the Netherlands in general, is well equipped with specially marked cycle paths along the roads, which makes getting from A to B fairly safe. Nevertheless PhD researcher in aquaculture Beatriz Torres remembers being terrified the first few times she ventured out on her bicycle in Wageningen. She arrived last September from Mexico: "Sometimes I would wait for ages at the special traffic lights for bikes, but they never seemed to turn green. Sometimes I stayed still while others crossed, ignoring the red light. I was mystified, but I think I was afraid because in Mexico drivers have no respect for cyclists. I think I caused a lot of trouble."

In fact the Dutch are very aware of cyclists. Most Dutch children learn to cycle almost as soon as they can walk, and many households have more bikes than people. This also means that car drivers do also look out for cyclists as they turn left or right. Perhaps this also accounts for the habit of Dutch cyclists of appearing to own the whole road.

It is worth remembering that bikes do get stolen, hence the valuable advice from researcher at Plant Research International Mazen el Tamer: buy a cheap bike with an expensive lock. It is also the ideal way to discover the wonderful countryside around Wageningen as well. Don't forget to make sure you take a puncture repair kit with you though if you go further afield.

Sara van Otterloo