The biking culture of the Netherlands is known globally, but when you arrive here it can feel a bit daunting. If you were a casual biker (like me) before you reached the Netherlands, you can feel a bit of a learning curve when it comes time to switch over to your new two-wheeled primary transportation device. While trying to assimilate into the Dutch cycling culture, here's the gear you need:
Bike Well, duh. But where do you start? You can purchase a fiets (bicycle) at any bike shop but you can also find bikes at HEMA, the sporting goods store, the hardware store, at some markets, and online. You'll find a variety of bikes (racing, cargo bikes, "normal" bikes) so it's good to have an idea of what you're looking for when you walk into a shop. If you just want something to get you from Point A to Point B, you can get yourself a bike anywhere. Going to a bike shop means you will probably pay more for your bike, but there will be more options and (sometimes) higher quality brands; and if you want someone to guide you along, the staff is more than willing to help sell you something.
Lights If you intend to ride in the dark in the Netherlands, you need to have a white fietslampje (bike light) on your front end and a red fietslampje on your back end. And really, even if you don't intend to ride in the dark you may not have a choice during the winter's short daylight hours or during our frequent rainy, cloudy days. You can be stopped and fined by police officers at dawn/dusk/night if you are riding without one or both lights.
Lock There are more bikes than people in the Netherlands - but despite that, bike theft is high, especially in the cities. If you don't have a fietsslot (bike lock) on your bike, it WILL get stolen. Most shops sell this fancy rear wheel lock already installed on the bike, but they can be found in any place that sells bikes and sometimes even the grocery store and are easy to install.
Another Lock Seriously, bike theft is a huge problem. The rear wheel lock is a deterrent, but a bike thief can pick up the rear wheel and walk off with the whole bike if they really want to. It's a good idea to have a second, heavy-duty lock that can be attached to something permanent/heavy - like a fence or a bike rack. If it makes more work for a thief, they'll pass your bike over in search of an easier target.
Bell Sometimes someone ahead of you isn't paying attention and/or blocking the path. Instead of running them over or fuming at their slow speed, you ding your little bel (bell) and they (usually) move out of the way. It's a warning sound that allows you to politely make your presence known without accidentally yelling garbled-sort-of-Dutch to get their attention.
Fenders It rains a lot here, and the spatborden (fenders) help keep you a little cleaner while you're riding. My front fender fell off (which is a long story by itself) and I can attest that I and my bike frame are much dirtier when the ground is wet. Most bikes come with fenders installed, but again can be easily purchased.
Bags If your bike is your primary mode of transportation, make your life a little easier and buy some fietstassen (bike bags). I have 30 liter sized bags on my bike, a perfect size for a couple of milk jugs, a bag of kitty litter, or awkward sized items. You can buy bike bags almost anywhere, but if you plan on doing your regular grocery shopping on the bike, go for a higher-quality bag with strong stitching. Do know that the bigger the bag, the more likely that the corners will warp over time and start rubbing against the wheel - you see this with the folks that have the 50 liter bags for paper deliveries.
Rack As in the case of the bags, a fietsenrek (bike rack) is a good investment for grocery shopping or if you ever need to transport a big box. It allows you to carry more home while keeping your hands on the handlebar, keeping you as the foreigner without the natural Dutch sense of balance a little safer on your ride home.
Bungee Cords Carrying a strange or large load? Just like on a car, you want to secure it down. Many bikes come with some pre-installed bungeekoorden (bungee cords) on the rear rack. These are good for smaller loads, but if you have something large, you need more serious cords. You can buy a normal bungee cord to attach anywhere, or a bungee cord designed for a bike rack (see my photo above). I have both because I like to be over-prepared - and they come in handy for mega-packs of toiletpaper. I purchased mine at HEMA, but you can also find them at Action or a hardware store.
|A good set of bike bags will also have slots for your|
pre-installed bungee cords.
Rain Suit Have I ever mentioned that it rains here? No one likes riding in the rain, but sometimes there's no way around it. It's worth having a regenpak (rain suit) handy for those occasions. Here I am in Mark's rain suit (mine ripped). I look stupid, but I look *slightly* less miserable while riding in the rain. You can find these (or rain ponchos) at HEMA and discount textile and shoe stores.
Helmet Optional. Most people in the Netherlands do not wear helmets while biking. The exceptions are typically young kids still learning to ride on their own and people on racing bikes (the helmet completes the spandex ensemble). If you fall into neither category and choose to wear a helmet, know that you will likely get a lot of strange looks. One of the things to remember is that because so many paths are for bikes only and a high awareness among drivers to look for cyclists, riding without a helmet is safer than most other parts of the world. But of course, if it makes you feel safer to ride with a helmet, go for it.
With these items, taking part of the Dutch cycling culture can be easier, especially if you're without another form of transportation. Then you, too can haul all this (and more!)
Have you assimilated into Dutch biking culure? Do you have other recommendations?