The Dutch seem to have been born on a bike! It’s hard to imagine that, in many other countries, cycling isn’t such a big part of everyday life. But that’s beginning to change. In an increasing number of cities, local governments and private organisations are encouraging people to get on their bike. Although each city does so for different reasons, and with varying degrees of success. Claudia met with Dutch and international cycling organisations to chat about their vision and strategy. And one thing was abundantly clear: bikes don’t stand a chance without promotion!


Back in time

Although countries like Great Britain, Germany and Belgium dominated the cycling world in the nineteenth century, fast-forward a hundred years and the Netherlands leaves them standing. But the arrival of the car soon took their air out of their tyres. That said, the overabundance of cars cluttering up the street and clogging up traffic sparked resistance. In the sixties and seventies, Dutch citizens, and campaign groups in particular, struggled to assert cyclists’ rights and reputation. Events and demonstrations such as ‘Stop de Kindermoord’, ‘Het Witte Fietsenplan’, ‘car-free Sunday’ and protest cycle rallies culminated in a renewed infrastructure, a cycle policy and happy cyclists. The amazing network of cycle routes in the Netherlands today is largely thanks to the efforts of campaigners back then.

These days, there are more formal organisations such as the Fietsersbond and the Dutch Cycling Embassy who work hard to ‘maintain’ and spread Dutch cycle culture both here and in other countries. The bike is integral to Dutch culture and we excel at creating cycle paths, cycle bridges and even cycle highways. Does this mean that the Dutch favour the bike over any other form of transport? Not really, because many consider the car the ideal mode of transport.

Dutch bike promotion

“People still make an astonishingly large number of short trips by car”, says Lennart Nout of Mobycon, a mobility research and advice consultancy. That’s why it’s vital – also in the Netherlands – to make people aware of how much fun – and just how good – cycling is. Not simply for your own health, but for the climate and society as a whole. There’s no overall bike campaign in the Netherlands, but the importance of local bike promotion is starting to gain a foothold. For several years, Stichting Fietscultuur Nederland has been organising cycling events, exhibitions, bike lessons and information evenings in Amsterdam to raise locals’ awareness of the benefits of cycling. What’s more, the Amsterdam collective Cycle Space actively promotes cycling in general throughout the city, working towards the ambitious goal of ensuring that, by 2030, half of all trips in the city will be made by bike.

With Fietsfan010 Rotterdam even has its own online cycling community. It’s a platform where Rotterdam cyclists can share ideas on how to make cycling better and more fun in their city. Rotterdam council uses these tips and suggestions to shape their biking policy. Through events and activation, Fietsfan010 encourages more people to cycle. Activation, co-creation and crafting the right image is something all these initiatives have in common. They’re the key to a firmly embedded cycling culture.

‘Build it and they will come’

These success factors are equally applicable in other countries. The Dutch love of cycling is an example used in a rising number of cities. But there’s not always enough space to create a cycling culture. In some places, councils are investing heavily in laying cycling paths. The motto here seems to be: ‘build it and they will come’. In some cases, it’s true: “People are riding on it before it’s even finished” says Jeff Leigh of the non-profit HUB Cycling in Vancouver, Canada. But only too often, the paths are used by cross-bikers. Commuters and mums with kids aren’t taking to the bike as easily. And it’s not just happening in Vancouver. It’s the same in Melbourne, Orlando and Buenos Aires. Cycle lanes are mostly used by cycling enthusiasts, weekend cyclists and cycle delivery services.

Without good cycle promotion (that creates the right image) and a focus on creating a widely-supported bike culture, in countries like these, cycling carries specific associations. Cycling’s felt to be dangerous, sporty, or ‘the poor man’s vehicle’.  Chris Bruntlett of the urban mobility consultancy Modacitylife believes this is partly because the English language makes no distinction between ‘ordinary’ cyclists and racing cyclists.

Image is everything

The need for bike promotion to focus on creating the right image, is embraced by HUB Cycling and Modacitylife of Vancouver, Canada and The City of Orlando in the US. They share inspiring videos under the banner ‘CyclingAbroad’, projecting an image of cycling as fun and easy. But seeing isn’t enough – people need to discover cycling for themselves. That’s why they developed successful campaigns such as ‘Cycle to work week’ and ‘Cycle to school week’. Thanks to these events they’re visible on the streets and online several weeks a year. Using promo teams and check-in points to encourage people to get involved. Modest prizes are awarded for achieving set goals. It’s a chance to show participants and locals that cycling isn’t just a (hazardous) sporting activity.

In brief, cycling is becoming more popular in a growing number of cities. Councils are investing in good cycle paths and bike sharing schemes. But whether or not people welcome bikes as a good alternative to cars mostly depends on the quality of the communications, and on promoting bike culture.


If you would like to know more about the study, get in touch with Claudia. To find out how to engage cyclists to take an active role in shaping a city’s cycling policy, then download our whitepaper ‘Mobilizing citizen participation through social media’ or get in touch with us. In the meantime, take a look at our case Fietsfan010. You can find us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.  

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