Pranav Kulkarni – Bicycling, by the way!
Cycling is not just a way of getting around in Netherlands. It forms an important part of the culture, almost like a religion. Considering the large, lush green meadows and flatlands, cycling is a very pleasant experience. In Wageningen, where a large part of the population is students, bicycles can be seen in every nook and corner. It is the most conventional means of transport and a very cheap one. It is impossible to imagine this place without its cycles.
For an international student like me, who hails from India, cycling used to be a thing of the past, that gets revived with fresh vigour. Here, you will find yourself, again pedalling with wind at your back and in your ears, with the same childish smile on your face as it used to be in the good ole’ days. The type of cycle you use, the number of gear speeds that you have, the colour, sturdiness of the frame, the lock, the seat, the bell, all these things regain their lost importance. It feels like being a kid in adult body again.
Cyclists in Wageningen range from law abiding, good-faith people to outright smart and indifferent people. In the rush hour, especially (around the time college starts in the morning and ends in the evening) you will get to meet all of these sorts. Some struggling with loads of baggage, some pedalling leisurely, some racing down the lane like this is their last cycle trip on earth and some being downright mischievous. It’s a fever that never went down, a circus that will never stop performing.
During the morning hours, the parking lots are crowded with people who have to park their bikes in a jiffy and hurry to whatever lecture or practical they are running late for. It’s like a super-busy market place which has stuff on sale. You will see cyclists running, pedalling, partially cruising, partially pedalling with worried eyes, scrutinizing the parking lot for an empty slot. It’s the same every weekday. What never ceases to amaze me is the fact that how do all these people find their bikes in such a crowd after they are done with the day? Well, they have a solution for that too.
Most of the students in Wageningen (and I presume, the whole of Netherlands) are very sentimental when it comes to their bikes. They will decorate it, make it a unique piece. Something more than a locomotive machine, a work of art. Some will apply paints, some will have nice side bags attached to their cycles, some will put up different things on the handle and some will leave the cycle bare but with very minute adjustments that just make their bike unique in its own way.
You can see from the whole range of cycles that hit the road every morning, that people obviously, prefer some brands over others. Fittings and comfort according to their needs. There must tons of models of cycles that can be seen everywhere. If there is one business, I were to invest in Netherlands, I will surely go for bicycle production. There are cycles of racer variety, mountain bikes, city bikes, folding bikes so on and so forth [Source]. They may have handle brakes (which most of us are acquainted with) and typical Dutch pedal brakes [Source]. Sometimes, I wonder, what would it look like, without the bikes? I can’t imagine.
For the first timers, the cycling experience will be a bit rough in the beginning (especially, if you hail for a left-side driving country like me!) but believe me, you will get adjusted to it. Just a few tips that must be kept in mind…
- Always look for “Alligator Teeth” marks on your track, it means you have to give way for people coming on your right to pass.
- Always use the allotted space for cycling. It is usually painted red and may have a sign board indication a picture of bicycle.
- Always follow the traffic rules, especially the signals at crossroads. If you see somebody breaking them, don’t be tempted to follow. You will put yourself and others in danger.
- Be polite and give way to those cycling at more speed.
- Use help of some websites that can be found of the university web site for tips and tricks of cycling in Wageningen. Example, https://weblog.wur.eu/act-essay-score/.
- Always use lights at night. They are there for your protection as well as people coming from opposite direction to know that you are there. It can be very dark at night.
- Although this rule is not mentioned anywhere, it’s a logical deed to do. Always give way to wheelchairs, electric bikes and handicapped people
If you are new to the town and want to buy a bike, always go for a second hand one. See that it is sturdy, doesn’t have any rusty and old parts. It should have both the front and tail lights intact. Although, this is an repetition of what many websites will suggest you, it’s good to go over the most important details. Another thing that you must know is that, there are some cycle shops in the market that sell second hand cycles. Your first cycle should come from such shops. You can also buy a second hand bike from some students who will put up advertisements on the Student Plaza or on poster board in Forum of WUR, but check the bike properly. No one should take you for a ride. Buy something, that will remain intact for at least two years if not more. It’s a good decision. Also buy a sturdy heavy lock on the cycle, its expensive but an intelligent investment. Bikes tend to get stolen in least expected places.
One thing you should be prepared for, and I found out the hard way, is that you will have to take care of bike on your own. If it needs repairs, you should learn to repair it. Of course, you will get help from some university association who volunteers, but its good to know the basics, like changing your tube, filling up air, oiling the chain, fitting nuts and bolts, etc. Doing all this in a bicycle shop will drill a hole in your pockets. Its good to be informed and help others who are in similar fix.
Other than these minor details, you will enjoy your time in Wageningen. Before you know it, you will be enjoying this mode of transport to the fullest. The bicycle will suddenly become your best friend and you will learn to rely on it.