“Bicycle, bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle…” You all know this famous song from Queen. You would almost think that this band grew up in the Netherlands. Because everywhere you look in this country you see bikes, bikes, bikes. So I hope by now you all own one of those precious two-wheelers. They will be your right hand during your stay in Utrecht. But besides being very handy they can also be very dangerous. Especially for people who are not used to ride a bike. Turning right or left without signaling with your hand, cycling in the dark without lights on your bike or driving on the wrong side of the road… It is all part of daily cycling culture down town. Unfortunately we can’t stop others from this reckless driving behavior but we can teach you the most important cycling rules to make sure you won’t make any rooky mistakes. I will cover the most important rules which are especially useful in Utrecht.
Rule #1: Always sign with your hand when you want to turn right of left.
This rule kind of speaks for itself and is especially applicable to the cycle lanes around Utrecht Central Station nowadays. The traffic situation changes there literally every day, so show where you want to go and you will avoid bicycle accidents like a pro.
Rule #2: Please, please obey the traffic lights.
You may think I’m kidding but last week the police handed out a lot of tickets to people by bike who didn’t obey the traffic light. You still don’t believe me, do you? Check out this article. The article is in Dutch, but I’m pretty sure you all master the Google Translate skills by now.
Rule #3: Only park your bike on the spots where you’re allowed to park your bike.
This may sound very silly, but trust me, many many students park their bike for example along the canals or next to bike racks. But since this year the municipality of Utrecht has become very strict about this. They created several indoor bike parking spots in the city center. For example the bike parking Vredeburg, Neude and Jaarbeursplein. Obviously, the names indicate the location. Besides that, you can recognize the legal bike parking spots by the sign pictured here. You might be wondering what will happen with your bike if you park it at the wrong spot. Well, I will tell you. They take away your bike -so confusing, cause you won’t know whether it’s stolen or taken by the municipality- and you can pick it up again at the so called bike depot [in Dutch: fietsendepot]. In order to get your bike back you have to drop by the bike depot, show your valid ID, be in the possession of a matching bike key of the concerning bike and pay a certain fee. For more details and the up to date fees check out this page of the municipality of Utrecht.
Rule #4: Ring your bike bell when you want to pass another person by bike.
Another quite obvious but nevertheless important rule. In addition to this rule: always look over your shoulder before you’re going to pass someone. This prevents you from overtaking someone while someone else is trying to overtake you.
Rule #5: Make sure you have light on your bike while you’re driving in the dark.
I know you rarely see a student with light on his or her bike during the evening, but trust me, you should! I must admit that I never had lights on my bike either, but since I have been behind the wheel of a car I know how invisible bikes without lights are during the evening. So be bright, use a bike light! You can buy them very cheap at for example the Action of Hema.
Rule #6: Not really a traffic rule, but nevertheless very important: don’t buy second hand bikes on the street.
Every once in a while undercover cops pretend to be a bike seller and you will get a ticket for sure. Instead, just buy your bike at a bike store. Almost all of them sell second hand bikes. It might be handy to establish the average price beforehand because they tend to overprice international students for their bike. Another way to buy a bike is checking out the ESN Utrecht Facebook group. There are always students eager to sell their bike.
For a complete overview of all bicycle rules check out this English document of the Dutch government . Don’t worry, you don’t have to master all these rules. Just be aware of the most important ones.
Even if you master all these skills and are able to cycle like a real Dutchy -read: driving without hands, talking on the phone while cycling, texting while driving, transporting 30 bags of groceries on your bike, give someone a ride on the back of your bike during rush hour on the cycle lanes of Utrecht AND at the same time obey the cycling rules- you might get in to trouble from time to time. In the upcoming months you will find out for example why Erna’s bike lock is painted white and how Femke lost her bike. You can all read it in our hilarious column Bicycle Bloopers. Of course we are very curious about your bicycle bloopers as well! Send your story, video or photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will share your story on this blog.