At risk of going on about it, there has to be something to be said about a culture where bikes are a natural extension of everyday life. Admittedly we are biased about just how much of a good thing this is given our passion for peddling, but the advantages of a cycling culture run deeper than the pure enjoyment of having fresh air rush through your hair while zooming, carbon-free, through the countryside.
Cycling solves social issues.
The elderly: They keep their fitness, their balance, and most importantly their independence. We met a couple in their late 60’s who said they would cycle 30km without hesitation to to have dinner with their friends, and then at 9pm they would cycle home again. The average Australian would find these distances formidable regardless of age! But it gets even better. They told us that his mother (so I’m guessing she would be in her late 80’s) always makes the choice to ride her bike everywhere because she finds it to difficult to walk to the bus stop! Heroine!
Teenagers: In car based cultures one of the common stresses of parents with school aged children is the time it takes to transport their children around. Many mums feel like they are a taxi service. Getting one kid from daycare in time to get the rest from school, then dropping off one child to soccer, zooming through the traffic to pick up another from a music lesson – this is enough to drive anyone crazy, especially if you are battling Sydney traffic.
Explaining this to a Dutch person just gets a frown of incomprehension. EVERYONE rides EVERYWHERE. Even immigrants take bicycle lessons.
High school students can easily ride 20km to school. Not just in summer either. In fact they have no choice as school buses do not exist!
We see bands of teenagers going off to the lake together on a hot sunday afternoon. Girlfriends riding to the shops. A guy giving his mate a ride on the back of his bike. Teenagers, like the elderly, are given freedom, independence, and their own transport. It would certainly leave the parents feeling more relaxed knowing that their child is out and about on their own bike rather than worrying about them catching a ride with a rev-head lunatic who pins his masculinity on how fast he can corner his car.
Between primary and high school students are often required to sit a bicycle test and from then on they are deemed competent to use the bicycle as their mode of transport.
Parents have more time, feel more relaxed, and teens can come and go as they please.
Its a win – win, don’t you think?
Mums with small children: I’m not sure about other mothers with small children but when I was living in the suburbs with a baby I found it hard to find the time to exercise. In the Netherlands mothers put their babies on a bike seat (usually in the front of the bike) and off they go. We’ve seen several mothers sitting in a shady spot in the country side with their little one, obviously they have ridden a bit then stopped for some morning tea. To me its an ideal outing. You can get a lot further than walking, its not as hard as running with a pram, but still great exercise. You can even buy whats called a “Mama” bike with a bike seat on the front AND the back. These come with hefty stands so that loading up the kids is safe and secure. Or even better (but pretty expensive) you can buy a bike with a bucket out the front, they even have seat belts in the bucket. Imagine getting picked up from kindy in one of those!?! Pure fun!
It looks like incorporating bikes into our everyday life could help to reduce depression in old people, minimise teenage angst and conflict with parents, and maybe even help decreases the severity of postnatal depression! Or maybe I’m looking at it through heavily tinted rose glasses?
Of course you can’t grab the best bits of everyones culture. But I do love it how the Dutch are “all in” with cycling and I wonder if Australians could look at cycling as a wonderful form of transport rather than a nuisance on the road. We are, after all, the flattest, driest inhabited continent on earth so whats stopping us?