Teaching New Amsterdammers Arrogant Biking

Dutch people love to bike. On average every inhabitant of the Netherlands has 1.3 bikes; city bikes, mountain bikes, vessel bikes and even electric bikes. Having a bike in the bigger cities of Holland is almost a must as it is considered one of the easiest and cheapest ways to move around in the busy traffic. In the other parts of the country the bike is an ideal way to explore the green hearts of the country. But what if you never learned how to bike before, or the idea of cycling around in busy traffic freaks you out? Ruud van Es, bicycling instructor of the Fietscollege, helps expats to safely integrate into Dutch biking culture.

Fietscollege student Neven marches his way on the road

It is no surprise that having a bike has many advantages, particularly in big cities like Amsterdam and The Hague. “Expats prefer to live in the city center during their stay,” Van Es says. “With a bike you don’t have parking problems, you can avoid the busy public transport and in most cases it is a faster way to reach your destination. It is also good for the environment and your health.”

People come to Van Es with different reasons for biking lessons. “I once had one English banker, who just wanted to learn to bike, because it was part of the Dutch culture and he could not cope with the fact that he would return to his home country without learning how to handle a bicycle. We practiced on the Frederiksplein after work. It took some hours but in the end we cycled together during rush hour on the Wibautstraat and Vijzelstraat, both busy streets in Amsterdam.”

“I received a thank you note with the best compliment an instructor can get ‘I learned to ride a bike with the arrogance of a true Amsterdammer.’”

Colleague Marja Popper in The Hague tells something about the motivation of her trainees. “Zebib for example is a trainee of mine who tried to learn how to ride the bike herself. It never worked out until she discovered the college. She never thought she could ever ride a bike and this week she had her first lessons on the street! Trainee Neven wants to avoid the busy traffic jams near his home. Biking is much faster.”

“We both had the idea to start with bicycle training for expats, but we did not know from each other that we had the same plans,” Van Es remarked. He and Popper started their business in 2009 after they both graduated as bike instructors at the Dutch Cyclist Union. “Until we spoke during the course and at that point we decided to start our business together.”

Zebib proudly shows her bike at a training location in The Hague

Since the Fietscollege started the pair taught about 500 students how to safely ride around on their bike. They have seen all kinds of people from different places. “We help students, children, grown-ups and sometimes entire families. They come from every corner of the world Canada, Russia, Romania, Ireland, England and so on,” Van Es says.

“The training is not tied to the cities of Amsterdam and The Hague. We also gave lessons in Nieuwegein, Mijdrecht so we have quite a range where we can operate. The main goal is to show that riding a bike is much more fun than it is dangerous”.

The first experience on a bike can be very stressful, because trainees have to learn how to get their balance. And balance is, according to Van Es the basic technique of bike riding. “Dutch people learned how to ride a bike when they were a child. They do not realize how hard it is for people who never drove on a bike before.” The instructor compares biking with learning how to ski, noting that it often takes a week on the slopes before feeling comfortable.

“With biking it is the same. I always start with a balance exercise what I call ‘flappen’. You simply remove the pedals from the bike and put the saddle all the way down so the trainee can put his feet on the ground. It looks quite silly but with this technique you can learn how to keep you balance and get confident on your bike.”

Once the trainee is confident on the bike Van Es takes them on the road, first on places with less traffic, but eventually in busier areas. On average it takes the trainees thirteen lesson hours to succeed their biking course. Sometimes students ask him to practice the route that they are planning to bike every day to work or the university. “I am happy to practice every route or crossroad they like. My goal is to make them feel safe and make biking a fun thing to do.”

The Fietscollege can easily be found on the web at www.hetfietscollege.nl.