Top cycling cities – Rotterdam in The Netherlands
Last Updated on 24th July 2020
Rotterdam has got to be one of the top cycling cities I’ve ever had the pleasure to bike round. While in town recently for the annual Traverse influencer conference I saw bicycles literally everywhere, most notably the sit-up-and-beg “Amsterdam” style variety. Not on the main roads as you might expect but along hundreds of km of dedicated (and segregated) cycle paths which allow both residents and visitors alike to cycle freely through, in, and around the whole city.
The actual sheer volume of cycling in Rotterdam is pretty staggering. According to Bike Citizens, 80% of Rotterdammers own a bicycle, 160k (25%) of them cycle daily, and another 200k (32%) cycle on a weekly basis. Each day a wonderful 560k cycle trips are made in the city.
The top 20 list of cycling cities
A local friend of a friend said that even though the association with cycling might be stronger with Amsterdam, Rotterdam is far more pleasurable to cycle around. Amsterdam always features in the top 20 bike friendliest European cities in the world, together with the smaller town of Ultrecht, but based on my experience I was very surprised that Rotterdam didn’t appear in that list too. Maybe the judges thought they couldn’t get away with The Netherlands filling all the top slots?
Hire a bike and feel like a local
So what makes Rotterdam one of the top cycling cities? I hired a Fixiebrothers Amsterdam bike from the Stayokay hostel in the centre of town to find out. This bike being the closest I could get to an old original “Amsterdam” style bike. Its rear brake activated by pedalling backwards. Unusual but effective.
I pedalled out into the city to explore the vacinity before heading west to see the historic suburb of Delfshaven. In fact the ride was so pleasurable, and on such smooth paths that when I checked my 14 mile route laster that evening on Strava it seemed I’d been cycling aimlessy backwards and forwards like a drunked spider. A completely chilled out day, just me and a bicycle, without a care in the world.
Go helmetless just because you can!
Also to blend with the Rotterdammers I didn’t wear a helmet. Now I would do normally cycling around the streets of London, but here the slower speeds and safer segregated cycle paths meant that the perceived risk didn’t warrant wearing one. In fact it took me 2 hours to see a cyclist sporting a helmet and that was only because it was a “roadie” in full lycra gear. The helmet debate is whole discussion in itself but needless to say here in Rotterdam I can see why they don’t wear them.
Rotterdam has a “bike first” philosophy
What pleased me most was the overall bike culture and the obvious “bikes comes first” philosophy. The Dutch law of ‘strict liability’ helps to protect vulnerable road users from more powerful road users. Under this law, in crashes involving vulnerable road users (cyclists), unless it can be clearly proven that the vulnerable road user was at fault, the more powerful road user is found liable by default.
This obviously makes Dutch drivers a lot more cautious around cyclists and pedestrians and is surely responsible for their safe roads. Bicycles even have priority on Rottersdam’s roundabouts in built up areas as shown in the image below. Here the car actually stopped on the roundabout to allow the cyclists to continue straight on.
Top cycling cities have joined up infrastructure
I was first greeted by this wonderful site when I headed out into Rotterdam during the first morning of my stay. Literally hundreds of bikes parked up double decker style next to one of Rotterdam’s smaller train stations! This wasn’t even the main Rotterdam Centraal station but a smaller one next to the Markthal. “Build it and they will come”.
A great indication of this is when there’s dedicated and segregated safe cycle paths leading to transport hubs set up to allow plentiful bike storage. Residents here make full use of it to help keep them healthier, the roads clearer and generally make everyone feel a hell of a lot better! 🙂
So if I was going to recommend a European city break Rotterdam would be high up the list. It’s full of great modern architecture and it’s also now much easier to access from the UK. Eurostar now run direct trains from London St Pancras to Rotterdam from as little as £35 one way. Finally, when you arrive, there are safe streets to explore the vacinity and beyond by bicycle so Rotterdam certainly gets my vote!
You might even want to cycle the 10km out to Spijkinesse to find the Euro banknote bridges.
Maybe you’d like to check out some of my other cycling posts too? One of my favourite places to cycle around is NYC. Find out what it’s like to cycle a tandem bicycle around Central Park.