Bicycle etiquette


In the Netherlands, we ride bicycles. We ride them a lot. There are 17 million people here, and 23 million bicycles. However, that doesn’t mean everybody can bike equally well.

I like to ride my bicycle

I own three bicycles. One for regular rides, one for transporting my daughter, and one to get from the train station in another city to my job (after I take my regular bike to the train station where I live). If I add all the many miles I biked in my life together, the total would probably be enough to circumnavigate the Earth.

Since bicycles are one of the most popular modes of transportation in the Netherlands, the government has created an infrastructure for them. There are separate bicycle lanes and signs, and special bicycle traffic lights. Still, like with car traffic, some people still manage to be a nuisance. So, because this is my blog, and I can write what I want here: five no-no’s for biking.

#5 Cutting

Bicycle cutting

Even if you’re not a bicyclist, you probably still know this one from driving a car. Somebody passes you, then cuts in front of you and/or slows down just after cutting in, forcing you to hit your brakes.

With the growing number of e-bikes and other electric vehicles, this is becoming a growing problem in the Netherlands. That extra electric push can help people who normally wouldn’t be able to overtake you to do so. I’ve had run-ins with elderly people on roads with traffic lights, where I would pass them after the traffic lights because I am stronger and can take off faster, only to be overtaken and cut on the straight stretch when their electronics kicked in — until the next traffic light appeared. Rinse and repeat.

#4 Playing Chicken

Bicycle chicken

Next on the list is people going in the opposite direction and not keeping to their lane. With the whole social distance guidelines I’ve come to experience this on foot more often as well.

Not that they’re really ‘playing chicken‘, but the idea is the same. One of you has to move, and it should be the one in the wrong lane. But… well… in practice it sometimes works differently.

Dutch children riding their bikes to school are notorious for this, often riding three abreast, chatting and not paying attention. Riding a bicycle near a school around the beginning or end of the school day is a hazard of epic proportions.

#3 Hanging ten

bicycle hanging left

Related to the previous one. Aside from people going in the other direction being in your way, as a bicyclist you might run into people ahead of you going slower than you hanging around in the middle of the road.

One of the interesting things about a bicycle is that they become harder to control when you’re going very slowly. As a result, elderly and people who rarely ride a bicycle tend to swerve. Their fear of swerving into a curb also makes them hang left. This is both annoying and dangerous if you want to pass those people and not collide with them.

Of course, they’re not really ‘hanging ten‘, but you get my drift.

#2 Turning without signalling

bicycle not signalling

Dutch traffic rules say you should signal before turning, by sticking out your arm. In practice, about half of people don’t actually do so. Aside from it being the law, it’s common decency, but apparently this is too much to ask.

Maybe as a small aside, every kid in the Netherlands is taught these things in school. Signal when you turn by sticking out your arm.

Not signalling can be extremely annoying. You’re riding towards an intersection. The person ahead of you slows down. Are they turning? If so, left or right? They head to the right so you pass them, assuming they were going to turn right. But no, just as you pass them they suddenly swirve left, having moved to the right to make the turn easier.

Screw everybody who does not signal, anti-social bastards. And no, being on the phone is no excuse, that’s also been declared illegal on a bicycle in the Netherlands.

#1 Turning without signalling extra nasty

bicycle not signalling 2

The most annoying thing I’ve encountered, which drives me to road rage, is another signalling problem. It’s in the diagram above. The white triangles on the road are the Dutch way to show you that you do not have the right of way.

So, I come to an intersection, as you can see in the diagram. There’s the triangles, so I stop when I see a bicycle approach. The bicycle, often going excruciatingly slow, will move forward, then, just before passing by… they turn and ride by you.

There you are, politely waiting for somebody, then they just turn aside. They could have signaled so you could immediately continue. But no, they make you wait. They can see you waiting there, and they still refuse to signal.

I used to encounter this on my way to work at my first job in a bad way. I’d come to a busy intersection where hordes of students going to the university would pass by. About 99% of those would turn without signalling. So I’d be standing there like an idiot, waiting minutes at a time for twenty people to basically give me the finger.

So, final summary: if you ride a bicycle, make the small effort of sticking out your f*cking arm when you turn a corner!

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands