Dutch bicycle use from a historical and cultural perspective

Dutch bicycle use is unique in the world: in no other country in the western world is everyday cycling so common or does bicycle use reach such high levels. Imagine all those cyclists on the road using a car instead! Until a few years ago, this phenomenon – despite its societal and environmental importance – was hardly studied from a cultural and historical perspective. This is surprising, as the common traffic engineer’s perspective on bicycle traffic, ignoring the importance of historically formed and institutionalised meanings and practices attached to the bicycle, fails to explain the importance of cycling in contemporary Dutch society. Such a perspective also tends to overrate the extent to which traffic behaviour can be changed in the short term by traffic policies.

For the past few years, Manuel Stoffers (MUSTS), partly in collaboration with Harry Oosterhuis (MUSTS), has been researching the specifics of Dutch bicycle culture and history, which has resulted in a number of Dutch and international  research articles, as well as in requests for  interviews by regional and national media, such as Vogelvrije Fietser, Trouw, Dagblad De Limburger and NRC Handelsblad. In 2017 NRC Handelsblad interviewed Stoffers on cycle sport traditions in the province of Limburg (‘Koersen houden gaat ze beter af dan zelf fietsen’, 12 April 2017). In spring, Manuel Stoffers was interviewed on Dutch cycling culture for a new documentary television series on Calvinism in the Netherlands. The series, called ‘Achter de dijken’ and presented by Leo Blokhuis, was broadcast by KRO-NCRV on Dutch national television from 8 September 2017. The parts of the interview actually broadcast were only short, partly because Stoffers couldn’t unequivocally confirm the series’ claim that Dutch cycling culture is rooted in Calvinism. Fragments of the interview with Stoffers were shown on TV in a short preview of the series in the late night show Pauw on 6 September 2017.

Portret of Manual Stoffers by photographer Sacha Ruland