Posted by: patriciamar | February 1, 2010

Cycling in Leiden

So. Biking in Leiden. This post is for people who actually live in Leiden, will be moving to Leiden, or are interested in bicycling in Leiden.

First things first:
Buying a bike

Overall, the best way to find a bike is to scope out the various bicycle shops with used and new bicycles. If you are a student, you can also go along with ISN (International Student Network) on their bicycle crawl at the start of each semester. They also buy bicycles (but for no more than 20 euros, I believe), so they can either sell you a bicycle, or show you some shops where you can buy them.

The two main shops that I have frequented are Fiets2000 (Lange Mare 72, 2312 GT Leiden) and the two bicycle shops by the station. There is one in front of the station and one in the back, although I was told by one of the bicycle repairmen that they are actually the same store. There is also a Used Goods store on the Hooigracht near the Albert Heijn that sells bicycles and other random things.  We purchased our bicycles at the station shops, (mine in the front, Matt’s in the back) for 100 euros each. From what I have found, this is a pretty good price. Most people I talked to bought their bicycles for 80 – 125 euros. I would say both of us have quality bicycles and besides a flat tire or a broken light (these things happen…) we have had no real problems.

As a general rule, I would say that- upon entering the Netherlands, you should throw out your previous assumptions and ideas about bicycle riding. It is different here, and it’s best if you just do what they do and bike how they bike. You will be much better off.

This basically means:
No racing bikes,
No mountain bikes,
No speed racing on your bike

Dutch bikers (unless they have a racing bicycle that they take out into the country) all have cruisers and they sit up straight when they are biking. If you give it a try, although it may seem slower at first than your previous biking, you will soon find that it is much more relaxing to commute this way, and much safer, as well. When you are sitting up, you can see almost 360 degrees around you. This will help you to see cars, pedestrians, other bikers, children, dogs, trains, etc., etc. Compare this to riding on a mountain or racing bike where you have to lean forward and you should be able to understand how much worse your visibility is.

So, more on riding your bike…
I have found that bicycles tend to get away with quite a lot in terms of where and how they can bike. Cyclists seem to take the best rules for pedestrians and the best rules for cars and then slide right through the middle, taking the right of way. This is beautiful if you have ever biked in the U.S., where the car is king and you could be run over at any second. But- keep in mind that the Dutch have been biking since they were two. Literally, I asked someone. They have a little wooden bike (with no pedals) that they start out on, learning to keep their balance, and they are easily cycling with their parents by the time they are three or four. Insane. & Impressive.

Anyway, a few things that are important in terms of legality and safety. If you see triangles painted on the road, and they are pointing towards you (they are called shark’s teeth), this means yield. As in -You: Yield. Following this will keep you out of a lot of trouble. Also, bicycles sold by a shop in the Netherlands must have a front and back light and bell. This also means that the police can ticket you if your bike does not have them. Personally, I think they are pretty lax about it overall, but be careful at the start of the semester. You will most likely get a ticket, as they try to set out the year by setting a good example. During these times, also try to walk your bike in pedestrian zones. I have heard of people being ticketed for this as well.

Parking & Locking your bike:  It is always a good idea to lock up your bike… (obviously).  Surprisingly, most Dutch people just use a cuff (a sort of hand cuff that locks the backwheel so it can’t be rolled away).  Unless they are older and have an expensive bicycle, they will generally only have this one type of lock.  These locks are usually already on the bike when you buy it.  If you bike does not have one and you want one,  I would suggest going to the bike shop and having them put it on.  They seem like they would be a pain to put on yourself.  The other option (as a first or second lock) is a basic chain lock.  This is probably the second most popular type of lock.  You can use it to lock your wheel so it cannot be rolled away (which is what Matt does) or you can use it to lock your bike to something.  The U-Lock that seems to be popular in the U.S. is much less popular here.  It is sometimes used as a second lock or on motor bikes…

Repairing your bike: Over the course of two years, you end up doing a few repairs every now and then.  For repairs, I recommend hitting up the tiniest and most ghetto looking repair shops possible.  These shops tend to do the best repairs and charge the least.  The biggest problem you might run into is that they are also less likely to speak good English.   Usually, the old men that work in these shops are just so friendly that it doesn’t seem to matter.  In particular, I like the bicycle garage in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam on the north side of Westerstraat.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it, but I went there several times when I was living there in Amsterdam and they were always quick, inexpensive and helpful.  When I went in for a flat, for example, they patched it first, but when the patch didn’t work and I came back in, replaced the tube minus the cost of the first visit.  I also went in for some broken spokes which they repaired wonderfully.

In Leiden, I have gone to the bike shop on the front of the station where an older man works.  He was always very friendly and helpful.  I went there for small things like a broken light.  They tend to be quite busy, so bigger repairs tend to take a bit longer.  I also really like a little bicycle repair shop in Leiden just off of Korte Mare on 3e Binnevestgracht.  I had the man there replace my whole back wheel and he did a wonderful job and was done in an astonishingly short amount of time (like an hour an a half).  It was also very cheap, considering the cost of parts.  On a number of occasions, I went to Fiets 2000 for repairs, but almost everytime, I left unsatisfied.  They either didn’t check what I asked them to, and did something else, did only one of the things I asked, or perhaps they didn’t listen to me at all.  They tended not to look at the bike at all when you come in to drop it off, and thus when you return, they decide that’s the time to explain what’s wrong (duh.).  It usually left me quite frustrated.  I think they are probably still a good place to purchase a bike, I would head somewhere else for repairs.

Although I could probably go on forever about Dutch biking culture, this is probably enough for now. 

Just keep a few things in mind:

You will never be as good at cycling as a Dutch person, but still, just relax, it is such a nice way to get around!

&

Your bike might get stolen or thrown into a canal… Unfortunately, this just happens.

Success!

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