From: Toby Sterling, Associated Press
Published July 9, 2007 12:00 AM

Bicycling Gains Popularity Even in the Bike-Crazy Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The distance the average Dutch person bicycles every day has increased by nearly 10 percent in the past five years, the country's Central Bureau for Statistics said Monday -- remarkable in a nation already renowned for its love of two-wheeled transport.

Including every man, woman and child in this country of 16 million inhabitants, the Dutch biked an average of 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) per person per day in 2006 -- more than 14 billion kilometers (8.7 billion miles) in all.

CBS spokesman Michiel Vergeer said the agency had gathered the data from surveys across the country, but didn't have a clear picture of what caused the rise.

It could be as simple as "nice weather and more interest in recreational biking," he said, though there are probably other factors.

He said he would be cautious about attributing the increase primarily to the high price of oil or increasing concern about global warming.

"The number and use of personal cars continues to rise as well," he said.

Miriam van Bree, spokeswoman for the country's Biker's Union, agreed that good weather and more recreational use played a role, and she was skeptical that Dutch bikers are especially environmentally conscious. According to information gathered by the union, increased bike usage is tied to increased traffic congestion around cities and the difficulty of finding parking places in city centers.

"What you see is that it's in the cities and busiest areas that the use of bikes has increased the most," she said. "If this were an environmental issue, the rise would have been across the board."

However, she said that cities were increasingly promoting bike use as a way of meeting pollution and energy-use reduction targets; and there were other reasons to like bikes.

"There's evidence that Dutch people are healthier and less fat than in some of our neighboring countries because we get more exercise by biking," she said.

"When you bike to work every day, it's easier to keep up that habit than it is to make it into the gym."

Some other factors also may be affecting bike usage: in 2002, the Transportation Ministry introduced a tax deduction of up to euro700 (US$950) for bikes purchased for use in commuting to work.

Another noteworthy trend is the growing popularity of the "bakfiets," a bicycle with a sturdy wooden box attached to the front capable of carrying loads of up 80 kilograms (175 pounds), with plenty of room for groceries -- or small children.

The bakfiets had been around for decades for use as a transport vehicle but until recently were mostly popular with left-wing Amsterdam residents and squatters. Since the turn of the century however, it has crossed over into the mainstream.

In the wealthier neighborhoods of Amsterdam, having a high-quality model has become something of a status symbol among young urban professionals, who deck them out with chrome finishes and various accessories.

For both 'Yuppie' and working class parents, rain covers for the often miserable Dutch weather are a must.

Vergeer of the CBS said that the increase in riding has gone hand in hand with a boom for the industry, with bike sales up 9 percent to euro453 million (US$616 million); in all, 967,000 bikes were produced here in 2006, roughly half of them for domestic use.

"The first quarter of 2007 looks even better: sales are up around 20 percent," Vergeer said, adding that an economic recovery was also playing a role in strong sales.

Source: Associated Press

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