I went on the ‘Go Dutch’ Big Ride demonstration organised by the London Cycling Campaign a couple of weeks ago, which, despite the rain, was billed as the largest cycling demonstration ever to take place in London. The ride went from Park Lane to the Victoria Embankment, all on roads specially closed for the duration, taking in Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall as it went.
The theme – you might have guessed this by now – was that if conditions for London’s cyclists were a bit more like those in the Netherlands, more people would cycle and the government and the Mayor might hit their cycling targets.
So I was amused to read a few days later in Bella Bathurst’s eclectic but entertaining Bicycle Book that when Holland plays Germany Dutch football fans chant at the German supporters ‘Give us back our bicycles’. Beating the Germans is something of a special occasion for the Dutch, especially at football, as Simon Kuper relates in his book Football Against The Enemy.
And sure enough, this chant dates from the war years, by Bathhurst’s account. In 1942, during the German occupation, the Nazi authorities confiscated Dutch bicycles both to stop the Resistance from using them to get around, and because they were running out of transport.
“No other German enactment has called up such bitterness in all ranks of society”, wrote a German officer. “The Dutchman, who is practically born on a bicycle, views the seizing of that bicycle as practically the worst thing that can happen to him.”
Of course, the London Cycling Campaign is right. Dutch-style cycle facilities in London would improve the city’s cycling numbers. But culturally, we have a little way to go just yet.