They never yield, cross intersections without looking and brake abruptly in the middle of the road: crazy cyclers are everywhere in Groningen. Most foreigners don’t know Dutch traffic rules and some don’t even know how to ride a bike. So why not take a lesson?
‘International students are everywhere, they pass you on the wrong side of the road and cycle at places where they are not allowed to do so. They are not ill-mannered, they just do not know the traffic rules’, says Els Opheikens, a certified teacher with the Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond).
Over five years now Els has taught riding skills to kids, old people and foreigners. ‘For a Dutchman it can be hard to understand why some foreigners can’t cycle. The Dutch learn to ride a bike right after they learn to walk’, she says.
Cycling like a Dutch toddler
‘The difference between novice foreign cyclists and the Dutch is being able to balance, so we always start with learning how to do that’, she explains. To improve the balance, she takes the pedals out of a bike for grown-ups and has the students sit on the saddle so they feel the balance and walk. ‘Just like a Dutch toddler’, she laughs.
Luckily, up until now my students haven’t had any accidents during the lessons
After that, she teaches the students how to control the bicycle: pedalling, braking without falling, and starting over without going sideways. ‘Luckily, up until now my students haven’t had any accidents during the lessons. Well… in the beginning they do fall every now and then. But that’s quite normal, it is part of the learning process.’
Once Els had a girl from Singapore do the course. ‘The first lesson she was so nervous and excited that she fainted’, Els remembers. ‘In the end she managed to cycle, she even sent me a video of her doing so in Singapore.’
If you can’t cycle at all, it will take you as many as ten lessons to master it
Of course, learning the traffic rules is very important, Els teaches those in the final part of the lessons. The main problem for internationals is the special signs for bicycles. ‘When they start, foreigners do not know these signs. So it’s logical they don’t know how to behave and act dangerously. And Groningen is very crowded, so there is danger everywhere, especially when you don’t know what to do.’
Lessons for internationals
Els says international students should at least take a couple of lessons to learn the basic rules. If you can’t cycle at all, it will take you as many as ten lessons to master it.
Pedro, an American who didn’t know how to cycle, took seven lessons with Els. A decision that helped him integrate more quickly into the cycling culture. ‘She took me to some Groningen parks in which the traffic is not so busy, so I could concentrate on improving my riding skills. All of the lessons were great!’
If you are unsure about your cycling skills, you should practise, practise and practise
However, taking classes is not a warranty. Sometimes even Els does not succeed. ‘I once taught a Russian girl. She took twenty lessons and still didn’t feel sure about cycling. She preferred to take the bus’, Els remembers.
If you are unsure about your cycling skills, you should practise, practise and practise. But to overcome insecurity you can take a couple of lessons, with a teacher like Els or with an experienced classmate. It might give you the confidence and the knowledge you need to have a sweet ride to class.