When in Groningen, do as the Groningers do. So over here you must ride a bike. But what to do when you never learned how to do so? Or, maybe even worse, what should you do when the mere sight of a bike gives you the creeps?
Raquel Ortiz shakes while she approaches an imminent red light. She knows that once she stops she won’t be able to start up again quickly and other cyclists will have to surround her, like a rock cutting a river flow.
‘I was horrible at starting up, and also at crossing the bridge near the train station’, remembers the New Yorker who arrived last semester to study a Master in International Communication.
I learned riding a bike when I was a kid and after that I did not ride very often
She knew there would be lots of bicycles in Groningen, but nobody prepared her for seeing an eighty-year-old riding faster than her, or a teenager biking with no hands. ‘I walked a lot in New York and took public transportation everywhere, so I thought I could get away with not getting a bike’, she recalls.
‘I was really nervous. I learned riding a bike when I was a kid and after that I did not ride very often. Only every now and then, when visiting a park for an hour or so. I’d never actually biked every day, near cars and people’, she says.
Like Raquel, you may be scared of riding through the hectic traffic, crossing a tegelijk groen (all-directions green) intersection, and you may think it is best to walk or take the bus. But before you take a decision, keep reading.
Bus vs Bike
If you come from a big city, riding 25 minutes in a bus may seem like a short time. But, according to the transport information 9292.nl you can travel the same distance by bike, let’s say from Hanze to Grote Markt, in only fifteen minutes! Imagine what you could do with those extra ten minutes. Have breakfast?
If you take a bus twice a day, in a month you would save more than enough to pay for a decent bike
Plus, you won’t pay € 1.68, which is the one-way rate if you have an OV chipcard (without it you pay € 2.50). So if you take a bus twice a day, in a month you would save more than enough to pay for a decent bike.
Walking vs Bike
Walking is certainly cheaper and a good exercise too. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking fast is a ‘moderate’ aerobic exercise and you should get around 22 minutes of this type of exercise daily. On the other hand, cycling fast is considered a ‘vigorous exercise’, so you can finish your workout in half the time.
On a rainy and windy day walking from the city center to Hanze feels like the longest hour of your life
Another downside of walking is that you must wake up half an hour earlier (if you are going from Grote Markt to Hanze) and sometimes you may not have so much time. On a rainy and windy day (a common forecast here) walking from the city center to Hanze feels like the longest hour of your life. But with a bike you can rush through the rain. Soaked as well, but feeling warm and full of endorphins.
‘After dreading getting on my bike, all of a sudden, one day I loved it and by the end of the semester I was sad to leave my bike, knowing I wouldn’t bike all summer’, says Raquel.
Right now you may be a little intimidated, but if you practice every day, by the end of the semester, you will be able to cross the Werkmanbrug (bridge next to the Groninger Museum) without hitting any pedestrians. Just remember these important rules.
1 If there is a triangle on the ground it means you should yield.
2 In a tegelijk groen (all directions green at the same time) intersection, there is no official rule, but it’s smart to yield to the bike coming from the right.
3 Stop at zebra crossings for pedestrians (even when locals don´t)
4 Signal your turns with your arms.
If you need extra help, you can ask a fellow Dutch classmate to help you, they have been cycling before they could even walk. Raquel got help from Caroline Dijkema from City Central, an organization that integrates internationals. Also, there is a course for beginners (women-only) from €34.50 in Jasmijn women’s centre, located at Floresstraat 2.
Getting a bike
Ready to give it a try? If you are only staying for a semester you may want to consider renting a bike. The total cost is the same as buying one but without all the hassle of finding a good bike, repairing it and selling it by the end of the semester.
You can get decent second-hand bikes on the internet for less than a hundred euros
Many use SwapFiets, a place where you can rent a basic bike for twelve euros a month. It comes with lights, a luggage carrier and a double lock, which is a must in a city where the most common crime is bike theft. Be aware that you must know how to use a pedal brake.
Another option is at the public library (Oude Boteringestraat 18). Next to the entrance you will find Stallingen, a place that offers good bicycles for 65 euros. Keep in mind that they don’t accept cash, just debit card.
You can also practise your bargaining skills in second-hand stores. A decent ride could start at around 70 euros. Students recommend M-bikes on Prinsesseweg, De Ganze on Westerhaven, Refidé at Zernike and Pims Fietsen (Westerkade).