There is no question that Utrecht is a beautiful city. The oldest and arguably most quintessentially Dutch city is a hive of activity with gothic towers, colourful brick walls and canals that stretch for miles on end.
But there is another aspect to the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city: the bikes.
Much like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague, the vast majority of the people in Utrecht own and regularly use two-wheeled methods of transport.
They outnumber humans and generally take the form of sturdy, no-frills steel-framed bicycles. It is also quite common to see people riding electric bikes, mopeds or even motorcycles in dedicated cycle lanes.
It can get so busy in these lanes that it can look like a second canal system.
Despite the sheer number of bikes in the city, it is surprisingly easy to get around by cycling. The roads are generally built to cope with heavy bike traffic and the majority of city streets have specialised cycle lanes.
Cycle paths beneath busy roads in the outskirts of Utrecht can be used to travel to surrounding areas, like Zeist, De Uithof and Amersfoot. If the rider is feeling up to it, it’s also possible to cycle all the way to another city some forty miles away.
Angry tirades of bells
There can be downsides to such a healthy way of life. Pedestrian walking space can be so limited it can become necessary to step onto the cycle path. This leads to angry tirades of bells until one moves back onto the pavement. It can be difficult for walkers and cyclists to co-exist with such limited real estate for non-car travellers.
Parking is also a concern: thefts are rife in Utrecht city centre. With a weak lock, an opportunist with the right tools needs just moments to snip the bike free. It is fairly common to see people attempting to sell stolen vehicles at night.
Ill-fitted or removable lights, bells and baskets can also become fair game for thieves. It is therefore necessary to be extremely careful when stopping in the city, as well as to buy a good, solid lock.
With the right preparation, the right tools and some common sense, bike riding in Utrecht can be a very enjoyable, not to mention healthy and ecological, way to get around.
It’s little wonder then that the mechanical canal is such an integral part of life in the Netherlands.