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So... you're in Holland for awhile. Perhaps a few days, a few weeks or longer. Chances are certain you'll be involved in the Dutch prime mode of transportation: Biking it. The Dutch have the art of cycling down to a perfect science. As you will also notice, there are seemingly more bikes in Holland then people.
The first thing you will notice is that the paths are clearly marked. Much like driving an automobile, there are rules. Stay to the right unless passing. Don't swerve around like a drunkard. In most cities and towns there are traffic lights just for bike traffic. This makes things much easier. The lights really serve more to assist bikers dominate traffic even more then they already do. Remember this: Bikers rule the street and they always have the right of way. If you get hit, the law in most cases side with the rider. Just pay attention and everything should be OK.
(additional note from dutch native reader: Bikers do NOT always have right of way.) Generally sppeaking, if it is unclear who has right of way (by lines on the road, "stop"signs or traffic lights) the road's user who comes from the right has right of way.
In case you get involved in an accident on your bike, you are in the same position as any traffic-user; if it's your fault you will be punished. Don't forget that all behaviourial rules apply to bike-riders, so it's illegal to ride your bike under the influence of alcohol or any other substances for that matter.
Are you hearing a ringing in your ears? It could be 'the bell.' If you're biking around with your head in the air, daydreaming, etc... you will probably be treated to the sound of a bell from the bike riding quickly up your backside. This person is not sending a friendly "hello." This person is not flirting with you. This person is not trying out his-her newest bell. Get the hell out of the way. You are going too slow and are about to be passed. Just quickly get over as far right as you can and let em' through.
If you're walking be sure to avoid walking on a bike path. They are a slightly more red shade of cobblestone and they are for bikes, not people. You will get belled and you may get sideswiped if you're not careful. So please be careful.
The bell also serves as a wonderful notch from which to hang grocery bags. The more experienced bikers have 2 bells, one on each handle bar, specifically for hanging grocery bags. This can be dangerous, so use caution. Heavy bags can really alter your ability to steer. Trying to get through narrow streets and traffic while attempting this can be a painful lesson. Don't take the risk.
Sometimes the bike path will disappear. That's for 2 reasons:
1) The path can sometimes actually go into the street. Be careful! There are at least two places in Rotterdam where the path actually shares a lane or crosses lanes with auto traffic. The lights are timed so that you won't get in their way and vice versa. However, weaving in and out of cars is a skill one must learn.
2) There is no path. Oftentimes the smaller streets and country roads have no Fiets Pad (bike path). The paths are generally to assist flow through the heart of major venues of the town or city, not to all corners. Also, try to stay on the right side of the street! If you're heading west, don't be on the side where all bikers are headed east. It just looks bad.
Lastly: LOCK IT UP! If you don't lock your bike or lock it well, you might as well kiss it goodbye. Most people have 2 bikes. A nice one for weekend strolls and a second-handish looking bike for the city. Also, if you're renting a bike, say bye to the deposit if you don't lock it up. You may also want to have a plastic grocery bag handy. It rains often in Holland and sitting on a wet bike seat can be irritating. Make sure that the lights are in working order. You can get ticketed of not having your lights on at nighttime. Besides, it's safer. You can see a cyclist far away when they have the lights on and cars are less likely to get in your way.
You'll get used to cycling around Holland in no time. All you need is awarensess, courtesy and the love for fresh air. Proost!