Dutch Language Blog

How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths Posted by on Jan 10, 2012 in Culture, Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

Bikes.  They are everywhere in the Netherlands.  In 2006, there were more than 17 million bikes in the Netherlands, with 750,000 of those in Amsterdam alone and no doubt that number has significantly increased.  With around 91% of households owning at least one bike (and often more than one), it is not hard to see that the Dutch love their bikes.

And why not?  Cycling is healthy, easy and cheap.  And with over 10,000 kilometres of dedicated bike paths, cycling is also pretty safe.  So well thought out are the cycle paths that it would be easy to assume they had almost always been around but that wasn’t the case.  The following video gives a really complete and interesting history of how the cycle paths and lanes came about.

Inspired by all the cycling, here is some cycle related vocabulary for you to utilise:

  • fiets – bike (plural is fietsen)
  • fietsen – to cycle
  • fietspad – bike path
  • snel – fast
  • langzaam – slow
  • fietsbel – bike bell
  • fietstas – bike bag
  • mand – basket
  • fietslampen – bike lights
  • fietslampenset – bike lights set
  • fietser – someone who rides a bike
  • bromfiets – motorized bike
  • bakfiets – sturdy bike modified to incorporate a large wooden box or platform on the front
  • ligfiets – a bike modified to be ridden in a laying position

And if cycling vocabulary was a little easy for you, then why not check out these bike related idioms.  I’ve included both the literal translation and the idiom meaning.

  • aah op die fiets (literal: oh, on that bike) – Now I get it! Now I see what you mean.
  • doorfietsen (literal: cycle through) – flip or thumb through
  • voor elkaar fietsen (literal: cycle for each other) – wrangle, manage
  • ga fietsen stelen (literal: go steal bikes) – get lost/drop dead
  • wat heb ik nu aan mijn fiets hangen? (literal: now what’s hanging on my bike) – what kind of mess am I in now? What’s all this?
  • fietsvriendelijk (literal: bicycle friendly) – pro-bicycle, pro-cycling

Do you know of any other bike related idioms?


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  1. Manon:

    “ga toch fietsen!” (literal: just go cycling!) – get lost, go away

  2. Maja:

    I have also heard only “ooh die fiets!”, meaning “Ooh, is that what you mean?/what it’s like?”
    Years ago my cousin lived in Amsterdam and her bike was stolen. She had painted it green with her nickname on it to recognise it easily because lots of bikes are stolen every day in Amsterdam. One day on her way home from the tram station a drug addict asked her to buy a bike he was actually cycling on. She shouted “But that’s my bike” recognizing her “self made” bike. Well, after she had shouted it, the junkie biked away pretty fast. 🙂

  3. Stefan:

    “Op een oude fiets moet je het leren”, translates into “you should learn it on an old bike” but really means, you should date an older (wo)man first to learn how to make love!