On the way to 18 million healthy and happy cyclists

Until 2030, the Dutch were getting increasingly obese. Fortunately, there is the bicycle. The bicycle not only exists for transport and happiness, but also for health. There is a clear link between bicycle use and the degree of overweight. Once people start moving more, they feel happier and healthier in the short term.

Fietsen op Terschelling
Beeld-auteur: Corné Sparidaens

For older cyclists, it is important to continue being able to cycle safely for as long as possible. Peaceful, safe and forgiving routes contribute to this. In 2040, the trend toward heavier and unhealthier has been reversed. The possibilities for moving safely – walking, playing and on the bicycle – have become leading in the design of neighbourhoods and districts. That has had an effect. Urban developers throughout the world are coming to the Netherlands to see what a healthy, bicycle-friendly district looks like. Landscape architects from near and far marvel at the cycling opportunities in the rural area. A healthy environment stimulates young and old to start moving.

In 2040, schools, both new and existing, are located in a car-free and mobility-friendly environment. The district or village is designed in such a way that children can walk or cycle to school alone from the age of eight, or even sooner together with their parents. Cars are parked at a distance from schools and homes. Districts still have their old-fashioned bicycle repair shops, the cornerstone of cycling culture. Employers stimulate their employees to go to work by bicycle, because they like having healthy and vital people in their company. Companies have comfortable bicycle parking facilities in a central, accessible place. The parking spots for cars are located in the rear. Inside, there are plenty of showers and dressing rooms and charging options for e-bikes. All cycling routes leading to companies are safe, pleasant and appealing. Through a company membership, employees are members of the Fietsersbond.

Even in areas that are not as bicycle-friendly, such as business parks and harbours, there will be (unbundled) routes where you can cycle pleasantly and safely with attention to clean air and greenery and without nuisance from noise, stench or strong winds. If you want to see a moped, you have to go to the museum of modern history. After having been in a depot for years, it has been restored for the exhibition on old mobility. The electric moped can be seen here and there, but these have been largely overwhelmed in numbers by new bicycle types. The fact that you sit still on (electric) mopeds was what caused the downfall of this vehicle in the thirties. You do see more and more other vehicles on the road. The starting point is that you need to move yourself as much as possible and that the vehicles suit the cycling paths in terms of speed and size.

Beeld-auteur: Corné Sparidaens

Bicycles are sold via the Internet. Customers usually first ask for advice before they place an order. Or they visit a special test centre. With 3D glasses, you can sit on a virtual bicycle. It consists of a frame, handlebar, seat and cranks with pedals. All parts can be adjusted. You can choose existing parts or a 3D print. For cheaper bicycles, there are still used bicycle shops. Old materials are often fully reused by these shops. The sale of new bicycles in the more affordable segment has been swallowed up by the rise of Swapfiets in the 10s. After that, more lease versions appeared. They have various service levels, from tin to platinum. Run-down city bikes have fallen out of favour. You can safely buy a good bicycle, because bicycle theft is rare.

For the maintenance of your bicycle, you take out a service contract. You can also pay per repair. Bicycle repairers also repair at home. They come to you on their electric cargo bike. Initially, it appeared too small to replace vans, but thanks to the unfolding mechanism from Peter Goedeman, you can easily perform repairs with a cargo bike these days. There is plenty of space to park and unfold the electric cargo bike. In the past, most parking space would be taken up by cars.

Together with other organisations, the Fietsersbond offers all sorts of cycling activities that improve health for specific target groups. Measures to make cycling safer are necessary here, but should not make cycling unappealing. The Fietsersbond explicitly targets all residents of the Netherlands with role models that appeal to a broad group. Everyone is part of the cycling happiness. There isn’t a child in the Netherlands without a bicycle, nor one that cannot cycle well and safely. Thanks to the Fietsersbond, general practitioners prescribe ‘prescription bicycles’ rather than medicine. This often appears to be more beneficial than taking pills.


3 generaties van Van Dijk op de fiets
Drie generaties op de fiets Beeld-auteur: Corné Sparidaens

Cycling is healthy. It is an easy form of structural, medium-intensity exercise that can easily be maintained for young and old. Those who switch from cars to bicycles extend their life expectation by 3 to 14 months. The possible reduction of life expectancy due to more exposure to air pollution (0.8 to 40 days) and traffic accidents (5 to 9 days) are dwarfed by that.

For older people with a heavier weight, cycling becomes at least as attractive and accessible as intensive walking. ‘I lost a lot of fat, until I was left with too little, got cold easily and could count my ribs. The lesson I learnt was: don’t overdo it’, Arno Haijtema writes in the newspaper. The task is to particularly get the groups who need it the most to start cycling. How do you get the proverbial over-60 overweight person out of their car or off their scooter? And how do we ensure that cycling remains safe for the elderly, so that they do not opt out or get injured?

Dutch children are among the happiest in the world. Bicycles gives children the autonomy they are missing in many other countries from a relatively young age. This autonomy makes them happy: ‘Being able to cycle with others and go wherever you want to go. That makes you happy’, happiness professor Leo Bormans writes.

Realising cycling happiness does require a counter-movement against the growing culture of fear in our society. Some children are not allowed to go to school by bike because their parents think it is too dangerous. Children go to school alone for the first time at a later and later age, or perhaps not at all. These sentiments play a role in (medium-sized) cities, but also in villages. This can cause a change in Dutch culture. In addition, discussions such as ‘wearing a helmet or not’ feed the unsafe feeling. The moment you start talking about ‘fear’, everyone becomes anxious.


Cycle Vision 2040

The future of Dutch cycling, according to the Fietsersbond. Read more