Blog post

Utrecht, city of cycling

Dutch city with the country's first bicycle path

Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

The Netherlands is known globally as a country of cyclists. Cycling is part of every day life, as well as many Dutch sportspeople having won amateur and professional cycling races.

The Dutch obsession with cycling can be traced back to Utrecht, a city in the centre of the country.

In 1885, the Netherlands' first official cycling path opened in Utrecht on a street called Maliebaan.

At the time, a lack of proper paving meant that cycling was not possible everywhere - in fact, in many cases, cycling was not allowed on public roads.

Two years prior to the first cycling path, a group of cycling enthuasists set up the 'Algemene Nederlandsche Wielrijders-Bond' (the Royal Dutch Tourist Association).

On 1 July 1883, in the café Buitenlust (also on the Maliebaan), they founded the association with aims to promote recreational cycling. They publicised cycle paths, placed signposts and selected and recognised suitable hotels.

Since the end of the 19th century, the association has expanded beyond cycling to motorists, hikers, horse riders, motorcyclists, campers and more.

One of the 200 founding members of the ANWB was Englishman Charles Bingham. In in 1887, he was one of the founders of the city's first bicycle factory Simplex.

In the 1890s, the Dutch bicycle industry grew rapidly. In 1893, the Association of Dutch Bicycle Manufacturers was founded in Utrecht.

By 1911, the Dutch owned more bicycles per capita than any other country in Europe. The surging popularity of cycling - not only in Utrecht but across the Netherlands - saw many small bicycle factories established there.

In the 1970s and 1980s, mass protests by cyclists led to the city making deliberate politic decisions to reduce the impact of cars in the city centre.

Today, cycling is part of everyday life in Utrecht - there are an average of 125,000 in the city every day. 98% of the city's population own at least one bike, many own more. The city is home to the largest bike park in the world, which can house 12,500 bikes as well as Vredenburg, the busiest cycle path in the Netherlands.

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This blog is part of the Europeana Sport project which showcases cultural treasures relating to sporting heritage in Europe.