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Word of the Day: fiets (bicycle)

Over the last few weeks several of our Facebook friends asked me about FIETS. The word that has become the metaphor for the Netherlands, just like TULP (tulip), KLOMP (wooden shoe) or MOLEN (windmill).


Since the Netherlands is mountainless and densely urbanized, it is an excellent country for cyclists. The bicycle is good for fitness, body shape, safe travel and mental sanity. In cities it gets you to your destination so much quicker than a car for instance.

On top of that the country is blessed with a network of attractive cycle paths and lanes taking the cyclist along picturesque villages through quiet dune-scapes and spacious polder panoramas with exquisite sights and restful stopping places.

But to be fair, riding a bike has some drawbacks as well. In the first place there is the eternal wind which seems to be against you wherever you go. Worse of course if accompanied by rain, hail or snow. So never go out without your rainwear.

And the second drawback is the amount of bicycle thieves around. Recognize this situation? Closing time. You need milk for your toddler. You rush into the shop. No time to chain your bike. Relieved you return with milk in hand. You cannot find your bike. It is gone! You curse. You fall apart.

Each year between 500,000 and 800,000 bikes are stolen in the Netherlands. The total amount of Dutch bikes is 18 million.

Weighing up the pros and cons, the FIETS comes out with flying colours, compared to all the other modes of transport, don’t you agree? Yes, of course you agree ’cause you know that I am a FIETSIST. If you wonder whether the word exists… no, I made it up just now.

In May, when I turn sixty this FIETSIST will have more than fifty years of active cycling behind him. Each year I travel a total of 6,000 kilometres on average. So on the five bikes that I owed in my lifetime, I covered 7.5 times the equatorial circumference of the earth. A distance of 300,000 kilometres sounds much, but it is slightly more than light can travel in one second. For light, as you know, it takes eight minutes to travel from the sun to the earth. For me on my bike it would take 25,000 years. Just to see things in perspective.

Anyway, back to earth. Back to FIETS. Where does the word come from, you wonder? Tomorrow I’ll tell you more! It is a sensational story, I promise! I must go home now. On my FIETS of course. Hope it’s still there.