Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië 275, The Hague, The Netherlands +31(0)70 365 46 77

Word of the Day: wielrijden (cycle)

Thank you Niromi for your question about WIELRIJDEN. It means ‘to cycle’, so the same as FIETSEN, but it is slightly old-fashioned, just as the word RIJWIEL. There is also the word WIELRENNEN, which means ‘cycle racing’. 


I am a WIELRIJDER and not a WIELRENNER. I like to cycle at my leisure. In my opinion a ‘cycle racer’ is a different kind of cyclist.

As I said in my former posts on FIETS and RIJWIEL I am a FIETSIST (a word I coined for the occasion). As you know an IETSIST is someone who has strayed from any traditional religion but still believes there is IETS (something indefinable). Never confuse an IETSIST with a FIETSIST. FIETSISTEN believe in the goodness of the bicycle. FIETSEN is not only beneficial for the individual: healthy, relaxing, priceless, etc. but also good for society and the environment.

Many of my friends are believers in FIETSISM. They spend as much time as they can on their FIETS. Sometimes we go cycling together, but most of the time I am on my own as a solitary FIETSER.

If you live outside the Netherlands and have never been to our country full of water, dikes, fields, wind, rain and emptiness, this short film by Michael Dudok de Wit can give you an idea of what it means to be a solitary cyclist in the Netherlands.

The Dutch animated short film ‘Father and Daughter’ won the 2000 Academy Award for Animated Short Film and received over 20 awards. Watching this film is a moving experience, so be warned.

Back to Niromi’s WIELRIJDER. An excellent description of a WIELRENNER was given by the Dutch poet Herman Gorter (1864-1927) who published the famous epic poem MEI in 1889. So less than twenty years after the word RIJWIEL was coined by another man of letters (see yesterday’s post).

In the second part of this poem Gorter compares two gods to racing WIELRIJDERS, but it is clear from the context that he means WIELRENNERS.

Zooals twee wielrijders: die doen hun stalen
Raderen wieleren dat licht rondspat,
De cirkels draaien en het witte pad
Glijdt weg: ze loeren op elkanders wielen
En trappen vastberaden, in hun zielen
Is nijd en haat, voor ‘t doel de ééne wint,
Maar de ander haalt weer in en rijdt verblind
Van wanhoop hem voorbij. De laatste trap
Slaakt los menschengeluich en handgeklap

Like two cyclists: who make their steel
Wheels go round so that the light splashes about,
The circles turn round and the white path
Glides away: they leer at each other’s wheels
And pedal resolutely, in their souls
Is hate and envy, at the target one wins,
But the other overtakes and passes him blinded
By despair. The last step on the pedal
Raises a human cheer and applause.


(Free translation by Ruud Hisgen, Direct Dutch)