Does it get any more Dutch? Cycling to the frozen canal to go skating


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After two very cold days in Utrecht this was going to be a blog post about the resilience of the bare-headed Dutch cyclists riding around in a wind chill of minus 10 Celsius. Or maybe a quick update on the … Continue reading

Five years of “I do not despair” – revisiting our favourite posts


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On January 1st 2012 I published the first, tentative post on To celebrate my fifth anniversary I have gathered together a small collection of favourite posts. Firstly your top 5 – the posts that have gathered the most visitors,some … Continue reading

The “Utrecht scale” – a new standard for cycle parking

Utrecht cycling

I have a new proposal for how to measure quantities of bikes. It is called the “Utrecht scale” and it is based on the “ocean of bicycles” I described several weeks ago.

I had some hopes of my own. I suggested then that we needed a new measurement for cycle parking. The “Mayne scale” would be based on how long it took to walk the length of the bike park. In the case of Utrecht, it would be top of the scale with over 8 minutes from end to end. When cyclists rule the world we will need a new vocabulary, just like eskimos were supposed to have 40 words for snow and maybe my scale could have become as established as Richter, Geiger or Beaufort. But the Mayne scale is not to be.

No. For for the international comparison of bicycle numbers only the “Utrecht scale” will do now. A scale based on oceans, seas, lakes and puddles will tell us all we need to know about numbers of parked bikes.

It was a simple phrase that started it. I wrote “In Utrecht I saw a sea of bikes. In fact no I didn’t, I saw an ocean of bikes.” And then I linked it to this picture and sent it off on social media.

sea of bikes Utrecht

The rest, as they say, is history.BmiEOFeIEAAqnyw

By the following weekend it had made two local papers and the traffic on this blog had reached heights I could hardly have imagined even a week earlier.


We even made a news story about cyBnAowqGCIAEJ7b7cle parking making the news on the ECF web site.

But it was not only Utrecht. Since then people keep sending me their cycle parking pictures from around the world and using the phrase “sea of bicycles” whenever they meet a big quantity of bikes.

The first phase of the huge new underground cycle park in Utrecht opened this week, taking the first 2000 bikes off the streets. So as a legacy of those amazing displays of bikes that may soon be no more, and for the proud people of Utrecht who love their cycle parking here is my first attempt at the “Utrecht scale” for cycle parking.

Ocean of bicycles

Bikes as far as the eye can see. Over 20,000 bikes. Take some emergency rations before you go and look for your bike, this may take some time. Example? Utrecht!

Utrechts bicycle parks

Sea of bicycles

A concentrated mass of bikes. More than 5000 in one place. You may need a guide and some time to get in and out of here. Example? It seems to be almost any Dutch station, but increasingly Flanders including Bruges and Ghent.

Cycle Parking Ghent Station


Cycle parking Bruges station


Now the minimum standard for any decent cycling town is to have 1000 bikes at main hubs like universities and railway stations. An honourable mention now to Bologna, Italy which has the biggest lake of rusty old student bikes round their railway station that I have ever seen.

Bologna Station Bike Park



Every village should have a pond. Ducks on the water, somewhere for children to paddle and for animals to drink. So every small area of shops, every park, every street corner should have at least a pond of bike parking to cater for local needs. Examples? Hopefully everywhere, but Copenhagen is a perfect example of putting the parking on every corner, including cargo bikes.

Copenhagen corner street parking


A level especially created for Amsterdam. Or any other city where the bikes are not parked together in a massive body but instead flow through the streets like the waterways that run through the city.

canal of bicycles Amsterdam


Well you couldn’t get very wet in that could you? Just one or two bikes? Berlin – could do better!

Cycle Parking Berlin 1

Muddy puddle

As above, but with mountain bikes! From Whistler, where else!

Whistler Bike park, cycle parking

Frozen puddle – Memmingen, Germany, at minus 14 degrees centigrade.

Bike covered in snow in Memmingen

To complement the Utrecht scale I did think of some other useful phrases with a watery flavour

Tsunami of bicycles – what happens when everybody in Utrecht tries to get on their bikes at the same time.

Utrecht cyclists

Desert – Trying to find any evidence of bicycle life here is pretty hard.

pavement parking central Kiev Ukraine

Splash – several bikes thrown together informally, the basis for much of the cycle parking in Salzberg, Austria.

Linzergasse Salzburg Austria

Dried up river bed – speaks for itself.

desert of bicycles

Reservoir – 700 Bixi bikes waiting for Velo-city 2012 delegates to arrive – Vancouver.

Velo-city 2012 Bike Fleet

So now then readers – does this work for you? And what would your watery terms for cycling be?

To finish – my favourite watery cycling photo. I look forward to your comments!

Coronian Lagoon, Lithuania

Utrecht station cycle parking is absolutely astonishing. See it before it disappears underground.

sea of bikes Utrecht

Recently I went to Utrecht in the Netherlands. My mind is still slightly overwhelmed by what I saw, so despite the delay I just had to post this. With a health warning. As I write this I have a feeling that any “normal” people discovering this blog will wonder how somebody could get excited about parked bicycles.

All I can say in my defence is that I have spent most of my life as a cyclist and the past 15 years in cycling promotion.  The scene at Utrecht station ranks as an extraordinary moment, I am still reflecting on it three weeks later. So maybe I don’t publish 50 photos of parked bikes, but I have to share.

In Utrecht I saw a sea of bikes. In fact no I didn’t, I saw an ocean of bikes. The visual impact of these walls of pedal powered machinery painted a picture in my mind that is hard to let go.

Utrechts bicycle parks

I came out of the station and saw the cycle parking. And the cycle parking. And more cycle parking. I have seen Dutch, Danish and Flemish railways stations before. I have seen the 6000 bike multi-storey bike park in Amsterdam. But I have never, ever seen anything like the number of bikes in around Utrecht station.

I was so astonished I decided to start at one end and time how long it took me to walk to the other end because I couldn’t take it in any other way. Six minutes. Enough said. We have to measure cycle parking here in minutes of walking time.

Start - minute zero

Start – minute zero


2 minutes - still going

2 minutes – still going


Only another 3 minutes to go

Only another 3 minutes to go

Let me explain the background to these impressions.

Because most of my work is supporting countries and groups where daily cycling is struggling my trips to the Netherlands are actually quite rare, despite its proximity to Belgium. This was my first time in Utrecht. That in itself feels almost impossible, everywhere you go on the international cycling scene there seems to be someone from Utrecht. It is the home of the Dutch Cycling Union, Fietsersbond, so lots of my colleagues come from here, but also there are city staff, Utrecht regional staff, university academics studying cycling and cycling consultants so Utrecht gets a lot of exposure and it features in a lot of study tours. Other bloggers wax lyrical about it. So I felt I should know it.

Cycle paths in Utrecht

Utrecht can call itself one of the “capitals” of Dutch cycling culture with an amazing 50% of trips in the inner city by bike and 30% overall. In a population of about 300,000 that’s one hell of a lot of cyclists. The city centre itself was lovely, sleepily coming to life in the spring sunshine.

Utrecht in the morning

It was just full of bikes and people were meeting, studying and going about every element of life by bike.

Utrecht centre cycle parking

Unfortunately my brief visit was not enough to see much of the city’s celebrated cycling infrastructure or the cyclist traffic jams at rush hour. However I was really pleased to cycle out to the Fietsersbond offices on one of the Blue Bikes on hire from near the station and Saskia, the Deputy Director of Fietsersbond took me around a little of the cycling sights.

Utrecht cycle routes

But at the heart of the tour was the station, where many routes converge on this overwhelming sea of parked bikes.

Utrecht cycling

Saskia showed me several more parks that I hadn’t even noticed in the morning. More people were measuring their cycle parking by time too, the time it was taking them to find their bikes. I can nearly bike to my nearest station in Belgium in ten minutes, I cannot imagine spending at least another ten minutes looking for parking. That’s like being a car driver!

This parking is full Cycle Parking Utrecht

When we returned to the station it was approaching 5pm so the traffic on the cycle paths was beginning to build. The area is currently a massive building site so lots of the routes were temporary which apparently causes short term chaos each time a section is rerouted but the hordes soon settle down to the new pattern.

Utrecht cycling traffic congestion

But this redevelopment will also create the jewel in the crown of Utrecht cycle parking. Part of it is the new city hall with all the civic functions in one modern building. And below the building is a pyramid of sorts, a ziggurat of concrete steps. And inside it will be the world’s biggest bicycle park. 30,000 bicycles moved to one location.

New undergroup cycle store Utrecht

It is something I really look forward to seeing. I often tell city officials – “Whatever number of cycle parking places you think you need – double it”. Now I have seen Utrecht I suspect even 30,000 places may not be enough here. Because when I see this number of bicycles in one place I realise the extraordinary role cycling plays in this city.

However I have just one sneaking thought. Wouldn’t it be amazing to keep those bikes up on the surface as an extraordinary symbol of cycling? Possibly not if you are a city manager, but I felt privileged to see Utrecht’s sea of bicycles in such a prominent position before they disappear underground. I hope this post gives you a taste before they bury it!