Recent students at OISE Cambridge may have noticed a strange red bicycle parked outside the school each day – my bicycle in fact, a peculiarly long machine with a barrow on the front. It is of course Dutch, imported by a local supplier, Cambridge Dutchbikes (who you can find here).
Cambridge Dutchbikes was for a long time the only source of these bicycles in Britain (in fact as far as I know they still are), and you therefore only really see them in numbers in Cambridge. I was delighted, therefore, when I visited Amsterdam for the first time a couple of years ago to find a barrow-bike around every corner.
The Dutch have a special relationship with the bicycle. This month the Riksmuseum in Amsterdam is opening after a restoration that has taken ten years and suffered many delays. (You can see pictures of the redevelopment here). At one point plans had to be entirely redrawn in response to a protest by a Dutch cycling association – it seems that the intention to join two wings of the museum together was going to block a cycle path that bisects the museum grounds. The Dutch cycle association is a powerful lobby, and won.
Cambridgeshire, like the Netherlands, is very flat (you could think of the East of England and the Low Countries as the same land, divided by a narrow sea), which makes it perfect for heavy bicycles like this. I used to take it regularly up the only hill in Cambridge worth the name (Castle Hill), and it was a struggle. But on the whole Cambridge is built for bicycles (barring the occasional puff of wind – see below) – if you are going to be here any time soon make sure to rent one, perhaps without the barrow.