Their boots are made for walking
Studies international relations
When Paula was ten years old, her cousin tried to teach her how to ride a bike in the Moldovan countryside. She remembers falling off and telling herself she would never bike again. ‘And I stuck to that.’
In Moldova, biking is really ‘not a thing’, she says. Even when there are bike lanes, people just walk on them.
But then she came to Groningen to study international relations and found a place forty minutes walking distance from the city centre, where she had classes every other day. She would take the bus, but quickly came to realise that the cost would pile up fast.
People are always so shocked: How can you not bike in the country of bikes?
People offered her biking lessons at least four separate times, but Paula never accepted. ‘It’s not so much that I don’t like biking, it’s that I’m scared of it.’ Her biggest concern is accidentally hurting an unlucky pedestrian, especially in the Netherlands’ rainy climate and with its slippery roads in winter.
She still feels embarrassed. ‘People are always so shocked when I tell them. How can you not bike in the country of bikes?’ And of course, when she was leaving a party at night she had to walk, often with friends feeling obliged to accompany her, which made her feel bad.
Luckily, she has now found a place closer to the city centre. She still likes to go on long walks to listen to music, escaping the hassle of the cycle culture, where people fight against wind and weather, wearing wet gloves on uncomfortable seats. If you think of that, she says, ‘me preferring to walk isn’t all that strange.’
& Maleena Noack
Nationality: British | German
Both study psychology
‘When I tell people that I don’t have a bike, they’re always like, what!???’ and I have to explain the whole spiel’, smiles Rachel.
She did own a bike for many years, but she never used it. She even got herself a Swapfiets when she moved to Groningen to do a master’s in psychology, but it just collected dust in the bike garage. The only bike she does still ride is the delivery bike she has to use for her side job.
Since both her classes and her workplace are only a ten minute walk, she just doesn’t need a bike of her own, she says. She started walking everywhere and puts in ten thousand steps a day, listening to podcasts on the way. ‘I for sure get tired sometimes, but it calms my nerves.’
Sometimes, I simply can’t join when people live further outside the city
Not having a bike forces her to spend quite a lot of time outside daily, even when the grim Dutch weather isn’t really inviting. Rachel still appreciates the Dutch cycling culture and considers it part of the charm of living in the Netherlands. ‘I was part of it once, it’s just that walking serves me a little better.’
She found an unexpected walking buddy in Maleena, who doesn’t own a bike either. ‘Rachel is the first person I met that is also not biking everywhere’, says Maleena.
Just like Rachel, she used to have a Swapfiets, but during 2.5 years of subscription, she recalls riding it once and so she got rid of it eventually.
That wasn’t much of an issue, because she has a room in the city centre and quickly got into the habit of walking everywhere. She does however recognize that this can limit her social life. ‘Sometimes, I simply can’t join when people live further away.’
However, Maleena does not mind the inconveniences. The time she spends on walks during the day, she says, is the designated time she does not think about university: ‘I enjoy being forced to have this break.’
Studies arts, culture and media
Moving from the car-centric capital of Malaysia to the small bike-centric city that is Groningen a few months ago, Hans’ sense of traffic has had to undergo some adjustments.
He learned how to ride a bike after he learned how to drive, at 17 years old, but he would only dare to bike in a parking lot, not in the busy Groningen traffic. He finds the behaviour of many cyclists irritating: ‘Even if you don’t have right of way here, cars will give you priority. Bikes would rather run into you than do that.’
Hans recalls almost being run into by two bikes at once, not too long ago. ‘It’s all good though, my classmates said I dodged it like a ninja.’
Bikes would rather run into you than give you priority
His European friends, for whom cycling is common sense in Groningen, have been pushing him to learn how to bike. One time, when Hans was heading home from class with his friends, one of them spontaneously took the bus to Hans’ place and left his bike as an encouragement.
Hans tried it, feeling pressured by onlookers while trying to get onto the bike, but ended up walking home for about an hour. Another friend joined him and also pushed his bike home. ‘The solution for that, I think, is that my friends should get bike seats.’
But at the end of the day, Hans also enjoys walking. He usually takes this time to listen to his favourite bands. The only time not having a bike becomes a true inconvenience, he says, is when he wakes up late for class.
Wouldn’t he save a lot of time if he did bike to places, though? ‘You know what they say’, he responds: ‘Wasted time that is enjoyed is not a waste of time.’