Saturday, 2 May 2015

The convenience of the Dutch bike lock

It is one of those things. Bike theft can happen anywhere, but in a country where cycling is so en-grained in daily life such as in The Netherlands, it is even the most common criminal activity in the country, according to figures of Dutch police. It will be hard to find a Dutch person who never lost a bike in this sad way. Going back to my teenage years, I can recall at least three occasions on which my bike was stolen. 


This to great despair of my dad, who always had to find replacement instantly, given the riding needs of his son. I can remember that only on one occasion, the bike was retrieved. Three weeks after the incident, we got a call from the police. My bike was found in a bush at the other end of town. It clearly had been a joy-rider who took it. In need for transport for a couple of miles, my classic Amsterdam-style-clunker was hijacked and abandoned at the end of the ride. It may be this type of theft that is still most common. Of course, there are professional criminals who'd like to make a profit out of selling stolen goods, but many offenses still occur out of the need for instant transport.



In the classic Dutch comic Jan, Jans en de Kinderen ("Jan, Jans and the children") the theme of bike theft takes an epic turn. Teenage daughter Karlijn, having her bike stolen in the bike shed at college once again, decides to nick a bike herself to cycle home, stunning her parents with an expensive racing bike. Dad is furious. "Better being a victim 100 times, than stealing yourself for once", he shouts. He decides to ride the bike back to the shed from where his daughter stole it, of course to be stopped and arrested by the police on the way. Poor dad! (images from "Jan, Jans en de Kinderen book 14", pages 20-21, 1984)


With bike theft being so common, you wouldn't be surprised that the Dutch have taken many precautions to prevent becoming victims. Especially in larger cities (where the risk of theft is much higher then in towns and villages) you'll notice Dutch people often ride unattractive clunkers. It is the easiest precaution. Make the appearance of your bike as unattractive as possible, so your bike becomes less interesting for the potential bike robber. 



Figures of bike theft in The Netherlands have dropped massively though since the 1980s. There are various factors playing a role in this. As you can read for yourself in the brilliant book In the City of Bikes, in Amsterdam, bike theft used to be the principal fund-raiser for drugs junkies. Up to three stolen and sold-on bikes per day were enough to keep one person's addiction funded (!). As such life existences are now nearly extinct, this type of theft has mostly disappeared. Also, bike tagging by the police has become very common, making it much more difficult to sell on a stolen bike in The Netherlands. 



Another factor is the introduction of guarded bike parks in many cities, often free to use for the public or at a small charge. These have become standard features at many large railway stations. You'll find the world's largest indoor public bike park at Utrecht Central station, with even more indoor bike parking on its way. In Amsterdam alone, there are 16 public guarded bike parks (2015). Local residents can also hire permanent spaces in neigbourhood indoor bike parksThese facilities have made it possible to ride more expensive bikes in cities without the risk of theft. You indeed see more and more Dutch people upgrading their unattractive clunkers to more attractive two-wheelers. 


The easiest defense against bike theft though is still the standard Dutch bike lock. Ever wondered why a Dutch person is leaning strangely over the saddle for a couple of seconds just before or just after a ride? Well, simply; they are unlocking or locking a metal bar that stops the rear wheel from rolling. To take a locked Dutch bike away, you'll need to drag it along or to carry it away, a rather unusual activity, likely to be noticed by members of the public. The standard Dutch lock is the ultimate solution to park up safely if you just need to hop in a shop for five minutes, indeed making it impossible for the spontaneous joy-rider to walk or ride off with your bike. 


How does it work? The lock is fitted to the frame of the bike, with the metal bar (the actual lock) hidden in a plastic or metal casing. When the key is in, the metal bar stays in its cover and you can ride the bike (just as your car key allows you to drive). When you want to lock the bike, you hold the key (still in the lock) with one hand, while the other hand slides a button down on the other side of the lock (this is the moment when you hang "strangely" over the saddle). By doing this, you put the metal bar in place, in between the spokes, and when you take the key out, the rear wheel is locked. To unlock, you only have to return the key, slightly turn it and the metal bar will return to its position in the casing, allowing you to roll the bike again. 


When I started traveling the world by bike, I was mystified by the surprise of non-Dutch people who showed an interest in my bike. "What is that?" or "What do you do now?" they always asked when I performed the "two seconds hanging over my saddle" move. "It is a bike lock, you stupid!" I used to think to say, but I do know better now. The standard Dutch bike lock is completely unknown anywhere else in the world and I am fully aware I am a sight seeing attraction when I park up anywhere in the UK. 

And the Dutch bike lock is so convenient!


No messing about with a D-lock, finding a way to lock it to your frame or having to carry it in a bag or on your handlebars. No, the lock is always there, fitted to the bike and locked in two seconds. Now, if you want to lock up the bike for longer than five minutes, most Dutch bike locks have another hole in the frame of the lock, which allows you to indeed lock the bike to a secure object, such as a bike stand or lamp post. These more expensive locks come with an extra chain, to be rolled up under your saddle while riding. When using it, you unroll it, put it around the secure object and fit it into the available slot on the lock. Job done! 


When delivering Bikeability Level 3 to teenagers I can't help myself to show off occasionally. Sometimes I allow for a break mid-session at the local leisure centre. "So what about if someone takes your bike away whilst we are inside?" I tease the children then. Usually, I deliver these sessions in rural towns, so often, none of the children carry locks. "Good I brought my lock then!" I usually break the uneasy silence, showing how my Dutch bike lock not just locks my own bike, but also the bikes of six trainees and the bike of my colleague instructor! Note you'll need the long-chain model of the Dutch bike lock to repeat this performance...


Would you like a Dutch bike lock yourself? It is possible to get a standard Dutch bike lock on your own bike, but note that most locks require two standard holes in the tubes of your bike frame to fit, just under the seat. Non-Dutch bike frames won't have these holes! There are some locks though that allow to "clamp" the fitting of the lock around the tubes of your frame, overcoming this problem. The Netherlands-based British cycling campaigner David Hembrow warns on his blog for the non-genuine and inferior "Mighty Amsterdam" lock, so be very careful when purchasing a Dutch-style lock. It is best to purchase a Dutch lock straight from a Dutch bike shop or, when ordering on-line, from the Dutch Bike Bits webshop. This website provides extended information about the lock and on how to fit it. If you live in the UK and wish to purchase a quality Dutch bike lock, pay a visit to the Dutch Bike shop in Littlehampton or Flying Dutchman Bike in London.


Once you are all "locked and biked up", what about hitting the road with a high quality "Cycling Dutchman" guidebook?


Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.


Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.