Steph Loves Bikes: Death by Moped (Utrecht)

Our co-director, Steph Nappa, is writing this series to share her experiences and lessons learned from her study abroad in Europe. You can also follow along on Instagram with #stephlovesbikes.

During the first two minutes biking in Utrecht I had what felt like a near death experience. We had just gotten our rental bikes from the shop, it was rush hour, and we had to get back to the hostel. The bike system is just a bit more chaotic in the Netherlands than it is in Denmark, and there are a lot more bikes and mopeds zooming in what seems like every direction. I got on the bike lane and began maneuvering my new bike in the proper direction when out of the corner of my eye I spot a moped speeding towards me from the right. For a split second, my heart leapt to my throat and I was convinced it wasn’t going to stop. Of course it did, waiting its turn to cross the street between the mass of bikers but I was still a bit shaken up the rest of the evening.  I wasn’t convinced I would ever feel comfortable biking in this new city on the dutch style bikes we were using.

 Our "Dutch style" rental bike with pedal brakes, three speeds, and a front basket. This was not my favorite bike we've ridden.

Our "Dutch style" rental bike with pedal brakes, three speeds, and a front basket. This was not my favorite bike we've ridden.

I can now say that I did become comfortable biking in Utrecht, though I still can’t say I completely enjoyed our bikes. As a fairly clumsy person, using pedal brakes on the heavy, bulky bikes didn’t feel particularly secure. Uncomfortable bike aside, the more free-flowing mixed traffic style of biking in the city actually felt pretty normal. It was an interesting experience of having places where I shared the road with cars the way I might in the US, but feeling way more secure in my right to the road and my safety on a bike. With so many bikers on the road, cars just waited their turn. It was actually the mopeds, which share the bike lane, that made me most nervous. A lot of them would scoot by at a pretty alarming speed, and a lot of them wouldn’t leave much room between me and them. If anything is going to hit you in the Netherlands, my bet would be that it's a moped.