The Dutch bicycle boom started in 1866 when a Frenchman, Michaux, built a steel model of a cycle named the velocipede, which he had invented two years earlier. The cycle had pedals on the front wheel and caught the eye of the Dutch baron, Otto Groenix van Zoelen. Van Zoelen had his blacksmith copy it.
Mr. J.T. Schotte of Amsterdam became Holland’s first importer of the velocipedes in 1868, and his main customer was Mr. H.H.Timmer. Timmer made history in 1869 when he started the first Rent-a-Bike business in Amsterdam. He also organized a Learn-to Ride school inside a large Amsterdam hall.
When Timmer went on a business trip to the town of Deventer he met a brilliant blacksmith named Henricus Burgers. Timmer sold one of Michaux’s first wooden velocipedes to Burgers. Burgers studied the model carefully and by the end of 1869 he began to manufacture his own bicycles. His factory was a success. Today, Burgers is acknowledged as the founder of the Dutch bicycle industry.
When the joy of cycling was first discovered it was primarily a rich man’s sport. In 1871 the first Dutch bicycle club was founded in Deventer, named “Immer Weiter” (always forward in German). Soon other clubs sprang up among which the Algemeene Nederlandsche Wielrijders Bond (ANWB) in 1885. Today this is Holland’s National Automobile Club.
In 1896, the slogan “Everybody on the bicycle” indicated that the “Omafiets” bicycle had finally trickled down to the middle and lower classes. Farmers abandoned their horses and postmen, policemen, and even the Dutch army, used bicycles. The army had a machine-gun mounted bicycle battalion. By the turn of the century there was a demand for cheap, good transportation which only the bicycle fulfilled. Today, almost every Dutch person rides a bicycle, or “fiets”, to work, school, or for pleasure. Holland has a population of 15 million and there are 12 million bicycles.