WILLMAR — Klass Bijker has the perfect last name.
With a similar pronunciation to biker, Bijker truly lives up to his name, even when he’s on vacation.
While on an extended visit earlier this month from his home in The Netherlands to visit his sister who lives in Willmar, Bijker spent considerable time on a borrowed bicycle traveling on every bike path in the area he could find.
He also spent time talking about the merits of biking in hopes of encouraging more bike-friendly infrastructure and attitudes in a country where cars are king.
Bijker bikes every day in The Netherlands out of enjoyment — and absolutely necessity.
The Netherlands is six times smaller than Minnesota and it has more than three times as many people, said Alida Rampaart, who along with her husband, Ben, immigrated to Willmar from Holland 40 years ago. That simple fact, and the flat topography of The Netherlands, makes biking a way of life there, she said.
People ride their bikes to train stations every day to catch a train to work, according to Bijker. The parking lot at the station is filled with “thousands” of bicycles that extend “as far as the eye can see,” he said.
Bijker estimates that two-thirds of the people who go shopping are on bicycles, which are used to bring everything from groceries to Christmas trees home. There are no school buses, but families have bicycles equipped with trailers to take small children to school.
Except for major freeways, Bijker said, every road in The Netherlands has bike lanes or a bike path next to the road. In the winter the bike lanes are cleared of snow and ice before the roads are. Bicyclists are respected and given the right of way by motorists, he said.
Most police officers also travel on bike because it’s faster and easier to maneuver through traffic than with a car, said Egbert van Riesen, another family member who was also on the trip and trains officers on the police bike force in The Netherlands.
Bijker and the three other family members who traveled with him from The Netherlands had hoped to use bicycles from Willmar’s Bike Share program, which allows people to use one of the white bikes located at hubs throughout the city for $1 an hour by using a mobile phone app. But their phones weren’t compatible with the app, so instead they used borrowed bikes from Rampaart’s pastor.
Rampaart said she was concerned her brother didn’t realize how big Minnesota is and would assume that riding a bike here was the same as in the Netherlands. She worried he would get in an accident while cruising down city streets.
So, for the most part, they stuck to the bike trails in the area, including trails throughout Willmar, around Green Lake and Sibley State Park.
“It was wonderful,” said Bijker. “I like to explore the country.”
Citing benefits to personal health and the environment, Bijker said he hopes Minnesota continues to make changes to become a more bike-friendly state.