Biking under the influence

By: Jasmine Wallis

Many students do not think twice about cycling home after a boozy night out, but what happens when you do not get home safely?

The fluorescent light of the hospital flickered above Joyce Stroeckx as the doctor gave her a diagnosis, “When you landed, your chin took the impact of the fall, followed by your head. This means that you have a mild concussion and bruised jaw – no partying, loud music or flashing lights for a month.” Only twelve hours before, the 22-year-old Belgian Erasmus student had been on her way to the weekly student night at Coco’s Outback Bar in Amsterdam.


The Australian themed bar is packed to the rafters by midnight. The multi-coloured lights bounce off the walls which are painted with traditional Aboriginal murals and onto the clubbers who dance rowdily to ‘Despacito’ that is being played for a third time that evening. University students are crammed into every space possible, and there’s no denying the heat that only hundreds of people chugging beers and grinding on each other can bring. Six bartenders try to manage the lines of people trying to order drinks that snake onto the dance floor, but like Joyce Stroeckx earlier in the evening, most of the students here have pre-drunk at small gatherings around the city, downing cheap bottles of wine to get their buzz on before buying shots to top themselves up.


Student bars are not known for people only having one or two quiet beers and then heading home. They’re known for people dancing until 3 am, for selling 9 shots for 9 Euros and for playing the Top 40 hits on repeat all night long. However, an alarming trend that has been on the rise in the past couple of years is young people in the Netherlands riding their bikes whilst intoxicated.


According to a report by The Netherlands’ SWOV Institute for Road Safety, 68% of young people admit to hopping on their bikes and riding when under the influence of alcohol. Is this because young people are more likely to take risks whilst drinking or because the cycling culture in the Netherlands (Amsterdam in particular) is so prominent and engrained?


When Joyce left the pre drinks for the student bar, she didn’t think twice about cycling there with her friends, even after being approximately three times over the blood alcohol level to operate a mode of transport.


It wasn’t until the morning after when Joyce looked in the mirror for the first time since she fell and landed face first on the road that she realised the gravity of her actions. “I felt stupid for not realising how serious it was earlier, because I just went partying after I fell off my bike and I was also confused about my injuries and how it happened because I couldn’t remember the exact moment.” Joyce said, her chin purple with bruises, swelling into an almost caricature-like way.  


Are young people particularly worried about these statistics and risks though?

Dancing at the back of the crowd, Jack Fielding holds a beer in each hand; the tall American exchange student is studying Biology at the University of Amsterdam for a semester and says he does not think too much about cycling home after nights out like the one he’s currently having. “I’m careful! Everyone does it here; it’s so much cheaper to ride home than catch a tram or bus. I’m not worried about falling off.” He yells over the heavy beat of the DJ, his words beginning to slur slightly; a sure sign that he’s well into his night out.


Manon Blackman, a 21-year-old Law student from New Zealand who is dancing happily in a pack of girls on the outskirts of the throng, says she feels safer cycling for ten minutes after drinking compared to the walk home which can take up to half an hour. “I understand the risks in terms of safety of falling off your bike and obviously accidents happen but I’d actually still feel safer on my bike intoxicated than walking home by myself at night when it’s dark.”


20% of adolescent cyclists, who end up in hospital after a night out, have been drinking but would Joyce do it again? “I was always one of the people who thought that nothing would ever happen to me while being drunk and my fall really changed my point of view. I don’t think I will ever cycle after drinking again because I saw what can go wrong.” As the student night winds to a close and students trickle out onto Thorbeckplein, drunk people stumble towards their bikes, some fumbling in their pockets for their keys and others struggling to undo the lock. A girl jumps onto the back of a boys bike, laughing as she wraps her arms around his waist tightly, trusting him to get them home safely through the Amsterdam traffic.