It's bound to come up eventually in any conversation about Dutch cycling infrastructure: someone tries to wave away all successes in the Netherlands either by claiming it's an Ineffable Aspect of Dutch Culture, or just say "But it's flat over there. We've got hills!"
And it's true that the Dutch cycling infrastructure works hard to ensure that inclines don't make cycling harder. Most notably, cyclists tend to pass under motorways in carefully-engineered underpasses that allow them to get a speed boost on the way down that carries them most of the way back up. There's definitely something to be said for not having to climb Telegraph Hill just to get to work!
Oh yes, that's right...Telegraph Hill is in San Francisco, not London! So, let's say the counterbalance on Queen Anne hill, then.
What's that? That's in Seattle? With a name like that? Fine, fine! I guess I've lived in far hillier places than London before. Certainly the majority of it is a fairly gentle river basin, and it doesn't take much imagination to plan level routes through most of it.
But it's true to an extent: there are hills, however gentle. And those things are an immense boon to cyclists.
You see, aside from simply making it a bit harder on the up ride and easier on the down ride, living in a valley protects us from a problem that plagues cycling in the Netherlands: wind.
Wind in Delft
The video above is from an era back when the university at Delft still allowed cars on its campus. How quaint! But at least the cycling infrastructure of the era was separated enough to allow people to get off their bikes with only a near miss or two, instead of the certain death that would have happened if someone had fallen over like that outside (say) University College London.
The Dutch coastline takes quite a battering from North Sea winds, and as the prevailing winds flow inland and quite a few crucial routes follow the coastline, you can get blown in a very difficult direction. A headwind would be easier to deal with: you would get a tailwind on the way back. But a cross-wind makes balancing more difficult, and you pay the penalty on both legs of your journey.
Rock Paper Scissors Wind Hills
And I can personally attest that wind can make more of a difference than hills! I've found myself pedaling not too fast in my lowest gear downhill, and finding resistance in the pedals. This experience was due to the fact that I was cycling into a headwind that more than cancelled out the rather steep downhill slope.
So yes, the Netherlands is flatter than London. But cycling thrives there despite this, not because of it!