Biking to 10 Fab Labs in the Netherlands

Bikes Education Workshop
Biking to 10 Fab Labs in the Netherlands

Editor’s note: Madison Worthy and Miriam Engle are biking across Europe, visiting different makerspaces, and filming Self-Made, a documentary about their adventure and the Makers they meet. You can find the other parts to this series at the end of this article.


Madison and Miriam biked across the Netherlands.
Madison and Miriam biked across the Netherlands.

Bicycle is the way to experience the Netherlands. The country is flat as a pancake, the bike lanes are two meters wide and immaculately paved. Plus, the Netherlands boasts the highest concentration of Fab Labs of any country in the world.

On May 8 we crossed the border from Germany into the Netherlands, and over the course of more than three weeks, biked from the northeast to the Frisian west, south through Amsterdam, and then back west to the Zeeland coast. We explored 10 Fab Labs and met countless passionate people.

Is the Maker Movement a revolution or an evolution? After six weeks on bike tour, we have the answer: It’s an evolution, an organic development with widespread economic and political ramifications. Technology is powering social change. “If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it,” reads a poster displayed in ZB45 Makerspace in Amsterdam. We’re rethinking the very nature of possession. While our relationship to things is changing, so is our relationship to ideas. The former ought to be owned, the latter shared.

Liesbeth d’Hont of ZB45 Makerspace in Amsterdam.
Liesbeth d’Hont of ZB45 Makerspace in Amsterdam.

We almost caused a major bicycle pileup the first day we cycled into Groningen. We felt like eighteen wheelers with all our gear, competing with sleek urban fixies. Groningen is a young city, vibing with entrepreneurial spirit. With Makers such as Hans Blaauw and David Bakker of Maakplek and Harry Hummel of Fab Lab Groningen, we discussed how access to tools and machines inspires people to transform dreams into business. David even helped us complete our first maker project, a Draailampje, a little flip lamp, perfect for our tent. Like all good Makers, we have about half a dozen other unfinished projects…

We continued biking a few days later (straight into the wind of course) and arrived in Leeuwarden, home to the mobile Fab Lab Frysklab, which has journeyed all over Europe to teach people about digital fabrication. Frysklab founder and manager Jeroen de Boer eagerly welcomed us and launched into a discussion of the benefits of incorporating Fab Labs into public libraries. As the world transitions to digital, libraries grow obsolete. But not if they integrate a Fab Lab or makerspace! It’s a beautiful union, truly, a simple way to reach more people and keep libraries contemporary.

Jeroen de Boer of Frysklab accompanies Madison and Miriam to the Afsluitsdijk.

Jeroen accompanied us on his racer as far as the Afsluitdijk, about 35km south of Leeuwarden. We cruised across the dijk, an exposed 30km stretch actively keeping the northern Netherlands afloat. For once, we had the wind at our backs, so we pushed ourselves another 50km to arrive at Kaasfabriek in Alkmaar, where we found the Fab Lab bumping with activity.

Makers at Kaasfabriek attack our Danish speaker project.
Makers at Kaasfabriek attack our Danish speaker project.

Kaasfabriek is special, even by Fab Lab standards. A pure, organic community effort, the Lab is completely composed of repurposed shipping containers. Members of all ages immediately tackled the speaker project we’d been carrying since Fab Lab Danmark. (Told you; we’re basically a mobile Fab Lab in some respects.) We ended up having a slumber party at Kaasfabriek, spreading out our sleeping bags in the topmost shipping container.

The next day we reached the third major city along our bike tour route: Amsterdam. ZB45 Makerspace member Monique de Wilt hosted us in her home, and we were afforded a glimpse into the everyday life of a Maker. It’s more lifestyle than hobby.

Young artists at ZB45 Makerspace learn about digital fabrication to expand their understanding.
Young artists at ZB45 Makerspace learn about digital fabrication to expand their understanding.

From Amsterdam, we enjoyed a mini trip to Utrecht to visit “Fab Daddy” Bart Bakker, one of the most influential players in the Dutch Maker scene. With Bart, we explored Fab Lab Amersfoort, leading the way in sustainability projects, ProtoSpace, facilitating rapid prototyping, and the Ultimaker factory, which manufactures the world’s most popular open source 3D printer. We also borrowed the canoe from the Mini Fab Lab, the smallest fixed Lab in the world, established right in Bart’s garage, and paddled around Utrecht by canal.

After Amsterdam, we stopped briefly in Den Haag and then continued on to Stadslab Rotterdam, where we spoke with educators about the Maker Movement’s role in transforming education. It’s clear there needs to be more integration of disciplines and more application of memorized knowledge, and the Stadslab promotes both.

Miriam, Madison, and Tor: silly madults in Rotterdam.
Miriam, Madison, and Tor: silly madults in Rotterdam.

On a tip from Fab Daddy Bart, we explored Fab Lab Breda, where we observed the successful trial run for a program to teach kids more about digital fabrication. After Breda, we reached our final destination in the Netherlands, Fab Lab Zeeland, a brand new Fab Lab operating out of a public library — evidence that Jeroen de Boer’s theory bears smart fruit.

The man himself: Bart Bakker.
The man himself: Bart Bakker.

All that in 23 days. To be honest, our course through the Netherlands feels like a lucid dream, a whirlwind of activity and learning. We’re producing the documentary Self-Made entirely on personal funds, which is why it’s so meaningful to us when we make friends in the community who can host and feed us. We have a crowdfunding campaign, so if you’re interested in supporting us but you’re not along our bike tour route, please consider donating. In exchange, we will send you a postcard from an exotic location along our journey!

Llamas on bike tour!
Llamas on bike tour!

Check out Madulthood to read more content and view more images from “Tour de Fab!” And be sure to read our previous installments right here on Make:

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Madison Worthy

Madison Worthy is the director behind Self-Made, the story of creative communities. She graduated from New York University in 2011 and is now on ​a mission to merge her artistic and scientific sensibilities.

View more articles by Madison Worthy
Miriam Engle

Miriam Engle is a professional nomad and the writer for our filmmaking adventure. Since graduating from The College of William & Mary in 2011, she has lived and worked across five continents.

View more articles by Miriam Engle


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