Netherlands Cycling Study Tour 2006

There will be a study tour of the Netherlands this summer to give Cambridge cyclists an opportunity to see how things are done in that country. In the past when we have had such trips, the focus has been on a single city, often one which promotes itself as being especially cycle friendly. This time the trip will be different. We will travel around the country by bike, so that we can experience what it is like to travel distances between built-up areas as well as riding within them.

The plan is to spend Monday 14 August until Thursday 17 August 2006 in the Netherlands. That is four days and three nights.

A dual carriageway for cycling, separated from both the road and the pavement.
Photo: A dual carriageway for cycling, separated from both the road and the pavement.

I have visited the Netherlands with my bike several times before and this will be (mostly) in areas I have seen before. I’ve picked a route which shows a variety of different types of cycling facility. The ride is intended to be fun as well as informative, and we will visit a few places of interest on the way (including a trip just across the border into Belgium for some Trappist ale). The distances travelled per day will not be large.

Around 70 km (45 miles ) a day is expected when we have full days. If this sounds like a lot, please take into account that there will be no hills, and that we will have all day to do that distance – starting at about 9 am and (including breaks) stopping at about 5 pm. As you’ll see, great speeds are not required for this trip. This isn’t a test of exertion, but you do need a little endurance. We won’t zoom off and leave you behind.

If you are interested but the distance puts you off, note that I’m arranging a ride of a similar distance here in the UK within the next few weeks as a try out. This is detailed at the end of this article.

Travel

Cyclists are exempted from almost all No Entry signs.
Photo: Cyclists are exempted from almost all No Entry signs.

We will take the train to Harwich and the ferry to Hoek van Holland. Within the Netherlands we will travel by bike except for a couple of rail journeys.

Overnight

The accommodation will be in Stayokay hostels. These are quite similar to YHA accommodation in the UK and fairly inexpensive at around €20 a night.

Variations

It will be easiest if everyone comes for the entire journey. However, a little variation is possible.

On 15 August we will pass through Amsterdam. It would be possible to join with the ride there by flying to Schiphol and taking a train to Amsterdam. On 16 August we will be in Eindhoven. It would be possible to join with the ride there by flying from Stansted to Eindhoven early that morning (Ryanair). If you have an idea that you might like to do either of those things, let me know as soon as possible. You will miss some very pleasant cycling but it may make it possible for more people to take part.

Lots of people cycle to the monastery for beer.
Photo: Lots of people cycle to the monastery for beer.
Wide, straight, smooth, long distance cycle-paths.
Photo: Wide, straight, smooth, long distance cycle-paths.

Bicycle hire is possible, but note that the hire bikes typically are very solid Dutch sit up and beg town bikes. Comfortable but only for so long. After about 50 km I’ve found the wide saddles working against me. These bikes have only a back pedal brake. Personally, I quite like them – I had such a bike as a child. However, if you’ve never ridden such a bike you may find it difficult to control. You have to return a hire bike to the shop you got it from. So, I recommend that as we’re not staying in one town you would be better off with your own bike. The Dutch don’t wear helmets. Wearing one will identify you as a tourist.

Some days it may be possible to shorten the ride by hopping on a train. I don’t mind if someone wants to do this, but I will stay with the cycling group. The Dutch speak excellent English and buying a train ticket or asking directions to get to the day’s destination won’t be a problem.

Who will come?

Judy and I will be going. We also hope for other committee members to come as well as council cycling officers or councillors. Ordinary members of the campaign are of course also very welcome. Cycling spaces on the ferry are limited and need booking. I need to know who is coming by the end of the Campaign open meeting on 6 June.

Food

It’s pretty easy to buy food either in restaurants or supermarkets. Restaurants often have English menus and waiters generally speak English. Packet foods have international labels. Vegetarian food are labelled “Vegetarische”.

Terms

While I certainly don’t intend to leave anyone behind, it is possible that someone will get lost. This is a trip for adults who are responsible for themselves. I will give everyone a list of where we should be at the end of each day and if you manage to get lost you will have to make your own way to the destination for that day.

If you think you need medical or other insurance before going, please get it. You will need a current passport.

Consider bringing a puncture repair kit, pump, any other spares that you may need for your bike. I don’t mind fixing occasional punctures, but can’t do major maintenance on the hoof, so consider a service for your bike before going. Maybe you will also want a map and a compass? You can buy a 1:300 000 motorway style map of the entire country on the ferry, and that’s what I have found adequate for most purposes.

Think about how you will pay for items. Credit cards are not accepted as widely as here, but you will probably find your cash machine card will work (it will charge a little). The Dutch use the Euro; you can bring cash if you prefer (if you hire a bike you will need cash for a deposit).

Most mobile phones work (but are usually expensive even for receiving calls so check).

A ride less leisurely

Good signs for a ride.
Photo: Good signs for a ride.

Some people I’ve talked to about this trip have commented that the distances per day seem long. In my view they are actually quite short. It would not be possible to reduce them and still cover the ground we need to cover to see enough to make the trip worthwhile.

As a rule of thumb, most people can easily ride a daily distance roughly the length of their usual weekly distance (add up all those trips to work and to the shops).

We won’t be going at any great speed. We will aim to ride between 9 am and 5 pm, which gives eight hours to cover those 45 miles. We intend to stop a few times for food and drinks (say elevenses, lunch, mid afternoon), but obviously can’t keep on stopping.

In order to give an idea of the pace involved, I propose ‘a ride less leisurely’ covering roughly the same distance as intended daily for the Netherlands trip but to Ely and back from Cambridge.

We will be riding to Ely using quietish roads to the west of the Cam (not the A10) and we will come back using the Sustrans route east of the Cam.

This gives a chance for some kind of comparison of riding between towns in the UK and the same thing in the Netherlands. This ride will leave from the Green Dragon bridge on Stourbridge Common at 9 am on 28 May and you are welcome to come along, whether or not you are interested in the trip.

This is a ride for responsible adults. If you have had enough and want to turn back, or want to take a train back from Ely, you’ll have to arrange that yourself.

If the distance is still a bit of a problem, the only way to get legs for longer rides is to ride your bike more. I recommend getting up early on a Sunday morning and going out while all the sensible people are still in bed. It’s remarkably quiet and pleasant at that time of day. You’ve got until half way through August to get ready.

David Hembrow