Sunday, 10 January 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands

It has been a few months since I returned from my trip to the Netherlands and apart from a brief round up I haven't got round to posting about it in any great detail on here. This is mainly due to real life work and family commitments taking up most of my time and I had a few other posts relating to local issues that I really wanted to get written before the end of the year. As I had a bit of a break over the Christmas and New Year period I thought I'd spend some time looking back over my photos and the various routes I took during my time there. One thing that struck me whilst I was looking back over my holiday snaps was how convenient and safe it was to cycle between the cities I was visiting. The first two times I took a cycling holiday in the Netherlands in 2009 and 2011 I cycled all the way from my flat in Hackney to the Centre of Amsterdam; planning my route in the UK took a while as I had to carefully plot a route along various Essex country lanes that were all about the same width as a lot of the bicycle roads in the Netherlands, except that cars could legally use them at 60mph! On the first trip I took a map and had to continually keep stopping to ensure we were still going the right way, by the second time I had invested in a garmin which made the trip easier as I had turn by turn directions. However I still had to carefully choose a not very direct route on unclassified roads but every now and again we would be forced to use very busy roads, including the A12 at one point which is effectively a motorway in all but name, rather than go wildly out of our way. This never happened in the Netherlands though as there was almost always a bicycle road and if not there was either a main road nearby with safe cycle tracks, or a country lane with through traffic removed. Not once did I have to "keep my wits about me" and cycle among traffic and I didn't really need to look at a map too often as the cycling routes were mostly well sign posted.

On this trip to the Netherlands I would be staying in four different cities and so would have to make five fairly long cycle trips between them, as well as other rides I had planned whilst I was in the country. In order to plan these routes I used this excellent Dutch cycle route planning website, which once plotted would let me choose different types of courses; the shortest, the scenic, the "racer" route, the most car-restricted route, etc. Once I had an idea of the different types of courses I should aim for I would get google maps to also recommend a route. The handy thing about doing this on google maps is you can drag and drop the route onto a different course. I didn't always want the shortest or the most convenient route, if there was a small town nearby I could plot the course through it to check out the cycle infrastructure or the bike parking at the train station. As I kept changing the route I would use street view to get an idea of what the infrastructure was like and it was almost always fantastic, with dedicated safe provision for cycling whether heading through a field, along a canal or on a main road. Once I had decided on a route I would paste the google maps URL here to create a GPX file of the route which I would then upload to my phone and load onto OsmAnd to navigate the route. I'd bought a holder to place my phone on my handlebars on a whim in Lidl in Hackney whilst I was in there buying some wine about a year ago and it was perfect for this trip. I also bought a portable charger for my phone and boy did I need it as this app devoured the battery of my phone.

Over the next week I'm going to publish five posts where I will try to go into as much detail as I can about the five different journeys I took between various cities. Before I post these though I would like to point out a few things:

I cycled along all of these routes on a weekday and always during the day so it is highly likely a lot of these routes would be much quieter than in rush hour, especially in urban areas. What may have been an excellent route for me might be completely different when the cycle track is packed full of people and the traffic signals take an age to change.

I'm from the UK so almost all Dutch cycle infrastructure looks good to me. After a week I had a better idea of what was good and what was not so good but still what I class as excellent might be below average for your average Dutch cyclist.

I took my heavy workcycles bike with me and stopped to take a lot of photographs so these journeys were not quick.

I think I know what a bicycle road is, what a cycle track is and what cycle lanes are. However if I get any of this wrong please do feel fee to correct me via the comments section.

As I write these posts this week I will try to research the routes I am writing about and about the areas I was passing through. However I do not speak Dutch, so there is probably some interesting information missing that I would prefer to have in there and no doubt the odd mistake as well. I can only do so much with google translate and the Dutch wikipedia site.

Next post: Cycling between Hook of Holland and Rotterdam

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