Tag Archives: Netherlands

Compare and contrast a US Safer Route to School with the Netherlands

I have just seen this post: Bike Lane SUCCESS! A Safer Route to Middle School | One woman. Many bicycles.

Go and read it, then come back and watch this 5 year old video of cycling to school in the Netherlands by David Hembrow

Note that it was -2 degrees Celsius when this video was recorded.

So which would you prefer your child to use as a “Safer route to School”?

David has written a long and detailed post critiquing rubbish design such as the “sharrows” praised in the first link which is well worth reading: A view from the cycle path: Ontario Traffic Manual “Bicycle Facilities” draft edition. How not to design for cycling.


Excluding views of cycling campaigners

After being asked by the County Council I recently suggested some items for the Leicestershire Cycle Liaison meeting agenda. I suggested 5 items:

  • parts of the TfL February Board meeting briefing paper (PDF) [focused on the need for segregation and the benefits of segregation]
  • a report from someone involved in transport strategy for new housing
  • plans of junctions that have been updated or are being designed now to review for cycle safety
  • a presentation from the Council on what requirements for cycling provision are included in all design briefs
  • an update on the Council’s policy on 20mph limits/zones given the changing national picture.

I fully recognise that I am pushing hard at Leicestershire County Council whose understanding of cycling provision is limited to education, signposting and shared use pavements.

However, I was disappointed to get this reaction from a Cycling Campaigner:

I have found in the past, that talking about highly charged issues, like you have sent for comments, can really only be done, to have any meaning, with a keen cyclist. do you fall into this category do you happily cycle at 28 to 33 kms per hour.If you do then it can be meaningful as anybody can cycle slower and fall in with the existing infrastructure, its the keen cyclist that has the problem.

So by this persons definition I am not a “keen cyclist” as I do not ride between 28 and 33kms per hour (that is 17.5 to 20.6mph) and because I am not a “keen cyclist” I should be happy with the existing infrastructure as I am not one of these “keen cyclists” who has the problem.

I was almost lost for words and it took sometime for my blood pressure to subside enough for a reasonably civil reply.

I campaign for cycling infrastructure to the latest Dutch standards because I am concerned about a variety of crises we face as a country:

  • deaths on the roads
  • obesity
  • congestion
  • air pollution
  • health costs
  • peak oil
  • CO2 emissions

While walking and use of public transport can also help with some of these crises nothing is more effective at tackling them all than switching lots and lots of journeys to ordinary people riding bikes. Not only that but switching people to riding bikes also happens to be great for the economy with shops, employers, home owners, health service, road maintenance, emergency services all benefiting.

I do not want to be associated with an attitude that defines only fast sports cyclists as “keen cyclists” and which does not consider the huge numbers of people who would like ride a bike but feel it is too dangerous.

So I am not a “keen cyclist” despite riding nearly every day and 3,500 to 5,500 miles a year! Moreover, my focus in Cycle Campaigning is not on “keen cyclists” by this definition (although my experience of cycling in the Netherlands shows that even “keen cyclists” benefit greatly from Dutch quality infrastructure.

[Update] I have now had a gracious response to my response from the person concerned confessing that they were being selfish.


That’s a nice new bike!

So yesterday morning was strange! Very early for a Saturday I had cycled to Braunstone Park (see The hazards of supporting running) and was hanging out with a bunch of weird people ie runners. Anyway one of them came up to me and said “That’s a nice new bike!”.

I was of course on my Bike for Life, the Shand Stoater Plus. Pictured here after it’s wash 10 days ago:

I was struck by the “new” part of the comment, after all it is very obvious to everyone that it is a “nice” bike 🙂 Was it the result of being washed 10 days ago? Was it an assumption that the only reason you would be out on a bike at a silly time on the Saturday after Christmas because the bike was new?

Whatever, it is a nice complement to the quality of the workmanship of Steve and Russ at Shand Cycles that after 3,500 miles in 1 year of daily use in all weathers the bike still gets mistaken for new.

A little while later someone else also commented on the bike, noticing some of the features, like the belt drive, which normally only bike geeks notice. I do still like the way the bike appears understated to most people, unlike a carbon road bike which should “look at me, I’m expensive” the Shand is discrete and many of the wonderful features are only noticed by real bike geeks.

Also worth noting is that in the Uk where cycling is not at all normal you find a much higher percentage of people who ride bikes are “bike geeks” compared to the Netherlands where bikes are just bikes for most people who ride them. That is a clear indicator of the amount of work to be done in the UK to get non bike geeks on bikes (work that I believe should be nearly all focused on safe and convenient infrastructure).


Travelling with bikes

We have spent 1 1/2 days travelling home from Alkmaar in the Netherlands to Leicester in the UK.

Yesterday we left the campsite just after noon Dutch time and arrived at a Travelodge near the Dartford Thames Crossing at 10:30pm UK time. The start worked particularly well. We had a full afternoon and evening out on Thursday so didn’t start packing anything until after breakfast on Friday. We were off the pitch before noon and then had time for a shower before leaving the site (much nicer to start a long journey not feeling all sweaty).

Today we left the travelodge just after 9 and got home around noon.

With a folding camper (a Dandy Designer) there is very little storage inside the folded camper and the our fridge (gas/mains or 12V) takes a big chunk of space in the car boot. We see many others with similar configurations and for the most part they have their bikes on the car roof or sometimes on top of the camper (usually laying flat).

As there were only 3 of us my much preferred option is to remove all the seats we don’t need from the car (with the Berlingo Multispace this is very easy and needed as they don’t fold flat into the floor). We can then fit 3 bikes and the fridge into the car (along with a fair bit of other stuff such as duvets, pillows, 24 bottles of wine, tools). The rest of the clothes I put in a folding Thule roofbox on top of the Dandy camper.

This has big advantages:

  • much better aerodynamics (we averaged 40mpg and that was with only one short day trip when we were not towing). The roofbox is still a lot lower than our car so has much less effect when on the trailer.
  • better security. Yes they could steal our dirty washing on the way home if they untied the roofbox or cut it with a sharp tool. But the bikes are worth a lot more than our holiday clothes!
  • better in the rain. The bikes stay dry 🙂
  • less damage. The bikes get wrapped in rugs and there is no rubbing or scraping or wind damage
  • height barriers have only the normal restrictions for the roof of the car. Having seen someone drive under a building with bikes on we don’t want to risk the same (we once nearly forgot and nearly tried to drive through a car park height barrier with bikes on.

In the past with a 6 berth, twin axle caravan I could just about fit 5 bikes into it, again a pretty good option (although a bit of pain at overnight stops in motorway services).

The next best option is to put the bikes on the roof of the camper, we did that a couple of years ago with 6 bikes to France because with 6 people in the car there was only room in the car for us, the fridge and a little stuff. Since then we have had the suspension on the Dandy upgraded and I do have plans for a Mark II version one day.

Meantime since getting home I have at last started work on a new lighting board for the Dandy. Some of the lights are persistently unreliable so I am creating an LED lighting board that will be quick to fit (I don’t want to drill the frame at the moment so this will hang on top). I am also going to fit some boards to the bottom of the roof box which will make it quicker and easier to fit.


Last day riding in the Netherlands this holiday

So sad, today was our last full day in the Netherlands, in the morning we pack up to head back to cycling carnage in the UK.

It also rained all morning but by mid afternoon it had cleared up and we went for a beautiful ride.

You can see a map of the route here on Strava.

As with every ride in the Netherlands this holiday there was not a single dangerous or scary moment.

I got caught a bit as piggy in the middle between a son wanting to rush onto the next place where we might buy him food and a wife who wanted to enjoy the scenery 🙂

The ride to Camperduin included some lovely off road bits with some amazing sand mountains to see at Schoorl. Then we stopped for a drink at the cafe on top of the dunes at Camperduin, so windy the froth was being blown off the drinks as the staff brought them to the tables (despite the glass screens).

The next bit is wonderful, a scenic ride through the sand dunes. A real delight even with the hills and a very strong headwind. We passed one family with 3 children between the parents bikes (Mum with the younger two and Dad with the older one) working their way up the first long climb. There were lots of bikes all the way along with people of all ages riding them.

We then had an early evening meal at Bergen aan Zee with a sea view which was lovely before a ride back to the campsite on which you pass some really great home designs.

I did 23.3 miles which was probably a mile or two further than the others as I commuted between them 🙂

A great ride to finish the holiday.

Note looking forward to UK roads at all!



Some normal sights in the Netherlands

I’m sorry but I’m not much of a photographer so you’ll have to make do with word pictures.

We have now been in the Netherlands for 10 days. Here are just a few of the normal sights around here that you won’t normally (if ever, for most of us) see in the UK

1: An elderly couple out for a ride together. She is on a mobility scooter and he is on an electric assist bike.

2: A mum with a cargobike riding alongside a young child (maybe about 5 years old) who is riding their own bike along the normal cycle infrastructure (at this point a painted lane on the road). When I caught up with them they were stopped at a red traffic light and clearly having a conversation about what that meant and when they would be able to continue.

3: Parents with two children on a normal bike (one in a seat behind the handlebars, the other a seat on the backrack).

4: Teenage girls riding out of town on their own in the late evening.

5: Groups of young people riding about town together, using the safe infrastructure not the pavement or the road.

6: A group of 4 Scouts in uniform on a fully loaded tour

7: Tandems with couples of all ages in normal clothes

8: Couples in full lycra on nice road bikes riding together heading in or out of town

9: People getting off their bike, parking it and taking a walking stick from the basket in order to be able to walk away.

10: Crowds of bikes parked outside every restaurant, cafe, pub, shop in an ordinary town not just a University city.

11. Cash machines at banks that most of the people use them one handed while holding their bike in the other hand

12. People of all ages giving people of all ages rides on their back racks (or sometimes their front racks)

13. Dogs in front baskets, dogs in rear baskets, dogs on leads alongside bikes

14. A gentleman riding home with a huge brass band instrument on his front rack

15: A mum with two maybe 10 year olds in the front of her cargobike (seen halfway between two towns)

16: Bike traffic jams at traffic lights despite it not being rush hour, not being a city and not being a narrow lane.


A new understanding of Dutch Bike Bells

For a quite a while I have been a fan of the Widek Ding Dong Bell that I have bought from David and Judy Hembrows Dutch Bike Bits website.

David is a friend and a very thorough person so I am grateful that he took the time to test lots of bike bells to be able to sell us the loudest.

It works really well. I find with pedestrians in the UK I need to ring it while I am some way away from them or they jump out of their skins.

However, it has one flaw for the UK. It tends to ring by itself when you hit bumps. British cycle tracks are full of bumps and holes that are big enough to make my bell ring which I find irritating.

So I was wondering how the Dutch put up with this and why David does not mention it in his thorough testing.

After a few days of riding with the bell in the Netherlands my conclusion is that the reason nobody here reports this problem is that they don’t experience it. I am approaching 100 miles riding in the Netherlands and the bell has not rung by itself once.

So in addition to the white trouser infrastructure test we can add another.

If a Widek Ding Dong Bell rings by itself while cycling on your infrastructure then it is not up to Dutch standards.



Lycra clad fast cyclists in the Netherlands?

So today was over 34 miles from Bladen to Eindhoven as a family. An opportunity to check whether the frequent claims by UK cyclists that cycle tracks in the Netherlands are only for slow cyclists.

After discussing it with Jane and Stephen our conclusions are:

  • We saw more cyclists on fancy road bikes who were fully clad in lycra than we have ever seen while out riding in the UK.
  • All these cyclists were using the cycle paths
  • A number of lycra clad cyclists overtook us
  • We saw many more lycra clad cyclists going across our route than along it.
  • We saw a much closer gender balance in the lycra clad cyclists than in the UK. I guess at least 1/3 were women compared to maybe 1/10 in the UK.
  • While there were more lycra clad cyclists out today than we ever see in the UK (and remember this is not a weekend and this was during office hours) they were only a small percentage of the total number of cyclists that we saw (certainly less than 10%)
  • As well as lycra clad cyclists on road bikes we have also seen quite a few lycra clad cyclists on mountain bikes, again on cycle facilities and again going fast. No idea where they were going to/from.

Soon after getting back to the campsite I noticed a mum and her pre-teenage son going out for a ride. Both were on “proper” road bikes, both in full lycra. I have never seen that in the UK before.



Planning family cycling

I assume that many parents in the UK will be like us.

We routinely reconnoitre routes before taking our sons cycling anywhere in the UK. In our experience you just can’t rely on cycle infrastructure to provide a safe route from A to B. This is one of the reasons why driving to an off road cycle friendly place with bikes strapped to the car is so popular.

Typically I do the same thing on holiday. I go for rides by myself to scout out where we might go and the best routes to take. Especially when the boys were younger it made family days out much less stressful.

Last nights ride demonstrated that things don’t have to be like this.

Certainly in this part of the Netherlands if you want to go somewhere then all you need is a rough idea of the places you want to go through. For example going to the Hovenring from our campsite it helped to know that there is a quiet lane signposted as a cycle route that takes a short cut in the right direction, thereafter I just followed the signs for Eindhoven confident that there would always be a safe cycle route.

When following the signs around here it seems to me there is a hierarchy.

  1. Signs specifically marking a cycle route (ie that connects places or provides a scenic tour). These seem to be numbered with green on white.
  2. Cycle specific directions with red lettering on a white background
  3. Ordinary road signs

This hierarchy worked well getting me from Bladel to Eindhoven. If I knew I wanted a specific cycle route I followed the signs for that. If the cycle track was well separated or the cycle route was more direct there would be a red on white sign to follow. If I couldn’t see any other sign I used the normal white on blue road signs.

Discovering that we can simply decide to cycle to a place and follow the road signs knowing that all the routes are going to be safe for cycling is incredible, from a UK perspective it seems totally improbable and impossible. Yet the Dutch take it for granted.

I didn’t believe it myself as we were driving here on Monday evening. We came from Antwerp on the A67/E34 motorway, signposted Eindhoven, and there was no cycle track. Then we took a link road to Hapert, the N284 and there was no cycle track. However, last night I discovered that as a cyclist you are not even aware of the N284 as you go straight under it using an underpass. The cycle network is so complete and so connected that you are completely unaware of the roads without cycle tracks.

In the Uk it is completely different. Endeavouring to get from A to B cyclists frequently end up crossing motorways at their junctions with no cycle infrastructure at all. A long distance cycle journey as a family (even using a Sustrans route) is a very scary prospect in the UK but would be straightforward in the Netherlands.


Converted by Breeze

On Saturday, having been encouraged by Rachel (my boss) Jane went on a Sky Breeze ride and loved it. She did 22 miles which included a visit to Thrussington tea shop.


As expected Jane was the only person on a bike equipped any of the following:

  • basket
  • skirt guard
  • step thru frame
  • hub gears
  • chain guard

By equipped with “some” of these I mean of course Jane had them all 🙂

The others were clearly highly trained motivators and so Jane came back convinced that she could ride a road bike, that she would be a lot faster and more comfortable on a road bike and therefore that she should get one.

This was not an opportunity to be wasted!

So on Saturday afternoon we went over to both Rutland Cycling stores who had impressive ranges of road bikes for women (mostly Trek, Specialized and Giant).

Jane tested a couple and came away in love with the fully carbon Specialized Ruby (despite only having ridden one that was a size too small).

That left me with the kill joy task of pointing out that she would probably enjoy the bike a lot more if she could have mudguards and carry a few things neither of which are very practical on the full carbon frames.

Anyway today we went on another bike shop visit. This time we went to the Specialized Concept store at Fort Dunlop in Birmingham where Jane was able to test ride a 54cm Dolce. She liked it a lot.

We then had a little distraction when I suggested she might consider a Specialized Tricross to benefit from bigger tyres, easier mudguard and rack fitting, and disc brakes. If the handlebars were swapped for the narrower women’s ones from the Dolce then most of the dimensions were very similar. In the end two things meant that we dropped the idea of the Tricross. The first was that the standover height was nearly 2cm more which Jane felt was intimidating. Secondly the colour scheme was deemed boring.

So in the end we have ordered a very “pretty” 54cm Dolce Elite Equipped which Jane can collect on Monday next week.



A couple of thoughts on the choice.

I was keen that if Jane was to have a road bike then it should be a good one and there not be any suggestion that she got fobbed off with the cheap option. So this is about the top specification for a women’s road bike with rack mounting points and clearance for full length mudguards.

Secondly, this has Tiagra brake/gear levers. The next specification up from Shimano is 105 and Jane found that the much larger hoods on these were too big for her hands to feel comfortable. So certainly for Jane Tiagra is as far up the Shimano product line as is comfortable. I have heard of a number of people unhappy with Sora (the next level down) and have personally been happy with Tiagra on my Trek for the last 7 years or so.

Thirdly, colour is tricky 🙂 It can’t be too girly (pink bar tape would have been too much) but at the same time it does have to look pretty. Specialized seem to have got it about right for Jane.

With a few days in Derbyshire at half term and a summer holiday in the Netherlands plus assorted Breeze rides and maybe even some with me it should get used a fair bit this summer.

Oh and no she won’t be getting rid of the other bike 🙂 This one is not suitable for riding when wearing a dress or skirt, nor is it as convenient for local shopping. The basket is still too convenient for handbags, bottles of wine, egg cartons etc etc. Plus all those heavy extras make the current bike ideal in horrible weather and on poor quality cycle routes especially when wearing normal clothes.


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