It’s a first-time experience for me, so I thought I’d jot down a few observations of cycling in the Netherlands.
Basically, it’s the same in Belgium, but I’d say Belgian drivers are not quite as relaxed.
Arriving late at the ferry in Harwich, could only be bettered by being the last cyclist to leave the ferry at Hook of Holland.
However, it was planned to give me easy access to my bike, honest.
Passport control was easy – a glimpse at my passport and a wave through. I was in the Netherlands!
First, I stopped and swapped my mirror to the other side of the handlebars. This would be a great reminder on which side of the road I should ride! I powered up my Garmin, loaded the course to the first campsite and tapped “Ride”.
I set off with some trepidation – mainly to do with being on the wrong side of the road – but that soon disappeared.
The Dutch equivalent of the Yellow Brick Road is the red cycle path. Cycling on that path, any fear of being mown down by a huge truck are gone.
Well, almost. As I was to quickly discover, mopeds and scooters can use some cycle paths (look for the moped sign), as can small electric vehicles (like the Renault Twizy), mobility scooters and more. And official vans with hazard lights on, and some lorries…
Sometimes the path is on both sides of the road, other times it’s on one side, but can swap sides (with a marked lane across the road).
Road riding where there is a cycle path (yeah, me) gets a toot by passing drivers – more of a reminder than you complete f*ckwit.
Still, the joy of having your a dedicated cycle path was fantastic. With traffic lights that sense your approach and change ALL the lights at a junction so you don’t have to stop (just need to get the right approach timing), the roundabouts with cycle paths so no contention with cars and the red sign posts with distances to the towns, I was quickly getting used to this experience.
Most importantly, drivers respect cyclists who seem to have absolute right of way. So much so, that even after a couple of weeks of cycling here I can’t get my head around the cyclists not looking, not bothering to slow down or look up from their phone when approaching a junction. They just go and the vehicles stop. The drivers don’t get upset, or angry, or sound a horn. It all just works. Only because, I suppose, the driver also rides a bike or two at home. In towns, too, speed limits are lower.
I described my riding style to a Dutch guy as “defensive”. I explained in the UK, I’ll stop to make it clear a vehicle should go on, or hang back to give a vehicle time to get round an obstruction. He looked at me as though I was mad.
Doing the same thing in the Netherlands caused (a lot of) confusion to Dutch drivers and was probably an unsafe thing to do. He agreed, but old habits die hard (I still look at junctions, but now I look first to the left!).
Generally, the surface of a cycle path is excellent. The ultimate being the ‘snelfietserspad’ (fast cycling path) where the surface is fabulous and you can really get a move on – on a day ride without luggage I got to 28-30 kph and road bikers were steaming past me!
It’s not so good when the route goes off the dedicated cycle path and into a residential street (or through a city centre). There is still a cycle lane, with the lane coloured red, but a lot of these streets are block paved, or (and much worse) cobbled. Very uncomfortable when fully loaded.
Add in tram lines, where the gap in each rail is just about as wide as a tyre and city centre cycling is not much fun. Sometimes there is not much room, either.
At weekends there are large groups of road cyclists on the paths. They travel very fast. No near misses, yet! Add in the family groups with kids on bikes, and it can be very exciting.
Electric bikes are very popular. Many are ridden by the older generation, it must be great to have the range to get out and about without not much effort!
The bike riders can be interesting, too. Not so much the rider themselves but how they ride. Holding an umbrella in the rain is popular, as is a mum riding with a small baby tucked into a front pouch. It’s common to see people on their phones or riding no handed while texting. There are lots of cargo bikes pedalled by a parent with two or three kids in the front cargo area (all wearing helmets). Alternatively, small children may sit in a seat on the handlebars behind a small windscreen (or no windscreen), or in a seat behind the adult.
I’ve seen a few trikes (probably electric) with a full fairing that look as though they could really move, and dogs and cats in cages on rear racks.
Maybe a little general, but casual riders don’t seem to wear helmets.
Basically, everyone rides a bike.
It can be the crappiest bike or the latest carbon-fibre road bike, but it’ll be ridden. Maybe to the shops, or to the station or bus stop for the commute to work or school.
Bikes are part of the landscape – I think the Dutch and their country are better for it.