27 May 2010
In the Low Countries
But I say road: I mean cycle path. One of thousands of wonderful, dedicated cycle paths, veritable highways for pedal powered vehicles (and a few scooters, but more on this later).
I won't bore you with the details: suffice to say my two friends and I had a wonderful time cycling from Bruges to Amsterdam in three days. This was our itinerary:
21 May: travel to start line - Manchester, Schipol, Antwerp, Bruges
22 May: Bruges - Goereedere (70miles)
23 May: Goereedere - Norwijk (60miles)
24 May: Norwijk - Amsterdam (30miles)
25 May: tourism in Amsterdam, fly back to Manchester
The accommodation was good in all cases, with similar prices:
Bruges: Botaniek hotel
Goedereede: De Gouden Leeuw
Norwijk and Amsterdam: Stayok (Dutch youth hostels)
We were very lucky with the weather, which may have influenced my perception of the experience of cycling in Belgium and the Netherlands, but I really felt this was cycling's paradise on earth. For those who follow David Henbrow's informative blog, you'll understand if I say I feared I'd be disappointed - but I was not. The cycling infrastructure is genuinely superb, and the cycling culture is really widespread. What the initial spark was for this revolution, nobody seems able to say. But I was bowled over by the sight of cycling by old and young, male and female, with or without dogs, bbqs, babies, etc.
I saw people cycling to work, to a party, cycling for pleasure or for sport. I saw 'normal' bikes, recumbent bikes, trikes, 'bakfiets', tandems and even one (only one) Sinner 'mango'. We, the 'brits' could be easily recognised, not so much because of our helmets, which many a racing cyclist did wear, but because of our 'hybrid' status - riding hybrid bikes, hybrid clothing and a speed that was faster than your normal commuter but slower than the colourful lycra-clad racing lot.
I also saw a couple of crashes, or their aftermath - in the more congested cycle roads arounds towns - and I can say that in Amsterdam cycling is no fun - it's just like driving a car in a big, busy city, such is the high proportion of cycling in relation to cars. I reckon that's a price worth paying for living in a country where people 'get' cycling and just get on with it. Only in Sheveningen (the Dutch Blackpool?) did I feel cycling was a bit like in the UK - in conflict with car traffic and with carefree pedestrians along a busy waterfront.
Now my bike awaits to be re-assembled after being packed for the return flight. I will then hit the British roads and relish the challenge - but in my mind there will always be the thought that there is somewhere where things are different, where cycling is not a 2nd class use of the highway.