The first proper day of our Dutch adventure was a food tour in Amsterdam. We had booked this in advance and was to be a 4 hour walking tour to include food and drinks at various locations, along with a potted history of each type of typically Dutch food. As a surprise, our guide had also organised that part of the tour would be aboard a beautiful wooden Dutch boat dating from 1913. There we were treated to a cruise around the canals in style, with more food stops along the way. By the end of the tour we had been well fed & watered and were feeling a little tipsy. It was just as well that we had left the bikes behind on this occasion.
To get to Amsterdam in the first place, we boarded one of The Netherlands double decker sprinter trains from the beautiful Haarlem station, a journey that took a around 15 minutes. Amsterdam station is just at the edge of the main town, and the hustle and bustle starts as soon as you leave the front entrance. We noted that there were many more cycle spaces on the trains than there are in the UK, at least every other carriage has at least 2-3 spaces. Although they are not free like at home. You have to pay to travel with your bike, but the cost is not based on mileage and is a flat fee of €6.20. Bikes can only travel off peak (09:00 – 16:00 & after 18:30) during the week. Folders are allowed at any time, as long as they have been folded during the peak hours.
The following day we decided to try our hand at navigating the cycles paths without a pre-trip route navigated on my Garmin. Anyone who knows me, will understand that I like to know where I’m going, so travelling without a pre-planned route in front of me normally makes me very uncomfortable. However, we had already noted that the cycle paths and destinations were very well marked, although we didn’t quite understand the routing system. Thanks for the power of Google I found an exceptionally helpful website that explained it all. You can check it out great detail at this link, Holland Cycle Routes but the basics are this….
1- LF routes are national cycle routes perfect for multi-day cycle trips. These long-distance, cross-border routes constitute a national network of approximately 4,500 kilometres. They are signposted in two directions with rectangular white signs with green lettering. The signs show the route number, the route name and a directional arrow. The addition of ‘a’ or ‘b’ indicates the direction.
Here are some of the main long distance routes, although there are others
LF21, LF22 & LF23 (ZuiderZee Route – 400 km)
LF7 (River Bank Route – 385 km)
Various LF routes but also the end of EuroVelo 15
(Rhine Cycle Route – 270 km)
LF3 & LF12 (River Maas Route – 430 km)
> Rondje Twente
LF8, LF14 & LF15 (Tour of Twente – 165 km)
Many of the LF Routes (Tour of the Netherlands – 1300 km)
It’s possible to qualify for a finishing certificate for the Ronde van Nederland if you submit photos of each of 6 specific locations to prove that you’ve passed through. Although I think I would want more than just a certificate – a medal of honour seems rather more appropriate.
2 – The junction route network pretty much covers most of the Netherlands. Every junction has a number and an information board which contains an overview map. It also indicates the distance to the next junction. At every junction, you have a choice of several junction numbers to continue your trip. Moreover, the system is flexible: at every junction, you can decide to shorten or change the route. To cycle from one junction to another, just keep following the route signs with the number of the next junction. It couldn’t be any simpler.
To navigate a longer route therefore, you do not need a map to take with you, just a note of the junction numbers in the right order. The junction boards are very clear.
We did note however, that sometimes in some locations it can be a little more tricky to follow the junction numbers. Although, when you do find them, it’s easy to get back on track most times.
In addition to the navigation by numbers, the cycle infrastructure is really easy to use and follow. In the same way as roads work for cars, so they cycle routes work for bikes. The infrastructure is joined up, traffic junctions favour bikes over cars, and the majority of cycle paths are completely segregated. In fact, in some parts of the Netherlands, roads and paths have been made smaller to accommodate the bike lanes.
We started our trip in North Holland, and then travelled 40 miles south to South Holland. In that time we were able to follow totally segregated cycle paths for around 95% of our journey. Even the road sections were either very quiet, or had been narrowed to a single motor vehicle lane with painted cycle paths on each side. With cycle priority, if there was a bike in the cycle lane, and 2 cars needed to pass each other, one would simply have to wait. Vehicles can only move into the cycle lane to pass each other if there are no cyclists present. Can you imagine British drivers taking that without a dose of road rage!!!
This might seem impossible for us Brits to grasp, with our car is king mentality, until you realised that children are practically born into life by bike. Pregnant mums t ride their bikes almost to due date, and then as soon as a babies can hold their heads up they are on the front of the bike in a special bike seat. Once a bit older they go on the back, and a little older again there is a bar seat for them. Trailers with tots in are not uncommon, although cargo bikes with a big box with 2 seats in are more common for parent. People take their dogs with them this way too – as well as tools & shopping.
On our trip we have seen just about every kind of bike. From rusting old pub bikes, to swanky cargo bikes, super tandems, trikes and at weekends the road bikes also make an appearance. The Dutch bike is king around here, and it’s just an accepted way of life.
The rules of the road
1 – It’s illegal to ride a bike under the influence of drugs or alcohol – you can be fined €140 if caught
2 – Your bike must have a bell
3 – You much have good lights at night – but no flashing ones
4 – You must indicate if turning
5 – It’s not illegal to wear headphones or use your phone whilst cycling, although not really recommended. Lots of youngsters do though, so pay attention to those.
6 – Most one way streets also have ‘Uitgezonderd fietsers‘ marked underneath a no entry sign, this means except for cyclists. Since its the norm, don’t worry about riding against any oncoming cars.
6 – Cyclists have their own traffic signals which they are supposed to adhere to at junctions, and others that are like the pedestrian crossings. At some junctions cyclists are allowed to turn right on red if it’s safe. If you see the sign ‘Rechtsaf fieters vrij‘ then it’s safe to follow this rule.’
7 – Zebra crossings – Pedestrians first. In the traffic hierarchy, pedestrians crossing on zebras go first. So if you’re biking, and you see a zebra in front of you, make sure you stop if you see any people trying to cross!
8 – Cyclists must pass each other on the left, but can pass other traffic on the right.
We found car drivers always very tolerance of cyclists, unless we were riding on the road when there was a very good segregated path available. This may be due to the ‘motor vehicles are always responsible’ laws that apply in The Netherlands. This makes for junctions feeling safe in traffic, although does promote an almost indestructible attitude in some cyclists.
We also found that we didn’t feel the need to wear our helmets of the trip at all, apart from once or twice at busy city junctions, I’ve only felt at slightly risk of falling off due to other cyclists, or more often mopeds. Currently mopeds are allowed to use the cycle lanes, and very much do so. Although it’s a legal requirement for them to wear helmets, most decline to do so, and therefore ride on the cycle paths to make up for it. Since they come up behind you and don’t tend to beep their horns, they can sometimes take you by surprise and pass by so close they make you wobble. My understanding is that the rule regarding mopeds on cycle paths is due to change next year, but for now, these are another menace to take care around.
That said, the only people I’ve seen wearing helmets are riding drop handlebars and wearing Lycra. Everyone else wears normal clothes, upright bikes and lets their hair blow in the wind – if they have any.
We loved our time cycling around The Netherlands and certainly plan to return again some time soon. I may even decide to just turn up with a tent and a rough plan to follow one of the LF routes and see where I end up. Navigating by numbers makes it so easy.
Enjoy some of the photos