We’ll be back cycling in The Netherlands in less than a fortnight, so we’re planning some interesting routes.
Coincidentally, my correspondent Lianne just sent me a few questions (with attached compliments – flattery will get you everywhere!) about how to arrange a cycling holiday there.
So here it is – info on bike hire, route planning, weather, all the essentials to get started on planning a bike trip through Nederland.
How hard is it? Is it safe?
I can’t imagine anywhere in the world that is better set up for cycle touring than The Netherlands. Even beginners will enjoy the car-free cycle ways in towns, and the marked routes along quiet, safe country roads.
Of course there are occasionally tragic accidents, though given the number of trips made on Dutch bikes each day, the road toll of cyclists is remarkably low.
Helmets are not compulsory, except for children. Lycra is optional, though widely regarded in Nederland as unseemly showing off.
It is well known that Holland is flat, which can deceive people into thinking cycling must all be a rather tame doddle there. Flat places are windy places, and a vicious headwind blowing off the North Sea can be an ordeal. The solution – ride with the wind at your back wherever possible. If doing a loop ride, try to head into the wind to start with, so it will blow you home again.
If speed is not an issue, you can get around anywhere in the country on a basic bike. Costs can be as low as 10 euros a day. If you’d like to go a bit faster with some extra gears, rent a touring bike or even an electric bike.
For the kids
Depending on how much your children want to ride (any self-respecting 8-y-o will want to wobble on her/his own bike) you may consider renting a ‘bakfiets’ (‘cargo bike’) in Amsterdam to take the little ones and some luggage.
They’re easier to ride than they look, and if they’re a bit heavy and slow, ask yourselves are you in such a great hurry?
Guided cycling tours
If you feel more comfortable riding with a group, many companies offer guided or self-guided cycling tours. Macbike and Yellow Bike run short tours of Amsterdam and day tours of the surrounding countryside.
I particularly enjoyed the four-day tour by barge and bike offered by Utracks. We slept on an old barge, and disembarked each day for an (optional) bike ride to the tulip fields, Haarlem, Leiden, a windmill…all the Dutch attractions in other words.
Bikes on trains
The train system covers almost the whole country, and you can take a bike on the train for 6 euros a day, anywhere in the Netherlands. You’d hope not to have to use this option too often, but it’s a useful plan B in case of tiredness or bad weather. Or you can take the train to start your trip and ride with the wind behind you back to Amsterdam. Bikes (other than fold-up bikes) are not supposed to be on trains during morning or evening peak hours, though you may be lucky and find a conductor who lets you on then if there’s room.
In planning a multi-day route, bear in mind that wind most often (though not always) comes from the south west, and can be strong up the coast in particular.
Bike paths are generally very well signposted in the Netherlands, or you can follow their numbered recreational bike routes from websites like that of the Fietsersbond (Bike Organisation): http://en.routeplanner.fietsersbond.nl/
For maps, advice and accessories like waterproof saddlebags (essential in NL!) , try De Vakantie Fietser (the holiday biker) in Westerstraat, Amsterdam (http://www.vakantiefietser.nl/the-holiday-biker/) or for guide books Pied a Terre, in the Overtoom, Amsterdam (http://www.jvw.nl/)
Weather and seasons
Officially spring begins around April and summer ends after September, so these are usually the best months for cycling. But bear in mind that Dutch weather is usually miserable at worst, changeable at best. We’ve regularly bailed out of our rides for a day or two, then continued when the sun came out again. So hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst and bring good wet weather gear!
Where’s the best place to ride?
Here we can all be paralysed by choice. I’ve listed some of my favourite Dutch rides in the GREAT RIDES section of this blog.
Waterland to the north of Amsterdam and Groene Hart to the south are both great for classic Dutch countryside with little villages. Zeeland in the south of the country features the mighty Deltaworks – the dykes holding back the sea. The Wadden Islands are regarded as cycling paradise by Dutch holiday cyclists, while the northern provinces of Drenthe and Friesland are more sparsely populated with many thousands of kilometres of quiet country roads and cycle paths.
Bottom line – it doesn’t really matter. Anywhere you ride in The Netherlands, you will enjoy it!
Will having a bike with me be a hassle at hotels?
Many hotels and B&Bs in the Netherlands specifically cater for cyclists, with lock-up garages or secure parking. They’ll even recharge the battery on your electric bike – often for free. An alternative to normal hotels is Vrienden op de Fiets (Friends on the Bike), private individuals who offer cheap accommodation to cyclists. You become a ‘donor’ (i.e. ‘member’) for 8 euros a year, then pay a maximum of 20 euros per person for B&B. You meet some nice, bike-friendly people this way too.
So, what have I missed? Any recommendations or tips? Best routes? Problems? Traps for young players? Let me know!