This is a great project. Paul van Bellen is leading a group of 30 ‘thinking cyclists’ from Australia on a 500km ride through the Netherlands, on the way studying the infrastructure and culture of ‘the world’s #1 cycling country’.
Paul imports Dutch-made Gazelle bikes to Australia. Gazelle specialize in the upright, indestructible stadfietsen (city bikes) which are the favoured mode of transport all over the country.
He invited people to come with him on this trip, not just for the adventure and the exercise, but for talks and demonstrations from local experts and a tour of the Gazelle factory.
I took the train out of Amsterdam and joined them in Enkhuizen for a 60-odd km ride back into the capital.
A number of members of the group have a professional interest in cycling infrastructure. Sam is a Greens member of a local Melbourne council. Lyn is a landscape designer for Newcastle City. Jan is writing about women and cycling for a book.
All were most impressed with what has been done in the Netherlands to encourage cycling, with its consequent benefits of relieving traffic congestion, noise and air pollution and improving public health.
‘Where are all the obese people in this country?’ someone asked.
‘Isn’t it fantastic to see all the kids riding to school,’ was another common observation. In Australia most parents won’t let their kids ride the bikes – it’s considered too dangerous, and maybe rightly so.
The 20km between Enkhuizen and Hoorn flashed by as we rolled along the cycleways at a leisurely pace, following the numbers on roadside signs that marked the recommended bike routes.
Most of the group had hired Gazelle touring bikes for the trip, some had liked them so much they’d bought them and a few had the electric versions.
It didn’t really matter what the bike was like. Cycling in Holland is usually so easy that anything with wheels and pedals will get you around.
Until just out of Hoorn we struck the vicious headwind, blowing directly from Amsterdam. There was nowhere to hide.
Some of the group, those with strong legs, stronger wills and/or those electric bikes, struggled on towards Amsterdam, but Paul had a better suggestion. ‘We ought to check out the train/bike combination, don’t you think?’ I for one thought it was a great idea.
The train from Hoorn to Purmerend saved us 25km of howling gale.
We paid a modest fare (and a 6 euro day pass for the bike), waited a paltry nine minutes for the next train, and soon were taking photos of the train’s priority bike compartment and swapping horror stories of trying to get bikes around on Australian country trains.
From Purmerend the ride into Amsterdam was relaxed and comfortable, and we could marvel at the bike paths through leafy parks and beside quiet canals, just a couple of clicks outside the centre of a major city.
Thanks, Paul, for inviting me along and thanks everyone for the chats and the laughs. Enjoy your day off in Amsterdam.
To follow the trip on the Cycling Dutch Style blog, click here.