Tag Archives: Dutch

Why Fixed Gear Touring?

So I guess it’s question many people are asking. Well the simple answer is Why Not? To most the idea of taking cycle touring, something which isn’t exactly a walk in the park then getting rid of your gears and freewheel well that just seems silly. To be honest, come to think of it, it is silly and a bit hard and that’s  probably exactly why I wanted to give it a go.

Flying along on my loaded fixie

Flying along on my loaded fixie

I commute and use my fixie most of the time instead of a car (I have never actually had my own car on the road). When back home I used to regularly ride 12 miles to meet mates in the pub then ride back again at 1am through the eerie country lanes. Whilst at university me and Andy (a  friend from the cycling club) were always busy with work/lectures and found it hard to find time to go out on the Wednesday afternoon club rides. The solution was night riding. The roads in the winter were pretty crappy, riding a nice road bike on them at night would be less than sensible so we decided we would use our fixies for a laugh. Its actually a pretty practical solution as there is much less to go wrong minimising possible brake downs. We had one puncture I remember where is was so cold we had take it in turns mending whilst the other ran up and down to keep the blood pumping.   Also you don’t really have to worry about cleaning a fixie, it will keep on going regardless of how much crap you get on it.

Fixie Touring

Fixie Touring

Luckily the terrain in Cheshire is pretty damn flat so often we were able to do a 50 mile ride with an average speed only slightly lower than a normal club run. It’s funny how night riding on a cold winter night focused on a narrow beam of light causes you to tap out a really good pace (probably also due to the eagerness to get back to civilization). There is nothing like the feeling of riding back in to the city at midnight, with the temperature below freezing watching all the students stumbling home from the bars. You can’t help but smile and think to yourself if they only knew the adventure we had just been on. I remember rides with snow, windchill so cold our bottles would start to freeze and even crashing in to an ice cold puddle as it had started to ice over.

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Whilst riding we always used to ponder about touring on a fixie (among other things). We both decided that one day we would give it a go. Eventually a year or so later after I arrived back from cycling round Europe, the weather was nice and that day came.  We set off from Manchester on the very same Cheshire roads we used to night ride for our first 3 day fixie tour. We didn’t go too far, about 300 undulating kilometres, we were carrying full camping gear and had a really great time. The fixed gear bikes added some extra challenge to make the flat roads more interesting but we were both surprised with the ease at which we chewed through the miles.

You don't often see shadows like this in the UK

You don’t often see shadows like this in the UK

During this tour we pondered once again amount lots of stupid things but among them was how cool it would be to do a fixie tour on the continent. There are lots of ideal countries like Belgium and The Netherlands, countries which we laugh at (in the UK) for being so flat.  However when fixie touring is concerned they are perfect especially as they have amazing networks of bike paths. So that was why last Easter I found myself on a train clutching my bike heading towards Dover ferry port to begin our trans-national fixie tour. We road from Calais in France to the Netherlands through Belgium then back again. The distance was about 400 kms which we covered in 4 days (actually slightly less as we had to make sure we were back for the boat). The trip was a great success even though the weather was a bit variable. There’s nothing like crossing an international border knowing that you only used one gear to get there. Almost as good was seeing the look on the local cyclists faces as I cruised past on a pink a blue fixie loaded up with gear.

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

So a couple of tours down and I can’t imagine not doing another, I can see it becoming a yearly tradition. Using a fixed geared bikes adds an extra dimension and also adds some limitations which in a strange way makes it easier to narrow down possible routes and makes the whole trip more of an adventure. You can only go so fast and so far which forces you to relax a bit, sit up and make the most of your surroundings.  Its perfect if you only have short time or you don’t want to stray far from home….. though there’s is nothing stopping you going further afield. I can’t see a better way to get your touring fix on a nice sunny weekend with nothing to do. Who knows when or where our next tour will be, I’ve never been to Luxembourg come to think of it I have never done Lands End to John O’Groats…………

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There’s bikes everywhere!!!!!!

Leaving Cambridge
So I since my last instalment I have done quite a lot. I left Cambridge on Thursday morning bound for Harwich. The weather was amazing but to be honest I was slightly preoccupied thinking about my exam results and also if I would get to the ferry in time! I ended up phoning up to get my results from the side of the road in Essex (such a glamorous location). I was really chuffed with my results and am now the proud owner for a 1st class master’s degree in chemical engineering!!!

Getting my exam results by the side of the road in Essex

Getting my exam results by the side of the road in Essex

The rest of the trip went surprisingly quickly (probably because I was in such a good mood!). To celebrate I had the joy of catching a ferry at 23:45 (what fun). I decided I would treat myself when I got to Harwich and have a nice pub dinner. As is always the way I got there to find it was like a ghost town with only a couple of pubs none of which did food (but to be honest I don’t know that I would have wanted to try it if they did!)

You hear lots of stereotypes about Essex and although I was only in the county for a few hours I have to say that many of them are quite true. I ended up getting a handmade pizza, as I watched it being cooked I talked to the Romanian guy who worked there. It was an interesting conversation. He asked if I was going to Romania, I said I was, to which he replied “Don’t go there, the drivers are mad, they don’t think bikes should be allowed on the road, you will definitely be killed!” It turns out he was probably over reacting but he did have some useful info and told me not to have much money on me when passing into and out of Bulgaria and Moldova (sounds like they could be interesting boarder crossings!) 

Harwich Port

Harwich Port

Catching the Ferry
Riding onto the ferry was a pretty cool experience. The ferry in question was a brand new Stena Line super ferry. It was amazing, like a massive floating hotel. The cabin (which I had to book as it was an over night crossing) was pretty posh and it only cost 24 quid, it had a TV, on suite and was basically like a mini hotel suite (I recommend it to anyone thinking of going to Holland).  (I had to write quid in the previous sentence as the keyboard doesn’t have a pound sign, luckily the keys are in the right place however this will change when I get to Germany where the crazy letters like z are moved to prime positions, very confusing!)

The only downside was that after using the amazing shower and having a couple of beers to celebrate my results I only got 4 hours sleep before the on board wake up call at 6:45 (I lost an hour due to the time difference). There were a few other cyclists on board, some were going to see the Tour De France, others were just off touring round The Netherlands, the worrying thing was that they all had a plan and when they asked me mine I was only able to say “well I’ll have a cup of coffee and get my map/travel guide out and decide then” I have done lots of planning but haven’t really touched the route. 

Greenhouses full of flowers

Greenhouses full of flowers

The Dutch are Cycling Mad!!
As it turns out The Netherlands is amazing and there are cycle paths everywhere with sign posts to most places. Before long I was belting through a very stereotypical (and flat) Dutch landscape covered in miles and miles of greenhouses. I was a bit worried about being on the wrong side of the road, as I’m not great at telling my left and right at the best of times! It turns out that it really wasn’t worth worrying about! The cycle lanes are amazing, there are signposts just for cyclists, special crossing lanes and bike traffic lights. The drivers are so used to having bikes around that you can pretty much do anything and go anywhere and no one cares. I say this but my sat nav did take me on a reasonably major road today and I did had a few people honking at me, what I think they were trying to say is “what are you doing on the road, are you mad! use a cycle lane” there are so many cycle lanes you don’t see so many bikes on the roads out of town.

Bike Traffic Light

Bike Traffic Light

Peaceful Bench

Peaceful Bench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many people ride bikes it’s amazing, especially extremely attractive tanned girls with long blond hair (which I’m liking very much!). There is always somewhere to lock you bike. At the stations and in the center of town the number of bikes locked up is just phenomenal (see pics for an idea). There are also so many different types, a common one is a cargo bike which is kind of a cross between a bike and a wheel barrow, mums seem to like them for ferrying their kids to school (I’m going to try and get some pics of some of the more crazy ones).

Typical Dutch bike rack

Typical Dutch bike rack

First Day in The Netherlands
Despite only having 4 hours sleep and feeling a bit like death warmed up, I did manage to ride north to Dan Haag. I spent a few hours looking around and got some local info from the tourist information office. There was also a great photo exhibition of European wildlife photos in the street, some of them were mind blowing! I also saw the queen’s palace and parliament buildings. In the afternoon I headed north to Leiden hoping I would find a campsite there. When I got to the visitors centre and asked about camping it turned out that as is often the case, there was somewhere but it was south of town so I had pretty much ridden straight past it. On the way I witnessed a scene which just about sums up the Dutch attitude to bikes. Two kids passed me walking on the pavement, one was pushing a bike. Two policemen (on bikes of course) passed in the opposite direction, soon they turned around onto the other side of the road and stopped the kids. I assumed as I’m sure you would too they thought the kids had stolen the bike and were questioning them. However a few seconds later one of the policemen took the bike and start fiddling with it. It turned out that they had a puncture or had broken down and the policemen had stopped to fix it for them how amazingly cool is that!!

Happy Couple

Happy Couple

By the time I got to the campsite it was getting late and the visitors centre was closed. I decided that the best thing to do was to put my tent up anyway and then pay in the morning if there was someone around (pretty standard in the UK, right?). After putting my tent up and getting my dinner on the go (pasta, as usual) I was bursting for a pee. It was at this point that I realised to use the toilets, showers and even drinking water you needed a special key and swipe card!! This was definitely not good, to make things worse I later found out that I had pitched my tent in someone else’s pitch and they duly turned up with two caravans and two cars. This was not the best first European camping experience. I did later manage to steal some water from the tap on the washing up sink and sneak into the toilet block after someone, but no luck on the shower front, really not what you want after cycling in the baking sun all day!

Riding under Amsterdam International Airport

Riding under Amsterdam International Airport

Ah there we go, first sighting of a Windmill

Ah there we go, first sighting of a Windmill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today has been more of the same I have travelled north to Amsterdam. (I am going to move faster than this however it takes a while to get into the swing of travelling and 4 hours sleep on the ferry took it out of me). I’m getting much more confident on the maze of cycle lanes and cycle paths and can just about remember to look the right way when crossing a road now. I did give one guy on a scooter a scare, scooters are allowed on the cycle lanes, just to make things a bit more interesting. I had decided to over take one of the hundreds of couples out for a nice gentle Saturday bike ride in the sun, and slightly misjudged how fast he was coming towards me. 

My favourite sight of the day came courtesy of my sat nav which decided to take me on the shortest route through town. What I hadn’t bargained for was that it was a Saturday which meant there was a huge market on and so many people cycling wasn’t possible. The market lined one of the main canals and as I neared the end I could hear a live rock band playing. I looked around to try and figure out where it was coming from figuring that it would be on the other side of the canal. On further inspection I discovered it wasn’t coming form the other side but it was actually coming from the canal. There was a full rock band and sound system on a boat just motoring round in circles on the canal. Many of the restaurants and cafe’s have old boats moored up with chairs and tables on giving the band a guaranteed crowd that couldn’t leave even if they wanted to, pretty clever really. People also lined the bridges that cross the canal. After a couple of numbers they decided a change of venue was needed and whilst they continued to play they motored down another canal to find some more people to spread their music too. 

Dutch rock band playing on the canal

Dutch rock band playing on the canal

Key Facts
I forgot to introduce this in my earlier posts but from now on I’m going to put a few key facts on the bottom of my posts so you can judge how well my trip is going (I may add more as and when I think of them).

Distance covered – Approx 520 km (323 miles)
Countries visited – 2
Max speed – 60.4 km
Longest day – 147.5 km
Punctures – 0
Things broken / worn out (given my luck in the recent past this could increase rapidly) – 0
Different beers tried – 6
Languages spoken (well attempted) – 2
Proper mountains climbed – 0
Ferry Crossings – 1