The Trip: #tandem2Arnhem
1. It's all about the infrastructure
People ride in the Netherlands because they don't mix with traffic. We saw all types of cyclist on the fietspad and rarely went more than a kilometre without spotting fellow riders.
2. Protest works
We met Jan, from the Arnhem chapter of the Fietserbonder, and he gave us a fantastic tour of the city, including the Airbourne Museum and military cemetary in Osterbeek.
However, we most enjoyed hearing about the protest he'd worked organising some years previously. Combining a choir, some red 'bike lane' carpet and other willing local cyclists, the chapter highlighted how a crucial part of the 3-lane gyratory was in desperate need of segregated cycle tracks. The media attended, the police were supportive and... a year later, the tracks were built, with one of the city's most polluted and unsafe streets improving hugely on both these fronts.
3. Mopeds and bikes are a bad mix (we think)
On our first day we were rather taken aback to be riding along and have a moped come shooting past on the fietspad. It turns out bike paths are actually shared space between mopeds, scooters (riding under 25kmph) and cyclists. We weren't keen, as some of the mopeds seemed to be shooting past really darn quickly, but perhaps it just felt horrible, rather than actually being unsafe...?
4. Not all Dutch people enjoy cycling
We used the Vrienden op de Fiets network to find accommodation with local Dutch people in the towns we visited (as I wrote in our last post). It was great being able to chat about what cycling meant to them and to even find out that sometimes the answer was not that much. For example, Gus in Apeldoorn told us that really, the bike is much, much faster than the car for short journeys due to the way many local roads are closed to through traffic. Which could be a right pain, as the previous evening he had gotten absolutely drenched cycling home from the cinema.
5. The weather isn't great
It rained on us every day (except one). Yet, people were still riding. Just with umbrellas. Or on e-bikes, when it was windy and rainy.
6. They love children
We found that most neighbourhood streets had a little playground. Hanging out at one, so our little mascot could have a play, often attracted the local residents with coffee and ice-cream even appearing from one lovely lady on day 1. We learned that the playgrounds were unusually quiet as it was the summer holidays, but couldn't help but feel that having play 'hubs' in estates where children could hang out was possible because so many local roads are closed to through traffic.
7. They have a sweet tooth
Apple cake, stroopwaffles, ginger cake, ice-cream, biscuits..we ploughed through it all. As seemed to be many other Dutch cyclists. But very,very few of them were fat....
8. It is the most densely populated country in Europe
Yet they still manage to fit cycle tracks on pretty much every residential street. And car ownership is higher than in the UK. What's our excuse again London?
9a. They love a goat
The first day's ride was like a magical mystery tour; sheep! Cows! Herons! Ducklings! But most intriguingly of all, the proliferation of goats. After a while we started spotting robot lawn mowers and wondering... are goats just another form of robot lawn mower?
9b. They have beautiful front gardens
The goats and lawn-mowers did a sterling job keeping what must be very fast-growing grass under control, but what's more, every town, citiy and village we passed through was incredibly picturesque, because nearly every house had a lovingly nurtured front garden. Mature trees were common and I don't think we passed a single house that had not one piece of greenery in its front garden.
It's hard not to think there isn't some correlation between gardens primarily used as parking spaces and an urban landscape dominated by motor vehicles.
10. Tap water
This was my could-try-harder point. It was not very easy at all (even impossible in some places) to get free tap water in cafes or restaurants. Come on guys! Get with the programme! Show some compassion, especially when you're dealing with tired and thirsty cyclists!