Friday, 18 September 2015

Cycling in Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The second edition of our guidebook!

There haven’t been updates on the Cycling Dutchman Blog for a while. This is not because I have run out of things to write, but simply because I have been very busy working on the second edition of our English-language guidebook about cycling in TheNetherlands. It is out now!

With the established demand for good, quality information in English about the cyclist’s paradise and knowing that the first edition of our guide would sell out autumn 2015, I set off about a year ago, asking myself how I could make the guidebook better.  How could I make the pack even more informative and how could I make best use of the available pages? Where could I make improvements on the established routes and what were those world-class destinations not yet on the itinerary?

One thing that really had started to bother me about the first edition of the book that it was really exclusively about cycle touring from one accommodation to another, not catering for those who just like to do day rides from one accommodation. At the same time, when making my regular visits to Amsterdam, I noticed an explosion in the availability of bicycle rentals in the city. Where there were about five rentals catering for tourists about five years ago, there are now nearly fifty!

This all has to do with the increased popularity of Amsterdam around the world as one of those cities you want to visit once in your life. Flights are cheaper than ever before and if you have London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and Rome on your wish list, Amsterdam is easy appearing on it too. The only problem with Amsterdam is that its historic World Heritage canal belt city centre is only a couple of square miles wide, where other European capitals have much larger city centres, capable of “storing” many more tourists.

Within 15 years, the number of international visitors to Amsterdam has doubled from 4.5 million per year to 9 million visitors per year, with the number of available hotel rooms growing from 16,000 to over 26,000 in the same period. The public space where the visitors wish to roam remained the same though, causing stress on the existing infrastructure. In Amsterdam, locals call this the Disneyland Effect. There is serious concern that Amsterdam’s City Centre starts to become like a 24 hours theme park, not a place to live, work or to do business.

With the City of Amsterdam and the government of The Netherlands now actively seeking ways to attract tourists away from the Amsterdam historic canal belt to other highlights of the country, and at the same time many people still flocking to the Dutch capital, wouldn't it be neat to use the bicycle to get people to explore beyond the obvious and to provide multiple day rides from Amsterdam’s Central station, all with their own themes and sights and all truly showing what the Dutch cycling culture really is about?  

This is how I came about to create six Amsterdam day rides for my new book, all with flexible distances to cater for everyone. Still starting and ending in the historic canal belt, the routes truly show you the great Dutch capital at its best, keeping you away from the rushed locals as much as possible. The green oasis within the city, such as River Amstel, Vondelpark, Westerpark and the Amsterdam Forest (“Amsterdamse Bos”) are all part of the pack, such as are the mighty trading ship “Amsterdam”, Artis Zoo, the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam’s famous multi-storey bike park fietsflat, the stunning Rijksmuseum cycle tunnel and the sublime NEMO-rooftop (with the very best city views).

If you like design and architecture, you'll enjoy the rides in the revived eastern docklands. Surprisingly green is North Amsterdam, very close to the city centre and trending with the locals as a desirable place to live. In West Amsterdam, the book takes you to its garden cities and on the south side of the city centre you can experience Amsterdam's Expressionist's building style from the 1920s.  

The Amsterdam day rides also leave the city boundaries to explore Amstelland and its patchwork of scenic waterways, superb Muiderslot Castle, the straights of the busy Amsterdam-Rhine shipping canal, World Heritage Sea Fort Pampus, the old Waterland seawall with magnificent views over Lake Markermeer and last but not least, the popular Zaanse Schans windmill reserve. Altogether, the Amsterdam rides in the book cover a distance of 232 kms (143 miles) of routes; good for a great week of relaxed cycling from one accommodation only!

Of course, the original framework of the first edition of the book is still present in the second edition. There is so much more to The Netherlands than just Amsterdam and our Randstad Circle Route is in many respects a Best of The Netherlands Route, showing you as many aspects of the country as possible within a reasonably small distance. The 337 kms (208 miles) circular starts and ends at Amsterdam Central Station, but also connects to all ferries from/to the United Kingdom. With a route from/to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport included in the book too, you can now truly start cycling straight away, whether you arrive by plane, ferry or train. 

A main feature of the Randstad Circle Route is the excellent tarmac cycling highway through the sand dune reserves of the Dutch coast, providing continuous access to Holland's sandy beaches. The city of The Hague features the country's seat of government and some world-class museums. At Scheveningen, with its stylish Kurhaus, The Hague can easily compete with English seaside resorts as Brighton and Blackpool. Other seaside towns on the route are Katwijk, Noordwijk and Zandvoort. Away from the coast, Haarlem, Utrecht, Gouda and Delft have all scenic medieval city centres with historic canal lay outs and great shopping opportunities. 

Of course, the book couldn't miss out on the Dutch tulip fields. A section of the Randstad Circle is especially adapted to be utilised as a day ride from Amsterdam when taking bikes on trains. We did something similar for World Heritage Kinderdijk Windmills (missing out in the first edition), so you can choose to access this special area as a day trip from Amsterdam (again taking bikes on trains) or as part of the Randstad Circle Route. Other highlights of the Randstad Circle are the River Vecht, the Green Heart, a new route through the City of Glass, Holland's lowest lands (6.7 meters below sea level) and the world's largest steam engine.  

The Randstad Circle should easily cater for another week of relaxed cycling fun. If this wasn't enough, the second edition of the book also keeps featuring the Northern, Eastern and Southern routes of the first edition. These routes all link with the Randstad Circle (and thus with Amsterdam) and provide another 428 kms (264 miles) of routes; good for a third week of great cycling! These routes provide further variety on what the Netherlands has an offer. Utrecht Ridge National Park, the River Rhine, the famous Delta Dams, the world's largest reclaimed island and even some real Dutch hills are part of the pack, bringing the total length of routes in the second edition to a staggering 1,064 kms (656 miles)!

So, how was it possible to include so many more routes in the book? Well, I decided to completely redesign the book, making much more effective use of the available page space and also to rewrite all text. In the new book, the 125 maps (with multiple scales for urban and rural areas) are still at the heart of the navigation, but the many directions in the first edition have truly reduced to those which are essential. This has resulted in less fluff and greater clarity! You can see an example of the new design of the pages here. There are more examples shown on the offical website.

Another important content improvement is the facility listings. In the second edition of the guide, you'll find that the number of listed venues is doubled from 150 to 300, now all with full contact details, such as address, phone numbers and website URLs. Besides hotels, B&Bs, hostels and camp sites, bike shops and bike rentals are now included too! Just for Amsterdam, we now show the 25 most conveniently located bike rentals!

Last but not least all general information in the book is also completely reviewed. Besides chapters about the special cycling-minded traffic rules of The Netherlands and the cycle route signage systems, the second edition also puts the history of the Dutch cycling culture in a wider context. With the international interest in the Dutch cycling world at an all time high, the available information is growing by the day. The guidebook provides a great summary of the Dutch cycling story and also pinpoints you towards the best further background reading sources. 

Altogether, I regard Cycling in Amsterdam and The Netherlands as my best guidebook yet, providing an outstanding pack of information and routes, all in a format that easily fits on your handlebars in a standard bag or cycle map. It is not only good for on-the-road, but also provides great prior-to-the-trip planning fun and can serve as a treasurable long-term memory to a great experience. Given the fact that the book provides three weeks of cycling fun, it could even serve you for three one-week holidays! The GPS-tracks download pack also ensures that all routes of the book can easily be cycled with Navigation App of your choice. If you order the book via you'll receive the GPS-tracks pack at no extra cost. 

The book with 164 full colour pages (page size 225 x 120 mm), spiral/wiro bound and the electronic GPS-tracks pack costs £18.95 for deliveries within the United Kingdom, £22.95 for deliveries in all other EU-countries (including The Netherlands) and £24.95 for deliveries world-wide. Find out more and order the book via Retailers interested in stocking the book should be in touch with our distributor Cordee (ISBN 9780957661714). 

What about another great guidebook by the Cycling Dutchman?

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see

Other popular Cycling Dutchman blog articles:

Explaining Dutch cycling infrastructure:

Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom:

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The convenience of the Dutch bike lock

It is one of those things. Bike theft can happen anywhere, but in a country where cycling is so en-grained in daily life such as in The Netherlands, it is even the most common criminal activity in the country, according to figures of Dutch police. It will be hard to find a Dutch person who never lost a bike in this sad way. Going back to my teenage years, I can recall at least three occasions on which my bike was stolen. 

This to great despair of my dad, who always had to find replacement instantly, given the riding needs of his son. I can remember that only on one occasion, the bike was retrieved. Three weeks after the incident, we got a call from the police. My bike was found in a bush at the other end of town. It clearly had been a joy-rider who took it. In need for transport for a couple of miles, my classic Amsterdam-style-clunker was hijacked and abandoned at the end of the ride. It may be this type of theft that is still most common. Of course, there are professional criminals who'd like to make a profit out of selling stolen goods, but many offenses still occur out of the need for instant transport.

In the classic Dutch comic Jan, Jans en de Kinderen ("Jan, Jans and the children") the theme of bike theft takes an epic turn. Teenage daughter Karlijn, having her bike stolen in the bike shed at college once again, decides to nick a bike herself to cycle home, stunning her parents with an expensive racing bike. Dad is furious. "Better being a victim 100 times, than stealing yourself for once", he shouts. He decides to ride the bike back to the shed from where his daughter stole it, of course to be stopped and arrested by the police on the way. Poor dad! (images above from "Jan, Jans en de Kinderen book 14", pages 20-21, 1984)

With bike theft being so common, you wouldn't be surprised that the Dutch have taken many precautions to prevent becoming victims. Especially in larger cities (where the risk of theft is much higher then in towns and villages) you'll notice Dutch people mostly ride unattractive clunkers. It is the easiest precaution. Make the appearance of your bike as unattractive as possible, so your bike becomes less interesting for the potential bike robber. 

Figures of bike theft in The Netherlands have dropped massively though since the 1980s. There are various factors playing a role in this. As you can read for yourself in the brilliant book In the City of Bikes, in Amsterdam, bike theft used to be the principal fund-raiser for drugs junkies. Up to three stolen and sold-on bikes per day were enough to keep one person's addiction funded (!). As such life existences are now nearly extinct, this type of theft has mostly disappeared. Also, bike tagging by the police has become very common, making it much more difficult to sell on a stolen bike in The Netherlands. 

Another factor is the introduction of guarded bike parks in many cities, often free to use for the public or at a small charge. These have become standard features at many large railway stations. You'll find the world's largest indoor public bike park at Utrecht Central station, with even more indoor bike parking on its wayIn Amsterdam alone, there are now 16 public guarded bike parks. Local residents can also hire permanent spaces in neigbourhood indoor bike parksThese facilities have made it possible to ride more expensive bikes in cities without the risk of theft. You indeed see that more and more Dutch people upgrade their unattractive clunkers to more attractive two-wheelers. 

The easiest defense against bike theft though is still the standard Dutch bike lock. Ever wondered why a Dutch person is leaning strangely over the saddle for a couple of seconds just before or just after a ride? Well, simply; they are unlocking or locking a metal bar that stops the rear wheel from rolling. To take a locked Dutch bike away, you'll need to drag it along or to carry it away, a rather unusual activity, likely to be noticed by members of the public. The standard Dutch lock is the ultimate solution to park up safely if you just need to hop in a shop for five minutes, indeed making it impossible for the spontaneous joy-rider to walk or ride off with your bike. 

How does it work? The lock is fitted to the frame of the bike, with the metal bar (the actual lock) hidden in a plastic or metal casing. When the key is in, the metal bar stays in its cover and you can ride the bike (just as your car key allows you to drive). When you want to lock the bike, you hold the key (still in the lock) with one hand, while the other hand slides a button down on the other side of the lock (this is the moment when you hang "strangely" over the saddle). By doing this, you put the metal bar in place, in between the spokes, and when you take the key out, the rear wheel is locked. To unlock, you only have to return the key, slightly turn it and the metal bar will return to its position in the casing, allowing you to roll the bike again. 

When I started traveling the world by bike, I was mystified by the surprise of non-Dutch people who showed an interest in my bike. "What is that?" or "What do you do now?" they always asked when I performed the "two seconds hanging over my saddle" move. "It is a bike lock, you stupid!" I used to think to say, but I do know better now. The standard Dutch bike lock is completely unknown anywhere else in the world and I am fully aware I am a sight seeing attraction when I park up anywhere in the UK. 

And the Dutch bike lock is so convenient!

No messing about with a D-lock, finding a way to lock it to your frame or having to carry it in a bag or on your handlebars. No, the lock is always there, fitted to the bike and locked in two seconds. Now, if you want to lock up the bike for longer than five minutes, most Dutch bike locks have another hole in the frame of the lock, which allows you to indeed lock the bike to a secure object, such as a bike stand or lamp post. These more expensive locks come with an extra chain, to be rolled up under your saddle while riding. When using it, you unroll it, put it around the secure object and fit it into the available slot on the lock. Job done! 

When delivering Bikeability Level 3 to teenagers I can't help myself to show off occasionally. Sometimes I allow for a break mid-session at the local leisure centre. "So what about if someone takes your bike away whilst we are inside?" I tease the children then. Usually, I deliver these sessions in rural towns, so often, none of the children carry locks. "Good I brought my lock then!" I usually break the uneasy silence, showing how my Dutch bike lock not just locks my own bike, but also the bikes of six trainees and the bike of my colleague instructor! Note you'll need the long-chain model of the Dutch bike lock to repeat this performance...

Would you like a Dutch bike lock yourself? It is possible to get a standard Dutch bike lock on your own bike, but note that most locks require two standard holes in the tubes of your bike frame to fit, just under the seat. Non-Dutch bike frames won't have these holes! There are some locks though that allow to "clamp" the fitting of the lock around the tubes of your frame, overcoming this problem. The Netherlands-based British cycling campaigner David Hembrow warns on his blog for the non-genuine and inferior "Mighty Amsterdam" lock, so be very careful when purchasing a Dutch-style lock. It is best to purchase a Dutch lock straight from a Dutch bike shop or, when ordering on-line, from the Dutch Bike Bits webshop. This website provides extended information about the lock and on how to fit it.   

Once you are all "locked and biked up", what about hitting the road with a high quality "Cycling Dutchman" guidebook?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see also

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, see

Other popular Cycling Dutchman blog articles:

Explaining Dutch cycling infrastructure:

Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

The 12 best bike rides of The Netherlands

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom:

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Cycling around the English Channel with the Tour de Manche

With the spring in the air, you may fancy heading out with the bike on my London-Land’s End Cycle Route. If you find Land’s End in Cornwall "a bridge too far" though, you may want to look into the great new traffic-calmed cycle touring opportunities southbound towards the English Channel. With our Skip the Exmoor Hills Offer it is easy to take in the gentle Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route to Plymouth, where the London-Land’s End Route connects to a wealth of new route choices.

Let me introduce you to my friends Roy and Jacqui Gisborne of Signpost Cycling. Roy and Jacqui (on left in this picture) are pioneering cycling tourism in Dorset and have developed a similar guidebook product as “London-Land’s End” for the coastal route between Plymouth and Weymouth/Poole. Their Tour de Manche pack provides great mapping through the Sustrans Cycle City Guide series and reliable information in their 16-pages guidebook.

This product takes you in nine stages from Plymouth to Poole, with opportunities to take a ferry to France in Plymouth, Weymouth and Poole. If you have completed the Devon Coast to Coast with my London-Land's End Route in Plymouth, I’d recommend taking bikes on the train to Exeter as the section between Plymouth and Exeter still takes you partly on busy main roads (NCN 279). From Exeter, you can then comfortably join Roy and Jacqui’s pack. The brand-new Exe Valley Trail (see picture) is simply amazing and takes you quickly to the Jurassic Coast from where the Tour de Manche fun truly starts.    

Although very hilly, this route section to Bridport is truly traffic-calmed, providing you with amazing views and fabulous hidden attractions, such as the Donkey Sancuary, Beer Quarry Caves and the Seaton Tramway. Near scenic Dorchester you’ll also cycle via the famous Hardy Monument before having the choice to cycle either to Weymouth or Poole. If heading to Weymouth, you’ll have panoramic views over Chessil Beach and Weymouth, as Roy and Jacqui show in this picture.

So, what about the routes on the French side of the Channel then? As you can see on the map, there are various Tour de Manche route options possible. In the January issue of the Belgian Cyclelive Magazine, Cycling Dutchman Teus Korporaal explains how the routes on the French side are well signposted, but that you may need additional local maps to work out the individual stretches of the route. 

The only product describing the French side in English is the Petit Tour De Manche guide by Mark Porter. Similar to our London-Land’s End guide and the Tour de Manche pack by the Gisbornes, this book covers visitor information and accommodation suggestions for the section between St Malo and Cherbourg. It includes cycling via famous Mont St Michel (see picture, courtesy of Tour de Manche). The route section Roscoff-St Malo is not covered by this guidebook.  Except some broad information on the official website, detailed info about this section seems to be currently unavailable in English

In summary, I’d like to conclude that the international Tour de Manche project has opened up a wealth of new cycle touring itineraries, previously under-explored. On the official Tour de Manche website you'll find general useful information about all individual route sections. Some great products are available to help you cycling individual shorter sections of the route. It is unfortunate though that there is no product available that covers the full 1200 km network and that some route sections are likely to remain sketchy in the years to come. 

In this respect, the latest publication by (again!) another Cycling Dutchman Kees Swart should serve an inspiration. His independently produced Cycling around the Channel-books are a brave attempt to map all the available cycle routes around the English Channel. It is currently only available in Dutch, but I am confident it will be published in English by a fellow cycling tourism pioneer in the future. 

All Tour De Manche products in summary:

Tour de Manche - Cycle Route Guide Pack Plymouth - Poole by Roy and Jacqui Gisborne; guidebook of 16 pages in full colour, two Sustrans Cycle Maps and GPS-tracks pack, £ 19.95, see also

Petit Tour de Manche - Cycle Route Guide St Malo - Cherbourg by Mark Porter, paperback guidebook, 168 pages, also including the English section Weymouth-Poole, £ 11.99, see also

Cycling around the Channel (Fietsen rond het Kanaal - Dutch) by Kees Swart,  two guidebooks of both 172 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, € 19.50 per book, see

London - Land's End Cycle Route Book by the author of this article, connects Dover to Plymouth via London, Bath and Bristol, includes the Devon Coast-to-Coast route and also makes cycling to Poole possible; the ultimate product to access the Tour de Manche by bike! 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, £ 15.99, see

Other popular Cycling Dutchman blog articles:

Explaining Dutch cycling infrastructure:

Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

The 12 best bike rides of The Netherlands

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom: