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 www.signpostcycling.co.uk/routeguide.

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 http://www.baytreepress.com.


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 http://recreatief-fietsen.nl/fietsenrondhetkanaal/.


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 http://www.london-landsendcycleroutebook.com.

Cycling in The Netherlands - The very best routes in a cyclist's paradise,also by the author of this article, allows you to travel from the UK by any ferry to Holland, linking to a spectacular 340 km-circular route including Amsterdam, the North Sea Cycle Route and much more! 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, £ 13.99 see  http://www.cyclinginholland.com.

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:

Thursday, 8 January 2015

“I just didn’t know this was here!” - The relevance of signage

“I just didn’t know this was here!”

I hear this line regularly from locals while doing cycle route surveying work. Completely surprised about the presence of a cycle route, he/she then also often states he/she “lived here for twenty years”. It painfully shows how many British people hardly ever explore their own area on foot or bike beyond the merits of the main through roads. Rushing off by car, they just don’t have a clue about other ways to get from A to B.

We also notice this when we teach Bikeability to school children. When taking them out and about on local routes near their school, we hear many boys and girls often declaring that “they have never been here before”. This is pretty sad, given the fact we are often cycling within a one mile radius from where most children live.

In my opinion, beyond all the problems and limitations of UK cycle routes, the lack of proper signage is an issue which needs great attention. To get a country back on bikes, you need to show clearly in the field, in the public eye, where cycle routes are and where they will take you. Only this will truly encourage people to explore beyond what they know. Free cycle maps, on-line routeplanners and just that occasional sign as pictured here are all well intended, but generally only serve those who are already on the look out.

In The Netherlands, the authorities only know this too well. To keep the masses on the move by bike, grant visual signage, dedicated to cycling only, is available at every relevant junction. You’ll be clearly directed to common destinations. It is such signage which made me explore locally myself when I was just an eight year old boy; it definitely stopped me of becoming obese at young age!

Just by seeing people using these well signposted routes, other people get inspired to do some local exploration too. This is visible in the UK to some extend in places where new cycle routes are created, but increase in participation in walking and cycling could be so much higher if signage as a tool was taken really seriously.

It still surprises me how councils spend millions on the creation of a new cycle route, but then fail to signpost it properly. In the scheme of things, good signposting is very cheap. With many UK cycle routes not being obvious and hidden away from the main road network, these routes need a towering visual presence on the streets to get known by its potential customers. 

Clear destination signage dedicated to cyclists has been present for a long time in The Netherlands. It all started way back with the so called “mushroom signs”. These signs have indeed the shape of a mushroom. Placed at low-level and with reasonably small print, they provide a wealth of information to the cyclist, with distances to destinations even highlighted in 100m intervals. You can still see these “mushrooms” forming impressive networks in holiday areas where leisure cycling is very popular, such as on the Dutch coast and on the moors in the east of the country.

For day-to-day journeys, white signs with red lettering clearly show the most direct way from A to B. These are really the cycling equivalent of the green destination signage on UK main roads. As a driver you are completely accustomed to a system in which once the name of a town appears on a sign, you’ll be fully directed to the town in question. In that respect, Dutch cyclists receive the same treatment as drivers, and with towering results. At least one in four journeys in The Netherlands is made by bicycle, while in the UK, the poor “one if fifty journeys” figure still prevails. Lack of continuous quality destination signage on existing cycle routes is in my view part of the problem.

Clear and consistent signage is an essential part of the Dutch cycling success story. A good example of the efforts by local authorities is the development of the Rotterdam Regional Cycle Network. Back in the 1990s, Wim van de Poll of UrbanDynamicLabs developed the concept of numbered cycle routes for commuters, in an attempt to bring more clarity in the spaghetti web of existing cycle routes.

Van de Poll came up with a clear network for Rotterdam cycling commuters, building bridges across borders of various local authorities. Work on implementation of the network started in 1995 and was completed by 2010. All commuter routes of this network are clearly branded. Beyond the obvious route numbers, Van de Poll also insisted that every route should have clear destinations in all communications, making it always obvious to any user what the route is about.

You might think that the London “Cycling Super Highways” are signposted in a similar way, but if you have a closer look, there is really not very much about it beyond the obvious blue sway of paint on the tarmac. I don’t intend to discuss the general poor quality of the “Cycling Super Highways” at this point, but it is obvious that its signage doesn’t meet “Dutch standards” either.  Signposts are still isolated features and are not present at every relevant junction.  Also, signposted secondary routes to destinations nearby are often limited to a "one sign only". Once you have left the "super highway" you are pretty much on your own. Compare this with the map of the Rotterdam network, where all secondary routes are fully signposted as well!


In some aspects, the London "Super Highway" signage is already better then the average signage of the National Cycle Network. The London posts give at least an idea about destinations and travel times. This is often lacking in the National Cycle Network-signage (see picture left). I truly have the impression that the majority of the population still doesn't have a clue what is hiding behind those little blue signs with red route numbers... 

The New Forest National Park has been working beyond the NCN-network and has created another number-based system. It is a network of numbered junctions, which are all clearly marked at these particular junctions. The signs have a bar code on the top of its wooden poles and by scanning the code with your phone, you’ll get a map on your screen, so you can work out where you want to head next…

This looks suspiciously the same as the Dutch “junction” network, on which junctions ("knooppunt") are also numbered and signposted as such. This network covers the whole country and is designed for exploring by visitors and locals alike, away from the Dutch "cycle path next to main road"-network and its direct routes. In the picture left, you are at junction 9 and you can immediately see how to get to junctions 6 and 10. Also important, an overview map can be found at every numbered junction, see the sign of junction 48 below. This is much more inviting to use and more visible for potential customers in comparison to the very minimal New Forest example with its dependence on high-tech smart phone technology.

Although hugely popular in The Netherlands, a junction network has its limitations. Van de Poll, the designer of the Rotterdam commuter network, has been out on his bike a lot and can tell you entertaining stories of lost cyclists, desperately asking him the way to, for example, “junction 48”. “Where do you want to go then?” Van de Poll normally asks in return, just to be replied with added frustration “to junction 48”. This shows how a system also can take over and how the relation to the real world can easily be lost.

In my opinion, there is a lot to be gained with continuous destination signage, making all those back streets routes (which so happily exist on cycle maps and on route planners, but nowhere else) visible. I was delighted to see  some new destination signs, as pictured here, popping up in my town of residence, Barnstaple, Devon. For me, these signs breathe something fresh and new. Also, the smaller font then usual gets pretty close to the style of the Dutch mushroom-signs, meaning it is possible to show multiple destinations on one sign. The reasonably small size of the sign doesn't make the sign taking over its surroundings and still has a great clarity.

Of course, these new signs are isolated and are still failing to form a network (there is a total of three of such signs!). Its design is great though and I feel this could be the way to clearly signpost local backstreet routes to local destinations such as schools, railway stations, shops, housing and industrial estates, etc. Surrounding villages within a three mile radius, should not be forgotten either, as these routes have a great cycling potential.

Together with my local campaigning group, the North Devon Cycling Forum we hope now to inspire the local authority to expand this destination signage and to create a network such as shown in the map in the real world, visually present in the public eye. Of course, there are many routes which still need fixing. But if they are ready to go (even with some shortcomings), routes should get properly signposted.

A visual presence truly inspires people to explore and might allow millions of people to say virtually at the same time “I just didn’t know this was here!”

PS: To achieve all this, cycling still needs proper funding. At the upcoming elections, only vote for people who pledge to implement funding to carry out the Get Britain Cycling report recommendations without reservations!  

You don't need proper signage if you use a high quality "Cycling Dutchman" guidebook!

Cycling in The Netherlands - The very best routes in a 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 over 700 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 http://www.cyclinginholland.com.

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 http://www.london-landsendcycleroutebook.com.

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:



Saturday, 1 November 2014

The joys of riding a banana bike!


British people of a certain age will probably remember the revolutionary SinclairC5 electric bicycle (see picture on right). Invented by eccentric Clive Sinclair, this recumbent electric bike looked very much as a mini-car. The Sinclair C5 very quickly became the laughing stock of the country, as British people just didn’t want to ride the thing due to safety concerns.

Had Clive Sinclair brought his C5 to The Netherlands, it might well have worked. Back in the 1980s, the astonishing cycle network of The Netherlands was already very much established and Dutch people may well have gone for it, as they didn’t have to fear for riding among motorised traffic as the British C5-rider had to do (and still would have to do today).  

Today, we see regularly C5-inspired bikes on their way in The Netherlands. Some are also nicknamed banana bikes, due to their shape and colour. A cross over between recumbent bike and the C5 concepts, it is a distinguished feature on Dutch cycle paths. Wytze Bijleveld is a happy Dutch banana bike owner and in this month’s guest blog, he tells the story of his banana bike:

"The purchase of a banana bike was a logical progression for me. After riding a sitting bike, my first recumbent (Flevo Bike) and  a recumbent racer (Challenge Hurricane), I was simply ready to ride an enclosed recumbent bike. The ability to make longer journeys and the joy to be less affected by rain and wind were the main reasons to get a banana bike. I haven’t looked back since.

The official name for a banana bike is a Velomobiel (either the Quest or Mango model) or Sunrider, depending on the brand. Its riders form a small community in which people know each other very well. You are either part of the “open” recumbent rider’s community or the “enclosed” recumbent group (such as the banana). I don’t keep up with their events regularly, but I try to visit the annual Cycle Vision event, just to keep an eye out for the latest innovations. My main interest  though is the relaxation that cycling brings.

The banana can cater for daily commutes up to 40 kms (25 miles) one way. This distance would take you about an hour on the flat. Longer journeys are easily possible too, but could be tiresome on a daily basis. I have done family visits with rides up to 100 kms (65 miles) each way. Such a distance only takes me 2.5 hours. On a normal bike, it would have taken me five to six hours.

During Spring I did a circular ride through The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, mostly following the Rhine River routes. The banana bike proved to offer plenty of space to bring a tent and cooking utensils, especially if you pack everything in various smaller items, allowing you to use every inch of space on the inside. I quickly became a sight anywhere where I stopped. When pausing on Cologne’s Central Square, I found myself surrounded by a crowd admiring my banana. With so much interest from the locals, I decided to park it up safely for the night in a car parking garage. As the banana fitted under the car park barrier, I managed to park for free!

The banana is holding itself together on hills just as well. Obviously the speed drops, but that is mainly because of the weight (especially when riding with all the camping gear). It is easily possible to ride a very low gear without getting wobbly. I found the sensation similar to riding a normal bike up hill. Going downhill is a different story; you can go fast, very fast! I don’t let go the speed above 80 km/h (50 mph), but I know other banana riders who let it go to 100 km/h (65 mph). I think that is irresponsible. Personally, I keep a close watch on the performance of my brakes. I didn’t have any issues with them so far.

The banana bike remains a special sight on Dutch cycle paths and roads, although nearly everyone I speak has seen one around or says to know a banana rider. About 2000 banana bikes have been sold in The Netherlands so far. On a total bicycle population of 14 million, its market share is still very tiny!

So what is the general perception of the public in response to my appearance with the banana bike? Well, I have been called a “lazy git”, a “dodger”, an “idiot”, a “green freak” and obviously an irresponsible person making our roads extremely dangerous! Fortunately, my banana gives me also plenty of spontaneous encounters with interested and open-minded people, who secretly might want to own a banana too!

For next spring, I am looking at a longer international camping trip again, possibly north to Denmark or further south into Germany from Cologne, so look out for that banana bike!"

Wytze Bijleveld, Lelystad, The Netherlands

What about possibly encountering a banana bike yourself with a high quality "Cycling Dutchman" guidebook?

Cycling in The Netherlands - The very best routes in a 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 over 700 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 http://www.cyclinginholland.com.

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 http://www.london-landsendcycleroutebook.com.

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: