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:

Friday, 3 October 2014

Long distance cycling with two toddlers!

How did you do it? What did you bring? Which routes did you take? How much distance did you cover in a day? These are all regular questions to be answered by those who completed any long-distance multiple day cycle trip. I can usually answer such questions myself, but when talking long distance cycling with toddlers I have to turn to a friend of mine. Tom Burslem is a GIS and mapping specialist who recently spent the summer cycling across The Netherlands, Germany and Denmarktogether with his wife and two small children. This is their story:

We have always enjoyed cycle touring, and have undertaken numerous trips both in the UK and Europe. However since having children we’ve had to hang up our panniers thinking that touring with babies, toddlers and the associated paraphernalia which goes with little ones would be too difficult.

Emily (3) and Sebastian (15 months) are both very used to travelling on bikes in either a seat mounted to the rear rack or in a trailer, and they seemed to be happy to be transported this way for just as long as they are willing to sit in a pushchair. This got us thinking - maybe a cycle tour would be possible.

We were still put off a bit by thinking about how much stuff we would have to take. Clothes alone for 4 people would require pairing down to the bare minimum. But what is the bare minimum? How many t-shirts do you take for a 15 month-old boy who has a magnetic attraction to all things messy? With this, and a thousand other questions in mind, we did a mini cycle tour close to home and decided what was essential and what wasn’t. This trip gave us confidence and we started to think about where else we could go. It needed to be easy to get to. It needed to be flat, and there needed to be plenty of campsites and playgrounds. 


We plumped for the Hook of Holland to Denmark for a number of reasons, the main one being the cycle friendliness of the countries we would go through. With this in mind we booked a one-way ticket from Harwich to the Hook and started worrying about how long we would be able to last. From the Hook we travelled north up the Dutch coast, via the Afsluitdijk to the Frisian part of the Netherlands, and then via Groningen into Germany


In Germany, we took ferries across the Weser and Elbe rivers and then headed north to Flensburg, where we crossed into Denmark. In Denmark we cycled and took ferries via Sonderborg and Svendborg to end up in Rodbyhaven. We then took the ferry back to Germany, got a train back to the Hook and a ferry back to the UK. We cycled just under 1000 km (over 600 miles) and were away 6 weeks.

Equipment

Travelling with kids meant taking a lot of stuff – hence the need for a flat route! We took a bike seat for the back of Tania's bike and a 2 berth trailer (Burley d'lite for those interested in such details) which I towed. Our trial runs taught us that it would be good to have options in swapping the kids around, and they tend to start unsuitable hitting competitions if they are both in the trailer. The Burley was excellent, but not perfect. It is waterproof but water does get in when it is raining very hard. The straps are a bit fiddly and the tyres supplied aren’t great. However the kids are happy in it so must be comfy, and the boot is nice and big, even with two children in the front.

Our decision to take a bike seat in addition to a trailer meant that we could not take rear panniers for Tania’s bike. We therefore needed the boot space in the trailer. We also took a rucksack which we attached to the bike seat when both kids were in the trailer. We allowed Emily one bag of toys and books, which she chose when we were packing. Space was also made for two favourite soft toys, both of which very much enjoyed the experience.

A typical day

We very quickly established a daily routine. Seb usually wakes us up at about 6:15. He is very vocal until he has breakfast so we rush to do this before he wakes the whole campsite. We then packed up and were away by 9:00. Both kids loved camping. However Seb got very nervous when he saw us packing up in the morning. He worried that he would be forgotten so we put him in a sling to assure him he wouldn’t be left behind. This made packing quite a time consuming process.

In the morning Seb went in the trailer and Emily in the bike seat. Seb went straight to sleep and we cycled until he woke up. We tried to get the majority of mileage done while he was asleep. He could easily do 90 minutes. Emily loved the bike seat and was constantly asking questions about the passing scenery, most of which started with 'why'. 

When Seb woke up we would have a long break at a playground and lunch, and then they swapped berths for the much shorter afternoon cycle. The daily distances covered were typically 30 to 40 km. We would arrive at the campsite early which meant we could put the tents up, make dinner, find yet more playgrounds, wash and get the kids to sleep by about 7pm.

The kids' appetites increased hugely on this trip and they started eating - something we didn’t anticipate, and our small Trangia stove wasn’t big enough to cook a meal in one go so we ended up cooking and eating in shifts.

I love cycling in The Netherlands. There cycling is the norm and you become one of the crowd. You don’t get strange looks from onlookers, and your fellow road users are so polite. We’ve never experienced threatening behaviour from drivers, or the impatient revving that you get in the UK. We put this down to cyclists having their own space and the fact that most motorists are also cyclists, but maybe it is just because the Dutch as a nation are not in so much of a hurry to get from A to B.

I find crossing borders very exciting, but the crossing from the Netherlands into Germany was a bit of an anti-climax. It was nothing more than a bridge over a canal and a man gave us a very strange look as we stopped to take a photo. There wasn’t even a sign mentioning the fact we were going from one country to the next. 

I'm always surprised how different things are immediately after you cross a border. The scenery was the same (flat and agricultural) but everything else was completely different. In the Netherlands most villages have a playground, whereas in Germany it is rare to find one. The campsites have a very different feel to them as well. The Dutch use campsites as places to spend a family holiday, but in Germany were quieter and a little run down.

The other main difference was of course the language. We immediately went from being understood by nearly everyone to being understood by almost no one. The Dutch spoke English very well, which made us very lazy about learning their language. We were just catching on to saying ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and simple phrases by the time we left. However in Germany we learnt much more very quickly.

The border between Germany and Denmark was similarly unremarkable but still an unmanned hut on both sides where once upon a time you would have had to show a passport.

The journey home

To get home we travelled by train from Puttgarden in Germany to Hook of Holland. We did it over a number of days to ease the pain. I was expecting problems travelling with two bikes and a trailer on a train, but it couldn’t have been easier. We travelled by Deutsche Bahn Regional train to Hamburg. These were double-decker trains, and they have a dedicated space for bikes on a lower deck of one carriage. You buy a ticket for your bike and can just turn up and get on. There is plenty of space and we didn’t have any problems. We then travelled from Hamburg to Amsterdam on an Intercity service. We had to book this (ourselves and the bikes) but it was not a problem either. We needed to book three bike spaces (two for the bikes and one for the trailer). Amsterdam to the Hook was also not a problem.

The most stressful part of the return journey was wondering whether the British rail network would accept two bikes and a trailer. It is not possible to book and there is nothing telling you whether you are allowed to take a trailer. We were lucky and had no problems travelling on quiet trains in the middle of the day. I would not like to travel on a crowded service however.

Would we do the trip again?


Cycle touring with toddlers is hard work. The cycling was the easy bit as they are strapped into the trailer and bike seat. However once you have done the cycling, they jump off the bikes full of energy, wanting to run around and play just when we wanted to sit and relax.  But we had a great time. The kids were outside almost continuously for six weeks. They became urchins and looked ridiculously healthy. We stayed in 25 different campsites and visited about 50 playgrounds, and Emily learned to say thank you in three languages. We worried that the children would get both sunstroke and hypothermia (though not on the same day). We questioned our sanity on a daily basis, but are very glad we did it. Maybe next year we’ll head for France...

For a full account of the cycling trip see Tom's Cycling Toddlers Blog.

What about going for a traffic-calmed cycling holiday 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:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Case Study: Barnstaple: How to make a town cycling-friendly

With the Department for Transport not committing to expenditure on cycling infrastructure beyond 2016 (when it is already doing so for rail and roads) and the 18 recommendations by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group published early 2013 still waiting for official Government’s response, I thought it was time for taking action myself to speed things up in Barnstaple, the town where I live.

Together with some other local cycling enthusiasts I set up the North Devon Cycling Forum in association with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain in 2013. We embarked on a journey to get in touch with as many local cyclists as possible and also touched based with some local Councillors who showed an interest in our mission, because...

Where is that long-term vision on a local level on where we want to be with our cycling infrastructure by 2020? What about 2025 and 2030? Politicians and policy makers all say the support cycling, but where is that “commitment” translating into clear action plans

The local Draft North Devon and Torridge Local Plan features many upcoming new building projects, but only proposes the bare minimum proposals for cycling. These proposals will only marginally provide a choice between driving and cycling for some, but for most people, it will still be driving, causing more congestion and more health problems as a result of inactivity and obesity. Where is that real choice between cycling and driving for all?

The majority of car journeys in build-up areas are about three miles or less. If we were serious about proving good, attractive cycle routes, up to 35% of all our journeys in build-up areas could take place by bicycle. Less cars on the road, so less congestionless emissionshealthier lifestyles and happier people; and it won't cost the earth.  

In the detailed study, which I compiled with help of other local cyclists, we show how it is possible to connect Barnstaple town centre with its surrounding areas for a total cost of £806.500. If this cost was spread over five years, costs per year would be £ 161.300. On a population of 30.000 people, this works out to about £ 5 per citizen per year!

The recommendation by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group is to raise the expenditure for cycling of the current £ 1 per citizen per year to £ 10 per citizen per year, so this project would be half of the recommended expense. To put things further in perspective, a high-profile local multi-lane roundabout extension scheme (with only short-term relieve to congestion and without giving the public a real choice between modes of transport) costed £ 2 million. So, for just 40% of the expense to upgrade one roundabout it is possible to make an entire town accessible by bike for all. Where is the political will to make it happen?

There is no excuse. And it is all in there. Whether you are that local councillor in North Devon, a keen cyclist in the Cotswolds or an opinion maker in London. Read for yourself the tools to create good cycle routes. Learn where 20 mph zones should be implemented and why. Find out about shared space concepts and what the specifications are for a real cycle path. See also how a good signage system is such a simple and low-cost-tool to make cycle routes visible in the eye of the public.  

The Barnstaple case study shows what can be done on a local level to make towns more cycling-friendly. You'll find clear action lists in this document, rather than just well-intended, but hollow phrases. 

Our Small Schemes BIG Changes listings show how many easy fixes can be made on the existing network. Overgrowing bushes, hostile barriers, confusing signage and, in one case, just a hole in a hedge could improve things massively already. View the study now by one of the following links:



For us, now the next job starts. Convincing local councillors, council officers and the public. Making it happen. But we have done our homework and have clear plans in our hands.

How often have I heard this line now from parents in my role as Bikeability instructor?

"I would love it if my child could cycle to school, but it is just not safe".

Come on Britain! To become a true cycling nation, you have to stop talking. Map your desires, visualise where you want your cycle paths and why. Put a budget to it and put those routes into place! Force the reigning Highway Departments to change their ways. Their designs from the 1950s and 1960s are truly out of date! The Cycling Dutchman is at hand to help!

What about going for a traffic-calmed cycling holiday with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

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:

Monday, 14 July 2014

The spirit of cycle touring: The Straight Story


“We saw castles, canals, cottages, boats, churches, Roman ruins, a steam train, ancient forests, smuggler’s towns, hedgerows, roses, butterflies and birds. We had rain, blue heat, storms and soft clouds over rolling meadows. We saw the ocean, walked beaches, headlands and woodlands. We cycled canal paths, train tracks, country lanes and hills. We met nice people, grumpy people, alien worshippers, fellow travelers, bakers, fisher folk, happy hotel keepers and cheerful folk on the side of the road wanting a chat. We freewheeled down and climbed agonizingly up. We cursed and sang and laughed and told stories. Finally, we arrived at Land’s End.”

Susan Brown who lives in Gland, Switzerland, truly has a talent to put into words what you can experience on a long-distance cycle touring journey. She cycled my London-Land’s End Cycle Route last summer and clearly had a great time. This year, I have more people on the road with my guidebooks and holiday packages than ever before. This fact fills me with feelings of joy and pride.

This mood makes me inviting you to watch a piece of art that in my opinion very well reflects the spirit of cycle touring. The film I want to write about really shows how it is to be out there on a bicycle, on your own, on the road, absorbed by the surrounding countryside.  In David Lynch's 1999 film The Straight Story, the main character Alvin Straight is on a long distance journey on a lawn-mower (!) and the are many parallels with cycling in this film... 

Although the speed of the lawn-mower (and the film itself) might be lower than the average speed of any cyclist, the film beautifully captures all issues long distance touring cyclists face. During the first half of the film, we see Alvin Straight struggling to get his long distance journey off the ground. It parallels the emotional process an individual has to go through before being mentally ready for a long distance bicycle ride. We also witness how Alvin builds his relationship with his means of transport. Don’t we all have a relationship with our bicycle too?

It is the second half of the film where the parallels with cycling really kick in. The beautiful photography and amazing soundtrack (featuring great music by composer Angelo Badalamenti) and "landscape" sound effects (by David Lynch himself) pull the viewer with great emotions into the beauty of "slow travel". The film magically shows how you can become part of your surroundings if you take the effort to t-r-a-v-e-l  s-l-o-w-l-y

The film also defines all inconveniences of being on the road. Alvin Straight and his lawn-mower have to deal with typical cyclist's issues such as  bad weather and overtaking fast moving traffic. Also that desperate desolate feeling a touring cyclist can have when his/her equipment has a serious break down is shown; Alvin's breakdowns are heartbreaking. 


The film also beautifully witnesses the daily routines of finding shelter for the night and food and drink to keep going. Last but not least, there are all those wonderful encounters with other people who either live en-route or who are on a journey too. It is all very much like how a real bike ride is. And yes, there is also an amusing scene with a stressed driver who "must drive the car to work and must drive the car home every day", as she says so to herself, oblivious to her surroundings...

Most magic moment of the film from a cycling point of view is the short scene in which Alvin and his lawn-mower are actually overtaken by a large group of cyclists 
(see also top picture of this article). This special scene with its unique sound effects and amazing imaginary should thrill every true touring cyclist, because it embraces so close the magic of cycling!

The scene of the "grand depart" (see below) gives a good idea of what The Straight Story has to offer (even when dubbed in Italian). A true touring cyclist should watch the film over its full length...



Copyright notice: this article intends to raise renewed interest for "The Straight Story". Copyright holders will hopefully excuse us for using "Straight Story" film captures and "You Tube embedding" in this article!

What about becoming a long-distance touring cyclist yourself  with one of our "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

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:

Cycle paths and cycle lanes; the full story!




Dutch bike rides and Dutch cycling culture:

The 12 best bike rides of The Netherlands

Dutch style bike rides in the United Kingdom: