Monday, 8 September 2008


It is often suggested by British and American commentators that Dutch cyclists are "slow". This is true of some, of course, and as the demographics of cycling here include many pensioners, children and teenagers much more interesting in looking cool than going fast, many of the cyclists are indeed quite slow. However, it would be a mistake to assume that no-one cycles fast here, or that the opportunities for fast cycling were reduced in any way by the cycle paths.

Having lived for many years in the UK where riding at speed on off road paths is rarely possible or safe, I can understand why people from that country think that cycling on cycle paths must always be slow. It's not a correct assumption where cycle paths are well designed. The video above, from a TV programme about traffic, shows a velomobile travelling at over 60 km/h on the cycle path.

The rider of this velomobile was later tracked down and appeared in an interview on a later edition of the same programme. The rider notes that he often hits 70 km/h on his commute. The policeman explains that cyclists are not subject to speed limits, suggests that he ought to take care but notes at the end of the interview that it's "a serious bike". Quite a lot of these machines are used for touring and commuting. The cycle paths do not have obstructions which they can't get through, and the turning radius being as large as 11 m is also not a problem.

I'm not as quick as that rider, but I've never found a place where I could not cycle as fast as I wanted to here and my average speeds are higher on Dutch cycle paths than they were on roads in the UK. I put this down to the combination of a smoother surface and fewer things to stop for than on Britain's roads. It also helps to get a howling tail wind sometimes.

Cycle-paths in the Netherlands are good
enough to be used by racing cyclists.
There are, of course, also more traditional racers as seen on the right. As you see in the photo, they also use the cycle paths, and of course they gain from being able to do so.

Cycle racing is very big here and given the small size of the country, the Dutch have produced an impressive number of Tour De France stage winners. Compare with the English and American lists, both being countries with much larger populations than the 16M of the Netherlands.

Cycling here isn't all about being fast and it isn't all about being slow either. There is room for all types of cyclists and infrastructure which works for all. Most importantly the infrastructure here encourages an awful lot of cycling. The small Dutch population makes about as many cycle journeys as Britain and America put together. Part of the reason why is that cycling is very convenient in the Netherlands. Not only is the speed of cycling fast for "fast" cyclists, but it is also true that average people make their journeys faster by bike than they could by car.

See other blog posts about cycling at speed in the Netherlands.

There is another blog post showing velomobiles racing.


MattP said...

Travel at that speed in the UK and the police will arrest you for cycling without due care and attention. It's happened.

Michael Pereckas said...

Hard to imagine as an American. Here any off-road path will be debris covered, cratered and cracked, narrow, with blind curves, and, obviously, also used by dog walkers and people walking along the center and so on.

januhhh said...

@Michael Pereckas
Unfortunately, it's the same here, in Poland. Cracow, where I cycle quite a lot every day, boasts a growing cycle infrastructure, but it all comes down to the people's attitudes. As peaceful a person as I am, much too often do I feel those urges to charge into a crowd of dog walkers, mothers with prams and other careless pedestrians - all obstructing the bike path at the same time! Even when there IS a wide, convenient pavement right next to the bike path. Am I a monster?

Anonymous said...

To januhhh.
No, by no means you are not wrong. I live in Gdansk, medium-size european city with the best cycle infrastructure in Poland. But have the same impressions if about pedestrians. Instead of torturing myself with murderous thoughts, I just use my ring. I ring when people are blocking my way or when I suspect they don't see that I am coming. Ring is perceived as neutral, if you just smile, and usually pedestrians understand their fault, provided I am on the regular bikepath.