Monday 20 April 2009


Quite apart from their patriotic usage (the flag in the centre of the image is the Dutch national flag, while the one at the top is the flag of Drenthe), flags are very popular in this country for advertising.

It's easy to see why. These photos of flags were taken on my commute last Thursday. Every one of them was flapping briskly in the wind, and unfortunately every single one was pointing in the wrong direction for both my journey to and back from work.

It's a myth that cycling is easy in the Netherlands because it is a flat country. A flat country is also a very windy country, and Wind is far more of a problem for cyclists than a few hills. You can go down the other side of hills, but wind stays with you. It may not be immediately apparent, but it isn't just when the wind is right against you that it is a problem. It still slows you down when it is a side wind, 90 degrees to your direction, and only starts to help you when it significantly behind you. Even then, a tailwind provides less assistance than the same strength headwind hinders you (if this seems strange, try the mathematical analysis here).

This is perhaps why the Netherlands is a big market for the most aerodynamic type of cycles, and why people fit tri-bars even to the most unlikely types of bikes.

As for me ? Well, the wind last week nearly made me late for work on Thursday. It took an hour and five minutes to cover the 31 km to get there, and virtually the same time to get back again afterwards. On Tuesday I had a very similar headwind on the way to work, but the wind had dropped off by the time I got home and the return journey took under 55 minutes.


Nick said...

If only I could reach and maintain the kind of speeds you mention I'd be a very happy person. Is that on a ligfiets, or are you just super-fit? (Or maybe both, I guess.)

Mark W. said...

I fully get what you mean David! Yesterday I took the second part of my 50kms ride to Utrecht and it was head winds for 30kms! But the great sun and the beautiful road conditions made it a wonderful experience. I sure wasn’t the only one on the cycle paths between cities on this Monday afternoon. Thank you for opening my eyes to the wonderful cycle infrastructure we have in this country. Something I’ve taken for granted – like most Dutch – for far too long. My video can be seen here:

spiderleggreen said...

Reminds me off when I was a teenager and lived 7 miles out of town. I often biked into town and would be harrassed by swirling winds. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I would curse the wind. Kind of funny... getting mad at the wind. I have come to see the wind as my friend, who strengthen's me through resistance to my path. Makes life a lot easier when I see obstacles as gifts.

David Hembrow said...

Nick: It's a ligfiets, but not a particularly fast one. Touring style, not racing. I'm not particularly fit either, so the combination of not so quick bike and not so fit body resulted in pretty awful results when I tried racing here.

Mark: The expression "God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands" is true on so many levels. This country is wonderful to cycle in because it was made so. The countryside is beautiful to cycle through because it has been kept so. Excellent video, btw.

Spiderleggreen: I'm not sure I've ever literally cursed the wind, but I'm sure I've been close. It's hail and sleet that I really dislike cycling in.

Bob said...

Well well, I must say I prefer wind over hills everytime. I used to live in Holland and now I live in Th├╝ringen, Germany. In this country with its many hills you must allready be a fairly athletic person to reach an average speed of 20 kmh, 30 kmh is only possible for the racing crowd.

Last year I was on holliday in Holland and it was amazing how fast you could ride on a normal bike, even without gearshift, (impossible to ride without gearshift overhere) just because the countryside is so flat and ofcourse due to the excellent bike paths!