Wednesday 30 September 2009

Music and cycling in Tilburg

Here's a video of Batiste en David performing "Hier op mijn fiets". A translation of the chorus: "Here on my bike, I feel like a king. Here on my bike, sitting on my throne. Here on my bike, waving to people. Here on my bike, feeling the sun..."

I think the video was made in Tilburg - a town which has recently been criticised for the quality of its cycling infrastructure, and the resulting "low" rate of cycling. However, that's only "low" for the Netherlands. i.e. higher than anywhere else.

Cycling is always a happy thing to do in the Netherlands... There are other examples of cycling music on the blog.

The photo, taken from a copy of ligfietsen magazine, shows the cycling plan for Tilburg next to a photo showing a narrow cycle path. You expect to be able to ride side by side here - that cycle path is obviously somewhat narrower than the usual four metres for a bidirectional path.

Monday 28 September 2009

Left turns

Another of Mark Wagenbuur's videos showing cycling in the Netherlands. An older junction from the 1960s in Utrecht and a newer one in Houten. Look at the ease of use with the newer situation. No traffic lights for cyclists at all, and a quicker journey as a result.

Tunnels are not, of course, the right solution in all locations. Also see an even larger traffic light junction in Groningen which gets rid of the conflict points and allows crossing, and even making a left turn, in one movement.

Friday 25 September 2009

Yesterday's morning commute

I took these photos on the way to work yesterday morning. It took 57 minutes all in for the 30 km from door to door with the camera dangling from my arm. The sun hadn't come up yet, so there are a lot of blurry shots.

Amongst the photos you find several things that have been featured before, including traffic lights which default to green, a right turn on red, long distance school children, priority on a countryside cycle path and a lifting bridge which is sometimes open.

It was quite foggy, though that doesn't really show in the photos. The majority of the commute is on unidirectional cycle paths, 2.5 m wide on each side of the road. Some parts are on bidirectional cycle paths and well away from the road. I also ride on very quiet roads for about 1.5 km.

At the moment I ride a Pashley PDQ recumbent bike. In a few weeks I'll be upgrading to a Sinner Mango velomobile. That takes 10 minutes off the journey time in each direction and it'll be a lot more comfortable in winter.

Recent events in London - and superhighways ?

Two recent events in London give a good example of what works for increasing the level of cycling and what does not.

First, Cycle Fridays. This is an attempt to get Londoners to cycle to work by accompanying them on the roads. On Fridays it's possible to ride with other commuters through the traffic to get to work. Six different routes to four destinations are on offer. On the best day so far, this attracted just 88 people shared between the six routes.

Second, the London Sky Ride. This involved closing 15 km of streets to provide a car free experience. 50000 people took part. Even that is only 0.6% of the London population, but it's orders of magnitude more than were tempted by Cycle Fridays.

I've said it before, and no doubt I'll say it again. If you want to see mass cycling, the experience has to be pleasant, safe and convenient. Riding in London traffic doesn't score very highly for any of these things, which is why it was less popular than "Sky Ride" which at least achieved two of them.

In attempting to grow cycling, Britain seems willing to try almost anything other than the only thing that actually works - which is... building proper infrastructure for cycling.

TfL's idea of a Superhighway.
Riding in in a blue stripe
with a bus in it.
London has made a lot of bold claims, but when you look at the details on the TFL website you find that their idea of a "cycling superhighway" is a strip of blue tarmac on the road as shown to the left (they've since removed this photo and put on some others which are equally unconvincing). They're not exactly aiming high. Even the artist's impression shows a bus in the cycle lane. This ought to be the "before" photo of a set of "before" and "after" photos, not what is being aimed at. It's really not remotely enough to attract mass cycling.

Segregation so complete as possible
in Assen. 2.5 m wide one-way path
Perhaps London ought to aim for something a bit more like this, which is not an artist's impression but something retrofitted to a few km of streets in Assen a couple of years ago. Get people away from the cars and they're more likely to be attracted to cycling.

Normal Dutch 2.5 m wide one-way
cycle-path. Behind the bus-stop.
Oh, and it's a good idea to make sure that bus stops are more like this, so that buses don't cut across cyclists. Buses and cyclists can co-exist very well, but not in the same lanes.

Neither of these examples of Dutch cycle-paths are described as superhighways, of course. They're simply efficient city cycle paths. Junctions on them have been shown previously.

Dutch superhighway by busy road.
The Netherlands also has "superhighways". They're called "fietssnelwegen" and are inter-city routes. These are built to high standards, 2.5 m minimum for single direction, four metres wide if bidirectional. So far as possible they have priority over side-roads so that cyclists can make uninterrupted journeys over long distances. The idea of these is to provide a network of fast inter-city routes right across the country which lure people from cars even over longer commuting distances. It has been shown that building even these is cheaper than not building them.

I have a similar path, though with somewhat more separation from the motorway, on my commute. It's designed so that high speeds are possible and I typically stop just once in 30 km.

Another thing London needs to address is that they are simply not aiming to put the routes close enough together for them to be effective. This was researched by the Dutch back in the 1970s, results were published. A very fine grid of subjectively safe cycle routes is essential for a high modal share. This successful policy has been followed ever since, leading to the Netherlands having the highest cycling rates in the world. Why try to re-invent the wheel ? And why do so badly ?

A miniature cyclist
That cyclist is not drawn to
actual scale.
Shortly after writing the text above I noticed something else very odd about the first fake photo from London. The cyclist is scaled down relative to everything else and is no taller than the gray car which is about the same distance away. This gives the impression that the cycle lane is wider than it is.

And another thing. I've had a few people say that London adding cycle lanes is a good thing and that I shouldn't be complaining about it. Here's the explanation: Yes, adding cycle lanes is a good thing. However, if they're going to describe them as "superhighways" then a bit more effort is called for. Compare what's on offer with a mere "fietsroute+" in the Netherlands, or indeed just an average "cycle-path".

London is planning down to a level such that it will fail to product a high modal share for cycling.

Update 11/10/2009: London has produced a video display which works by pedaling an exercise bicycle so you can see how the "superhighway" will look. This also doesn't look particularly impressive.

9/11/2009: TFL changed their website to get rid of the "artists impression" with the miniature rider above, replacing it with the super cheesy "supercyclehighway-man" seen on the right.

In other news, the "superhighway" is now revealed to be a 1.5 m wide cycle lane on the road, with the only unique feature being blue paint. Given that the minimum recommended width for an on road cycle lane in the UK was already 1.5 m, with 2 m being recommended in areas with more motor traffic, this doesn't sound all that "super"

What's more, the standards where we live now call for single direction cycle paths to be a minimum 2.5 m wide, and bidirectional paths to be 4 m wide. They are separated from the road by a minimum of 1.5 m. That's the measure of a "cycle path" here, without the hyperbole of calling it a "super" anything.

Finally, to see more about cycling "superhighways" in the Netherlands on a completely different scale (intercity routes which will cover the entire country), look at the other posts tagged with superhighways. These join up a dense network of routes which already cover the whole country.

We operate cycling study tours and would be very pleased to be able to help London to come to grips with what is required to achieve a genuine cycling revolution.

For more on the London "superhighways", click here. Don't worry that decent infrastructure costs too much. It's cheaper to invest in it than not to. Even the benefits to employers add up to rather more than is spent. So go on, London, do a proper job !

Thursday 24 September 2009

Electric bike demographics

Every so often someone asks me who buys electric bikes in the Netherlands. My usual answer is that they are bought by the elderly (Dutch over 65s make 24% of their journeys by bike) and by people with a disability who need a bit of assistance.

This short article appeared in the September issue of Tweewieler magazine. A magazine for the Dutch bike trade, which is distributed to bike shops.

The title of the article reads "Modern e-bike gets still younger buying public"

There was an online survey of 500 people organised by the Dutch "Halfords" chain of shops (I understand this is no longer connected with British "Halfords"). The survey produced such results as that 37% of correspondents said they wanted an electric bike to make cycling easier.

A representative of Halfords claims that the average buying age is creeping down to around 50, which is much lower than previously, when most were bought by 65+ers, but do bear in mind that he's a salesman.

An older assisted bicycle with a two stroke petrol motor (a snorfiets or low power moped) next to two newer e-bikes. All three are limited to 25 km/h. E-bikes are rapidly replacing the older snorfietsen of this type.
The article also mentions that they often see couples buying his and hers bikes together. This is something I've noticed in the past. Dutch couples who buy identical bikes at retirement so they can cycle together.

The two bikes in the photo on the right are near identical models which were probably bought by a couple. The bike on the left with the number plate is an older style of assisted bike with a petrol engine. These are also limited to 25 km/h, so they were bought by very much the same people as now buy electric bikes. Part of the growth in electric bike sales is due to these types of low power motor bike having been replaced by electric bikes.

Much has been made in some quarters of the number of electric bikes sold in the Netherlands. This article gives a figure of 5000 electric bikes sold in the country last year, with an expectation that this may have doubled to 10000 this year. Impressive growth, but still small numbers compared with the 1.3 million bikes sold per year in the Netherlands.

The reason for the high monetary value of electric bicycles is that when people buy electric bikes in the Netherlands they tend to buy expensive ones. Also, because it's quite common for older couples to buy identical "his and hers" pairs of bikes as in the photo, this in effect doubles the amount spent.

We sell parts for electric bikes in our webshop.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

's Hertogenbosch

I've used a few videos before from Mark Wagenbuur who lives in 's Hertogenbosch ("Den Bosch" for short). This is a Dutch city in the southern province of Brabant. It's another "normal" Dutch town with a normal level of cycling.

First a video of the rush hour. This is the main route between the railway station and residential areas at 5:15 pm on a normal evening:

Of course, no Dutch city is ever completely satisfied with what it has, and Den Bosch is no exception. One recent improvement is this new roundabout with cycle paths which have priority over the roads. It replaced a large traffic light junction which was much less convenient:

In the last few weeks a new underpass has also opened, giving cyclists access across a main road without stopping:

This is all part of a plan to increase the cycling rate of the city. Mark sent further information:

"Maybe I can add even more background information: Den Bosch (capital of Brabant with currently 137.777 inhabitants) has the ambition to increase cycling from 33% to 44% of all trips. It has freed a budget of 3 million Euros per year until 2012 to improve cycle infrastructure (for separate high quality cycle routes, tunnels etc) and then another 1.5 million Euros per year until 2015. A total of 16.5 million Euros! There will also be campaigns to win people's minds for cycling. And the city means business: building is going on all over the city!"

And of course this is the way to do it. Increase the convenience, safety and pleasure of cycling and people cycle more. It's a story which is repeated all across the Netherlands.

Monday 21 September 2009

Cycling the world from home

The Times recently reported on a 67 year old Englishman, Mike Roots, who has been "cycling the world" from his exercise bicycle. Since 1996 he has covered 80000 miles.

He's not cycling it for real on the roads because they are "too dangerous."

It's a glimpse into the problems facing many people in the UK who would like to cycle, but do not. A feeling that the roads are too dangerous is not irrational, but quite understandable in a country where cyclists simply are not provided for.

This is perhaps a good example of a lack of subjective safety preventing someone from cycling.

What Mike is doing may seem strange, and some of the readers responses to the article are quite funny. However, I think it's good that Mike is raising the issue of subjective safety.

By way of contrast, Dutch people of pensionable age make a quarter of their journeys by bicycle.

Now for a real ride around the world... James Bowthorpe from London just took the world record for riding right around the world by bike. There's a TV interview here.

Thanks to the Crap Waltham Forest blog for the story.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Mark's commute in the summer

Mark Wagenbuur previously sent me a video showing his commute in the winter, which appeared on this blog complete with a discussion of the amount of cycle parking at the railway station in Utrecht.

Here's a summer version of the same commute. Look out for the bikes around Utrecht railway station. There are currently around 14000 cycle parking spaces here, soon to be over 20000. That's for a city of 300000 people, so about one for every 15 people.

This amount of cycling is perfectly normal here in the Netherlands. So normal, in fact, that Utrecht's entry in wikipedia doesn't even mention the word bicycle.

I feel I ought to offer a prize for the person who can count the bikes in the video. No prize for counting the moving cars, though. That's not difficult at all.

There are other posts about cycle parking, including information about other places in the Netherlands and comparisons with other countries.

Friday 18 September 2009

Wooden bikes

I'm not actually convinced personally that wood is the best material for making a bicycle frame. However, who cares ? The results in this case are very beautiful indeed and that's certainly a good enough reason for this bike to exist.

Jan Gunneweg is a Dutch bicycle maker who makes wooden bikes. We saw them on display at the prologue of the Vuelta here in Assen, which is where the video above was made.

There's another video on youtube showing Jan racing and even swimming with his bike. The epoxy seals the wood pretty well, I should think, but I'm not so sure the metal bearings like it.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

More NS cycle parking

I covered before the fears of a shortfall in railway station parking in the Netherlands. There is actually some very good news that has come out of this.

The national railway company is promising to build 100000 (one hundred thousand) additional cycle parking spaces across 150 stations. That's an average of 666 extra cycle parking spaces per station.

They're also promising longer opening times for the guarded cycle parks, more cycle shops at railway stations (they do repairs while your bike is parked), improved wider cycle racks, that they'll be more active at removing abandoned bikes, and that there will be a lick of paint and other maintenance for existing cycle parks.

All this will take about five years to happen.

The question which remains is "is this enough ?" Let's hope it is.

Now, an average of 666 extra spaces per station. How does this compare with elsewhere ? To give an example, the number of extra spaces being installed in just five stations is more than the total parking at all 50 railway stations in London. It also compares very well with the amount at other places in the UK. There are quite a lot of cycle parking articles.

How many cycle parking spaces do you have at your local railway station ?

Thanks to Frits for pointing this article in the latest copy of "Spoor", the Dutch Railways magazine.

Monday 14 September 2009

Sue Abbott without a helmet

From Mike Rubbo's blog Sit-Up Cycle, this video is of Sue Abbott, an Australian who is facing legal action in Australia for refusing to wear a helmet when cycling.

As most readers will know, Dutch cyclists are both the most numerous and the safest in the world. In fact, the roads of the Netherlands are the safest in the world. Helmets are very rarely worn in this country, virtually not at all for utility journeys, though sport cyclists tend to wear them as part of the uniform. Australia's helmet compulsion is a misguided attempt to improve cyclist safety, when what really needs to happen is investment in cycling infrastructure. That is the way to increase the cycling rate and to make the population more healthy.

Update: Sue has now been to court. See the follow up post and video on Mike's blog.

Mike Rubbo is an Australian who has directed, produced, and filmed many wonderful movies that you may already have seen. Sue now has her own blog.

Friday 11 September 2009

School cycling route from a village into the city

The village of Vries is about 8 km North of Assen. It is a village of fewer than 5000 people. There is no secondary school in the village so most children of secondary school age in the village cycle each day to Assen to go to school.

The school which is the shortest distance from the centre of Vries is on the Groningerstraat in Assen, around 8.5 km (5.25 miles) South. Not all of the children attend this school, some of the others go a few km further into Assen and some ride in the opposite direction to Groningen, about 18 km North of Vries. Some children sometimes ride a bus, but there is no "school bus". The schools do not have drop off zones for parents to deliver children by car, and arriving at school by car is extremely rare. These children predominantly cycle to school, as is the case all across the Netherlands.

The cycle path provided for this route is of very high quality and encourages cycling. I covered this cycle path before. It also forms part of the route of my commute to Groningen.

Even though in this case the driving route and cycling route are the same, cyclists only go through two sets of traffic lights, while drivers go through four. The difference was explained in a previous post.

If you want to encourage a higher cycling rate where you live, this is the standard of provision to aim for. Not only do children cycle in greater numbers here than elsewhere, but the same is also true of the entire population. The degree of subjective safety on cycle paths like those shown in the video is the reason why cycling here is so appealing.

There are many other school travel stories, and don't miss the video of primary school children riding to school.

Note that the google maps imagery of this route is a bit outdated, but what is on streetview is quite good.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

The schools are starting again

A few weeks before the start of the school term, banners and signs appear to remind drivers that children are to be expected to be on bikes in larger numbers again. The banner reads "The schools are starting again".

Inside the heart symbols it reads "drive with your heart".

Virtually all school children travel by bike in the Netherlands.

I have previous posts about cycle parking at schools, including videos of primary and secondary age children travelling to and from school, the extent of cycle parking at schools, and about school trips, all tagged with school travel.

The school are already back here. Below are a few photos of the school run at the same school where I made this video:
It's safe for all ages because what looks like a road in these photos is actually a cycle-path from which motor vehicles are excluded.
Primary (elementary) school cycle parking. Children overwhelmingly ride their own bicycles.
Primary (elementary) school cycle parking
Bakfietsen are used only to transport some of the very youngest children. Others ride their own bikes.

Monday 7 September 2009


The Cambridge Evening News reported a little while back that Cambridge is considering residents' responses "before a final decision on whether to press ahead with the trial scheme is made."

Consultation to find out whether they should "press ahead" on a "trial" that's decades late already ?

It staggers me how slowly the UK can manage to proceed on perfectly common sense things which are simply "normal" here in the Netherlands and have been so for many years.

But, well, that's why the Netherlands has made progress on cycling and the UK has not. Campaigners need to be less accepting of this and demand actual progress to be made in a reasonable amount of time. It's also why we emigrated...

A few days later the same paper covered the story that shoppers might be put off a town if it has slower speed limits and safer streets. Very odd indeed.

Incidentally, the Dutch did do the experiment, not on a small scale either, now have many thousands of km of 30 km/h speed limits and have found that this isn't quite enough.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

It almost never rains (het regent bijna nooit)

A Dutch blogger who makes a 36 km commuting round trip (40 minutes each way) by bike 3 to 4 times per week has produced a website called "It almost never rains". On this website he documented rainfall during his commute over the year from September 2008 to August 2009. Just 32 days out of 288 days had rain during his commute.

The Netherlands is not the driest country on earth, but rain isn't a very good excuse for not cycling here.