Saturday 7 July 2012

A reasonably speedy delivery

The cycle-paths on this route are all
wide and smooth like this. On weekend
mornings, all the racers are riding.
Earlier this week, a customer in Meppel ordered a few dynamo lighting parts. It's within cycling range, so I asked if he minded waiting until Saturday so I could deliver them in person.

I made the delivery this morning and I took photos on the way.

Catching up with another racer
The customer's apartment turned out to be 44 km from our door. As with most journeys in the Netherlands by bike, almost all the distance was covered on cycle-paths, save for our residential road and the pedestrianized area (with bikes allowed, like in this example) in the middle of Meppel where the customer's apartment was located. It took an hour and twenty minutes of riding against a slight headwind to reach my destination.

Another racing cyclist on the cyclepath
As usual, I didn't see any bikes on the
road. There is no benefit from that.
I took the same route back, so I had a slight tailwind. With the tailwind it took an hour and ten minutes to get back home. That's an average speed of over 37 km/h (23 mph) including riding back through the pedestrian area slowly, slowing down at junctions and at one point coming to a near standstill to pass a horse. The return journey was also almost entirely on the same cycle-paths, though as I got close to Assen, to avoid waiting for an open bridge which had built up an impressively long queue of backed up cars, I took the nearly car free service roads on the other side of the canal from the main road and cycle-path for a few km. It is peak season for tourism by boat and it's really nice that by bike you often have alternatives to waiting and can continue your journey when the bridge is open.

Older stretch of cycle-path with less
separation, resurfaced and very smooth.
More racers heading in the opposite
direction to me.
As well as being peak season for canal boats, July is also peak season for racing bikes. The Dutch are very enthusiastic followers of cycle-sport, and the Tour de France is everywhere at the moment. Cycle racing is something that people not only like to watch but also to participate in in large numbers. At this time of year, the cycle-paths have far more lycra clad cyclists on them than is the case in winter. While the majority of cyclists who I saw today were not lycra clad and not riding racing machines, I decided it would be interesting to take photos of these cyclists as I rode this morning.

Another thing which was holding up
cars on the main-road was this tractor,
which I overtook from the other side
of the canal
It's surprising how often people from overseas who don't understand this country write that the Dutch are "slow cyclists" and that cycle-paths make them slow. Someone tried to make a a comment on my blog this week in which amongst other incorrect things he claimed that the Dutch cycle "at 6 mph". If his comment had had some facts in it, or was the basis for reasonable discussion, or indeed if it had been on-topic for the post which he sent it to then I would have approved it. However, this was an off topic post by someone who had not read what they were writing under and how was trying to misinform and stir trouble.

In part, I've written this blog post as a response, to try once again to point out that simplistic arguments like "Dutch cyclists are slow" are so very short of the truth. It would be nice to think that people contemplating writing the same sorts of things would first read the myths and excuses page, but those who have their own fixed view of the world tend not to bother.

Also plenty of cyclists on the almost car
free road on the other side of the canal
from the main road and cycle-path
So, something about the speeds with which people really ride their bikes. In general, speeds are of course slower in any city than in the countryside. Anyone who really wants to ride fast goes out of the city and rides there. IME, the average rolling speeds for city cyclists tend to be above 20 km/h. Small children, pensioners and people with disabilities tend to be a little slower, groups of school children tend to be in no hurry at all, but of course there are also many club cyclists on racing bikes and other people who like to go quickly. There are at least as many cycling enthusiasts per capita in this country as in any other country.

The actual average speed by bike in the city of Groningen has been measured and it's 14.2 km/h, or just short of 9 mph. This is not especially quick, but this is for an average person and it is not the rolling speed, but the overall speed for a complete journey including stops. By car it's much slower - 9.6 km/h. This is perhaps the source of the "6 mph" speed quoted by some VCers. It applies to cars, not bikes, but anyone who came here and insisted on riding their bike on the road would have their speed reduced to this level.

Any lack of speed perceived is not because "the Dutch are slow" but because in the Netherlands, even people who are slow still ride bikes. This is a country where the demographics of cycling include everyone, not just fitter than average people.

Another cyclist spotted this morning.
In Dutch law, wheelchairs and scooters
like this are classed as bicycles. Cycling
facilities are inclusive of everyone.
Right across the Netherlands, bikes are faster for shorter journeys than cars. This is the result of deliberate policy and it is very important. If cycling were not both extremely convenient and extremely safe, then it would certainly not be so popular as it is.

My journey was fast and convenient because of the cycle-path network in this area. I was home today in time to have a shower and sort through my photos before lunch and then continue on with the day. Making a delivery in this way has less to do with running our business than giving me an excuse to go for a ride and get some exercise, which is of course beneficial to everyone. The health benefits of cycling are recognized in this country just as in any other, but because cycling is always a pleasure in the Netherlands, these benefits are realised to a greater extent than in other countries.

The yellow thing at the bottom of the photos is my Mango velomobile. It's a good part of what makes it possible for me to ride faster than younger and fitter people on "hi tech" carbon racing bikes. Streamlined bikes like these are the fastest practical production bicycles in the world. They are more common in the Netherlands than in any other country and this is in no small part due to the Dutch cycle-path network providing such a good habitat for people who like to ride fast.

Lastly, I leave you with a video made by my friend Harry featuring his and Wilfred's Mangos, demonstrating how it's possible to get through Groningen on the traffic free streets and cycle-paths at a higher average speed than 14 km/h while remaining responsible and not causing anyone any problems:

If some of the maneuvers at junctions in the video seem unconventional, it's probably because you're watching one of the many simultaneous green junctions. However, on my trip there were no traffic lights at all, while there would have been several sets to negotiate if I'd driven instead of cycles. It's quite common in the Netherlands that you avoid traffic lights when cycling.

Click for my picasaweb album of racing cyclists on cycle-paths. This is where they ride in NL, not on the roads.


Colibri said...

Just a small comment regarding the last picture : that must be the first time that I see a STOP sign for a cycle path in the Netherlands :-)
Well, to be honest, apart from this one :,4.605881&spn=0.000824,0.002411&hnear=Nantes,+Loire-Atlantique,+Pays+de+la+Loire&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=52.463021,4.606041&panoid=P7PoXO-nGyLvlYclyoRBmw&cbp=12,262.99,,0,14.02
(where it's indeed a good idea).

GreenComotion said...

I am not sure where your reader got the 6 MPH statistic, but if I did the numbers right, you're traveling at an average speed of 21 or MPH on your way to the delivery. Speed is great, but so is the enjoyment, safety and other important factors. It all depends on how one wants to prioritize. I, for one, like to travel at a comfortable 10-12 MPH when I commute to work, so I can minimize having to take a shower, on not so hot days. If I push it more, I will sweat profusely and that will necessitate the shower. I see other lycra cyclists, riding sub-20 LB carbon bikes, that often ask me, so how much does that thing weigh? Doesn't that slow you down? I simply laugh.

I love your blog. I have been reading it for a while, but this is my first comment.

Keep up the great work!

Paz :)

Bizzonk said...

I don't tend to generalize BUT...

If I had to pick an adjective to describe Dutch cyclists I would say "deliberate".

as long as I'm generalizing I would also say:

Everyone, everywhere, rides "slow" when you think you're "fast".

r s thompson said...

Just a small comment regarding the last picture : that must be the first time that I see a STOP sign for a cycle path in the Netherlands :-).....

what normally signals stop on cycle path in netherlands?? a light or a different type of sign??

David Hembrow said...

Colibri, r s thompson: Normally there is just a line with give way markings, or as a cyclist you often have priority at junctions.

In this case, I think a stop sign is required. Unusually, in this spot the visibility to the left is quite limited, even though the noise barriers are glass, and there's not very much which could be done to improve this situation.

Stop signs are unusual on cycle-paths, but relatively common on roads in NL. This surprised me as they've all but disappeared in the UK these days.

Chandra: There's a place for all types of cyclists riding at all speeds. To encourage people to make longer commutes, which is why the Netherlands is building inter-city cycling superhighways, you also have to make higher speeds possible. Over a short distance this is not all that important but, for instance, my commute took less than two hours out of each day, but this would have been four hours each day if I'd ridden at your speed.

Bizzonk: Deliberate is about right. Most people who cycle in the Netherlands are doing it because it's a normal thing to do for convenience, not as a radical act. Because it's habit, people carry on in all weathers.

Michael S said...

An observation from my side regarding speed:

When I use path without car traffic or when I ride together with another cyclist, chatting, I can go long distances without even taking care about my speed. Normally I then reach my destination very relaxed. As soon as I join a normal street I automatially ride faster and naturally I start sweating. The reason is the fast going car traffic beside me. I knowI have the right to use the lanes in the same way, the cars do, but I don't want to be more of a hinderance than necessary, so I go as fast as I can. I found this to be true espacially where there is a 30km/h speed limit in residential streets. As long as I'm alone, I ride relaxed with somewhat 15km/h or so. As soon as a car is catching up behind me, I ride 25km/h (normally cars can not overtake and some drivers are really pissed of, because they take the residential routes to avoid the traffic jam at the parallel main route). I'm used to that after all and I enjoy going fast, it's like sports then - but it is very different from having a nice relaxed ride. For the most, your and Marks videos show this relaxed riding in the NL, often cyclists ride together, chatting. This might indeed reduce the average speed in the NL, compared to those cyclists which I see in videos from London, chased by cars and by each other. But if so, I would see this as another big advantage of the cycle infrastructure in the NL :-)

USbike said...

If stop signs are used correctly, then they certainly can create a safer environment for people. In the US, however, stop signs are way overused and their efficacy has largely been lost. It almost feels like any road without a stoplight has a stop sign, and our roads are full of 4-way stops even at junctions where it really doesn't make sense. And because every little "junction" tends to have them, you can literally travel 15 meters in a parking area and encounter it 4 times. And most people really just treat them like yields here. It can be especially unnerving for cyclists as you really have to make sure people actually will stop and the concept of "blind corners/spots" seems to still be foreign in the US.

Koen said...

USbike: Here in the Netherlands we seem to have found out that when a certain spot has a high amount of traffic incidents, something is wrong in the layout of that particular point. Change the layout, instead of keeping blaming the drivers.

Illogic design gives confusion, hence accidents. Clever design means the road becomes self-explanatory, so you need much less signage. One great improvement was the colour of the bicycle paths, another for example that many 'forbidden to enter/turn left/right'signs have been replaced with simple blue arrow signs. Pointing the right way to use the road works a lot better than telling what not to do. Simple means as low curbs, tree plantings, sight lines, all help in guiding traffic in a 'soft way', as opposed to law inforcement. Much like giving kids a good example, rather than beating the crap out of them if they do something wrong. Okay, we still have a long way to go, but a more intuitive design seems to work...

Karl McCracken (twitter: @KarlOnSea) said...

One more for you to add to the baseless myths page:

Duch infrastructure cropples their sports cycling.

Kevin Love said...

Here in Toronto, it is the car drivers that travel very slowly. Cycling is a much faster way of travelling than driving a car. Cyclists tend to zip by car drivers in the bike lanes whilst car drivers are stuck and going nowhere in the car lanes.

See, for example:

David said...

You don't mean ride through Groeningen on traffic-free streets, do you? You mean streets free from motor vehicles ..