Tuesday 31 May 2016

A world tour of Drenthe: Cycling to England, America and Switzerland.

One of our first destinations was "America".
May has been a packed month for us, with study tours, holidays to organise and lots of parcels to pack.

However, Judy and I did also manage to find time to take a very short holiday on our bikes two weeks ago. We set off from home in Assen and took a route which made for a "world tour" around Drenthe, looping around between interesting places (especially if they also have interesting place-names) within our "cycling province".

As usual, we rode our recumbent touring bicycles. The comfort of recumbent bicycles make them ideal for touring.

May's changeable weather gave us two lovely sunny and warm days before we returned home with rain and a strong headwind, making us take shelter a couple of times and wish we had packed more warm clothing. Such is cycle-touring.

In the Drenthe version of "Amerika" there are more cyclists than drivers. This being a Sunday, it was no surprise at all to see lots of people wearing all the gear and riding sport bicycles. Sunday is the most popular day for sport cycling.

We then headed South, passing the first of the tjaskers that we saw on this trip. This is a simple type of windmill historically used as a water pump. The bridge is part of a recreational cycle-path through a nature area near our home. Happily, this had been upgraded just a few weeks ago - a pleasant improvement over the bumpy old bridge.

While we drank coffee, our bicycles waited by one of Drenthe's many swimming beaches.
Selfie on the cycle-path
Recreational cycle-paths often pass through areas with much wildlife and of course also livestock. Hence the cattle grid (veerooster in Dutch) and the warning sign.
Cycle-path past the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory. When it opened 60 years ago this 25 m dish was the largest radio telescope in the world.  Many fundamental discoveries were made here. 
The view in the opposite direction: Heath with cycle-paths through it. 
Riding along one of the cycle-paths through the heath, leaving the telescope behind
At the visitors' centre, a miniature radio-telescope with a miniature cycle-path heading away from it across the heath, all made of felt from the rare breed sheep kept on the real heath.
In the areas around the radio telescopes in Drenthe, signs are posted on the cycle-paths to ask visitors to switch off their mobile phones to avoid interfering with the scientific work.
These areas are also almost completely free of motor vehicles. This sign allows only horses, bicycles and wagens, and those only on their assigned paths.
Continuing the "World Tour". We also passed through "England"
We then had English tea.
Drenthe has steadily made improvements to many of the rural cycle-paths. It's truly a joy when conditions are like this.
Of course, sometimes cyclists aren't given quite so much space, but at least we didn't have to "share" with that truck while crossing this bridge. This is a newly opened link for cyclists which didn't feature on my old map.
Soon afterwards we were again able to ride on generously sized smooth cycle-paths
You can never cycle far in this area without coming across other cyclists.
According to my map, this is somewhere in "Klein Zwitzerland". Unfortunately, there was no sign next to which we could take a photo.
There's an award winning chip-shop in Hoogeveen. Unfortunately, it's difficult to reach it by bike. Many Dutch towns are currently not doing much to encourage cycling and Hoogeveen is amongst them. This very wide main shopping street in the town once resembled a motorway and catered for all traffic, but now not only are cars banned but also bicycles at almost any time when you might really want to cycle there. The ban is tedious for the thousands of people who shop by bike and is of course ignored by many. Given the space available here, there could have been no conflict.
The increasing quality of recreational cycle-paths is wonderful for touring cyclists, but cycle-paths in countryside areas, no matter how smooth and how pleasant they are to ride on, cannot encourage growth in utility cycling if conditions become worse for cyclists in towns and cities.
Part way home we went through Beilen. Shopping streets here demonstrates that even with a very narrow street it's possible to allocate cyclists and pedestrian separate space so that both modes can be accommodated with very little conflict. Hoogeveen has much more space to work with, but has achieved far less convenience for its cyclists.
One of my favourite cycle-paths on the last day of our holiday - smooth concrete through a forest.
Back in Assen city centre, which works in the same way as Beilen. We hosted two study tours this month, one of them a follow-up tour for people who've been before so that we could demonstrate some concepts in greater depth and show what has changed in the city.
A new bridge opened in Assen during the follow-up tour. We were amongst the first to ride across and use this new cycling facility. While I've criticized some of Assen's recent mistakes, Assen is still quite exceptional even by Dutch standards. This new junction is a good example of cycling infrastructure: A single-direction cycle-path expands to 3.8 m in width at the point where multiple lanes are required, thereby avoiding traffic jams for cyclists at busy times.
With the follow-up tour group we also looked at some bad examples. e.g. this village "shared space" in which steel footballs bolted onto benches either side of a road by a school are supposed to introduce uncertainty and make drivers slow down to a speed at which they're supposed to be able to anticipate the movement of children. Does this work ? Of course not. If it had then a resident who lives a little further into the village would not have felt the need to put their own "30 km/h" sign outside their house.
We've now taken several groups to see this almost brand new cycle-lane in Groningen. For new infrastructure, a narrow on-road cycle-lane on a 90 degree bend across which drivers always cut the corner is absolutely not good enough. The other side of the road is just as awful as this.
Back home to a delicious meal of bicycle-shaped pasta (click here to buy !).