Thanks to the Schengen agreement, cycling to Germany is no problem at all. There's no checkpoint, there are no customs officials, you don't have to show your passport. At the border there are a few signs and the cycle-paths and roads look a bit different on either side. Having grown up on islands from which it wasn't possible to reach a border without a ship or aeroplane, it still gives me a bit of a thrill to be able to cycle to another country.
The shortest route to Oldenburg from here is about 130 km in length, but Theo and I decided to take a longer route so that we could first meet up with two other velomobile riders from further west who would camp overnight in Groningen and then join with a group of Germans riding from Leer to Oldenburg.
Everything I needed was packed into my Mango. This meant a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and drinks for the journey and enough for the first day as I wasn't sure what would be provided for vegans (this turned out not to be an issue - we were all fed very well). It was with a heavy machine and into rain that I set off on Friday morning. My first stop was just a few km away at Theo's home. We then rode together to find the other two who would accompany us to Germany:
|Just before 11 am in Oude Pekela, Groningen. Meeting George and Jan, who rode from Noord Holland the day before.|
|Travelling as a convoy of four between Oude Pekela and Leer. In order to be able to make good progress we ignored nearly all German cycle-paths and rode on the roads.|
After Bunde, our next stop was Leer, from where there was to be an organised ride to Oldenburg starting at 14:00.
|The first 90 km covered, we ate lunch by our bikes at Leer railway station. We were here nearly an hour early and a lot of local people asked questions about what we were doing.|
|Our hosts in Leer before setting off.|
|Our guide very generously took us to his home for an extra lunch ! A marvellous spread.|
|When we stopped by a railway crossing the last thing I expected to watch go by was this human powered bike / train / pub!|
|After 160 km, we arrived in Oldenburg just in time for dinner. First we put the tents up as that's no fun after dark.|
The GOL is a social event more than it is a bike ride. The big ride on Saturday was not a long ride or a fast ride. It was never supposed to be either of those things as it was planned to be only a little over 40 km in length and it was supposed to take all day. However it was a big ride in that over a hundred people took part. Speeds were low, roads were filled (Oldenburg's cycle-paths were not adequate for us) and traffic jams were caused.
|A huge queue of bikes going into the tunnel and coming out the other side again...|
|This was a social event, not a "ride". We stopped three times in the first 12 km. This stop was by a interesting cycle-shop|
|Our third stop, where we ate lunch, was by a lake where there were activities and various interesting machines being demonstrated. Unfortunately, this human powered hydrofoil couldn't be demonstrated.|
|Other novel designs of boats were in use.|
|Setting off again after the lunch stop|
|Riding between lunch stop and the afternoon cake stop. A road in the countryside near Oldenburg|
|If we had tried to ride on those narrow bidirectional cycle-paths, this would not have worked out (see later blog post).|
In the evening, there was a "cycling cinema", singing, comedy routines (lots of laughter, but I understood very few of the jokes because I don't understand German) and many prizes were awarded for people who had done particular things. Even I won prizes. I was one of those who had ridden from the Netherlands so was given a book of over 5000 cycle friendly accommodation addresses, and then I also received a water bottle because I've ridden a recumbent for more than 20 years !
The GOL was a very enjoyable and entertaining event. Lots of effort had obviously been put into the organisation and this paid off because everything went very well. It reminded me of similar events which I've attended in the past in the UK. This was a celebration of cycling and in this case a celebration of a particular subculture of cyclists - people who enjoy the comfort of riding recumbents.
The return journey
There was a similar ride on Sunday. This had been advertised as optional. Theo and I both had other commitments so we decided well in advance to head home on Sunday. Klaas guided us out of the city, giving an interesting tour of some of the cycling infrastructure of Oldenburg (more on this later), leaving us on the Küstenkanal which leads back to the Netherlands. The cycle path along the canal took us most of the way to the border.
|Klaas leading us through residential streets in Oldenburg|
|Saying goodbye just South of Oldenburg just before lunch time. This cycle-path led us almost back to the Netherlands.|
|It's a little narrow and this requires a bit of attention when someone comes the other way, but otherwise this works really well.|
|Klaas warned us that the cycle-path became bumpy a bit later on. What we actually found was that the cycle-path had been dug up (presumably for resurfacing) and we were sent on a signed detour onto country lanes.|
|Later on, the cycle-path continued through an area where the road was being resurfaced.|
|Bridges took us over canals, rivers and roads.|
|Sometimes the path really was much too narrow. At this point we had to almost stop.|
|Eventually we reached the Netherlands.|
|Germany behind us now (the wind turbines are in Germany). Note the lack of cycle-path immediately over the border !|
|It's coffee time so we sat and watched other people cycle past our bikes.|
|In need of calories, I opened the Oranje Koek. Yes, in the Netherlands, "orange cakes" are actually pink.|
|We used to take part in Bike Culture Week holidays in the|
UK. Here you see the group setting off for a ride in 1999
One of the things which initially surprised me about living in the Netherlands is that there is very little "cycling culture" in the form to which I was accustomed when I lived in the UK.
|Another year, another Bike Culture Week. Note similarity|
with the GOL photos. These were very enjoyable holidays.
Cyclists are not an out-group in the Netherlands.
Because there are good conditions for cycling (almost) everywhere and because everyone cycles, there's no particular reason for Dutch people to identify as "cyclists" or to seek out places to ride their bikes in groups because it leads to them feeling safer.
Elements of the GOL ride resembled critical mass. Because there is real mass cycling in the Netherlands and an acceptance of cycling, there's no need for anyone to organise critical mass here.
|My children taking part in a not very serious cycle race at a|
CTC organized event 15 years ago.
Similarly, touring rides in the Netherlands tend to take place over longer distances and at higher speeds because the people taking part are usually only the most enthusiastic. I've never found a Dutch equivalent of the relatively relaxed touring style of CTC rides in the UK (CTC is sometimes said to stand for "Cafe To Cafe").
|Bike Culture magazine from 1995. Terrific mag,|
I still have the full set. I saw a pile of these in a
public space at the accommodation in Oldenburg
With regard to cycling, Germany is between the Netherlands and the UK. There's a pretty good grid of cycle facilities across much of Germany, certainly across the parts which we rode through last week, but the quality is compromised enough that it suppresses cycling to a degree. While Oldenburg is a university city and has a creditable modal share approaching Dutch levels, the cycling modal share across Germany is about a third that of the Netherlands (this still means it's around 5 or 6 times so high as the UK or USA).
I think this in-between status is part of why I found the GOL experience to feel quite familiar and friendly. I'd seen all this before ! Just four years to wait until the next GOL...
|For the first time in many years, I actually took|
the top off my Mango this year.
The chain, front chainring and cassette were worn so these have been replaced. My front tyres were worn through to the puncture resistant strip and I've replaced them with a new pair of Marathon Racers (a thinner, lighter and more supple version of the Schwalbe Marathon).
When I originally built this Mango I decided to have just one the mirror, but I've now also fitted a second mirror on the right, helping me to keep a good view on all sides. This is especially helpful when riding on a bidirectional cycle-path which is on the "wrong" side of the road.
But while the Mango had lots of new bits, not everything used on this trip was new. The tent which went with me on this trip is exactly the same one as travelled the length of the UK with me ten years ago.
See also coverage on ligfiets.net, a Dutch participant's perspective on the event (in Dutch)