Monday 19 January 2009

Racing against Grandad

I had some parcels to pick up today. Due to rain earlier in the day, and having baskets to make, I didn't end up getting around to going out for for the parcels until it was getting a bit uncomfortably close to 5pm when the depot shuts.

The depot is just 4.5 km (3 miles) away, but I'd left myself short of time so I had to ride flat out to get there on time. I rode the Xtracycle so that I'd be able to move the weighty parcels. 90% of the distance is on the excellent four metre wide cycle path in the photo, which unlike the road offers a completely uninterrupted route on which your speed is limited by your ability, not traffic, nor the four sets of traffic lights and one roundabout I'd have had to go through if I'd ridden on the road or gone by car.

The cycle path was fairly busy and I joined it a few metres ahead of an elderly gentleman on a traditional opafiets. With help from a tailwind, I soon had the Xtracycle going at 35 km/h (22 mph) and rode along for a bit before glancing behind before I overtook someone, and... there was "Grandad" ! At a guess, he was around 70 years old. He was just a few centimetres away and perfectly positioned to get maximum aerodynamic benefit from sitting in the considerable wind shadow of my cargobike.

A quick guy still, and skilled on the bike. He probably used to race. Maybe he still does. Something I noticed on moving here is that a lot of people are fast, and you can't necessarily tell from appearances who the fast ones are. Moving here, to a city with slightly over half the population of the one we came from in the UK, but at the same time a city with so many more cyclists, gave me that feeling of going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.

People in other countries, particularly the English speaking countries where there are few cyclists, often make an incorrect assumption that Dutch cyclists are slow based simply on an idea that the millions of utility bicycles here are slow bikes. While the everyday bikes may not be the fastest bikes in the world, they are efficient enough to travel at pretty good speeds given a good set of legs pedalling them.

Until you enter the realm of extreme aerodynamics, the speed of a cyclist is limited far more by muscle power than it is by the bicycle. Muscles used for cycling get stronger as a result of cycling a lot. The Dutch cycle more than people of any other nation. There is no Clif Bar 2 mile challenge here.

It's not just utility cycling, of course. Sport cycling is also much more popular here than in most countries. Many, many high specification sport bicycles are sold, and bicycle paths like that pictured go in virtually every direction. These provide a great place to train. What's more, cycle racing circuits are also common in many places, including here in Assen.

You can see the result of the popularity of sport cycling in the country's results in the Tour de France. No fewer than 61 Dutch cyclists have won stages in the Tour, vs. 10 Americans, 8 Australians and 6 Englishmen. Not a bad tally for 16M Dutch people vs. 380M from elsewhere.

There are several major sport cycling events in this area this year, including the start of the Vuelta a Espana, which starts in Assen this year and the Jeugdtour - the world's biggest youth cycle racing event, the Triathlon, the Erik Dekker Classic etc.


Nick said...

Hmm, quite so. When I first came to live in NL I used to find it really depressing whenever I was passed by some elderly lady on an omafiets, which was disconcertingly often. But after a while you get used to it (and these days I'm a bit quicker too).

Anonymous said...

Worrying isn't it? I keep having to work hard to catch old guys too. Sometimes downhill.

Anonymous said...

I have always contended that anyone who states flatly that "the Dutch ride more slowly than we do in this country" has never actually ridden on a Dutch cycle path outside of teh city. Unless you're Cat 1 and at the top of your game, someone's going to pass you, and even then, you may have a hard time hanging with the local race team out for a training ride. Val