Biking around Holland

Sorry for the late blog post this week. I generally try and post on Monday but I’m away on holidays and have not had time to get to this until now. All you cycling fans will be a bit jealous when I tell you that I’m currently travelling around France following the ultimate cycling race in a campervan with my partner. We’re having a ball and I plan to write a wrap-up blog post in a couple of weeks.

This week I’m going to share with you a little about what we did during the first week of our holiday – a boat/bike tour in The Netherlands which was great fun.

I’ve never done any sort of cycling tour before so had no idea what to expect. As many of you would know there are a myriad of cycling tours on offer all around the world. Some of them are really physically challenging like climbing the mountains during the Tour de France and others, like the one we did are more sedate and relaxing.

Our tour was run by a Dutch company called Boat Bike Tours and started in Amsterdam and headed north, then around the top of The Netherlands and back to Amsterdam in a loop. There are many of these types of tours in Europe that often follow canals but ours actually was in canals for only part of the time. Other parts were actually in seas (calm ones of course).

The boat was comfortable and well appointed and we had a cabin with four single bunk beds (quite narrow but reasonably comfortable) and our own bathroom. The boat had a large lounge area where you could sit and relax and also where we had our meals. The meals were a bit average but certainly edible and the drinks on offer were not great either.

The majority of the other passengers (58 in total) were German-speakers (mostly from Germany but also some Swiss and Danish people) and were mostly aged mid-50s to mid-60s I would guess. Other than an Italian couple who we spent a bit of time with, we were the youngest ones. But that was okay. We weren’t there to make life long friends.

As this blog is about cycling I suppose I should tell you a bit about the actual riding. We were assigned a suitably sized ‘Dutch’ bike which is a seven speed comfort style bike, rather heavy and slow. Mine earned the name ‘Slovy’ although I did ride mine quite a bit faster than most. It’s great for riding on the mostly flat Dutch roads and certainly didn’t waver when we were riding into considerable headwinds.

We had six days of riding about 50 kilometres each day. Most days were pretty flat, often riding on a dyke or beside one. The only days that presented any real challenges were the first one where it rained all day (not great fun but still a great way to see the countryside) and the second where we covered 55 km which included a number of hills (or at least they felt that way on the heavy bike). On the ‘hilly’ day we were actually riding on a bitumen/concrete path that went over sand dunes so we were next to the coast. That meant we also had pretty strong headwinds as well. There was more than one hill when I needed to get out of the saddle to make it to the top, taking extra care to ensure my feet didn’t slip of the pedals. All fun though.

A few of our fellow riders wore bike knicks and other cycling attire but we decided to leave ours at home and went with our normal casual clothes – shorts, t-shirts and rubber soled shoes. Our only dispensation where special bike riding pants complete with chamois that we wore under our shorts. We didn’t even wear helmets. No one in The Netherlands wears helmets for this type of bike. We did see quite a few fully-decked-out road cyclists and they wore helmets but I would do the same on a road bike in any country.

Dutch motorists are so considerate of bike riders (I think most drivers are also riders) and never squeeze you on the road. I found it easy to get used to riding on the other side of the road. The only thing that was hard was working out where the cars were going to come from. I invariably looked the wrong way because at home we drive on the other side of the road.

The other great thing about riding in The Netherlands is all the bike paths. Whenever you encounter a busy road there’s always a nice wide bike path alongside it. And when you actually have to ride on the road, there’s often a special marked cycle lane. So different from Sydney.

The only real negative for me about the week was my very sore derriere. It’s hard to believe that I can ride such a long way (about 150 km per week at home) on a very minimal road bike saddle and then find a huge spongy seat so uncomfortable. I think it was partly because on the Dutch bike I sat in a more upright position and partly because what I’ve read really is true – spongy seats are not more comfortable for women (it’s a myth).

Apart from my sore derriere, the tour was great fun and I would highly recommend it or something similar.