Cycling – Netherlands Bicycle Tour – Reflections on Cycle Touring Holland

What an awesome vacation! Helen had to convince me to cycle in the Netherlands. I balked at the idea simply because I thought the country was too flat – and hence, uninteresting.

Read about Days 1 (here), 2 (here), 3 (here), 4 (here), 5 (here), 6 (here), 7 (here), 8 (here), 9 (here), 10 (here), 11 (here) & 12 (here) of our Netherlands cycling adventure.

I was wrong. Our trip to the Netherlands to “cycle the country” turned out to be the best vacation I have had in recent memory. Everything we did, every step we took turned out well.

Bicycles: We had initially planned on bringing our bikes over with us. Things then changed to renting bikes. In the end, we followed the advice of Marc over at Amsterdamize.com and purchased 2 authentic Dutch fiets (bikes). An Opafiets for me and an Omafiets for Helen. Yes the money we spent was more then we would have paid to rent a bike there, or transport our own over with us. But, we are coming back to Canada with 2 very unique and extremely well-built bicycles that will last well beyond our years. These bikes are tanks. The quality shows up everywhere. I’ll do an in-depth review of both bikes later on in the Fall. Thanks again to Marc for hooking us with Henry and the boys over at WorkCycles in Amsterdam.

Our Bikes: Up close and personal. We had 2 “Sit up & beg” bikes that are manufactured (to very high quality standards) in Holland. They have 7 gears with all of the mechanics contained in the rear hub (more in my review). My point? Seven speeds are plenty. In the North American world of obsessive gearing, you simply do not need that many gears. Okay, Holland is flat. True. But we hit some wicked headwinds. More then I have ever encountered at home. No worries. We got where we wanted to go.

Routes: With over 11,000 kilometers of bike routes in the Netherlands, you cannot go wrong. Don’t like a certain route? Turn right or left and you are back in business. The network of bike paths puts every other cycling location we have visited to complete shame. From construction, to accessibility, to signage….. Nothing beats Holland. The country is a cyclists dream no matter where you go.

Slow Cycling: Marc is all over this stuff. “Sit up and beg!”. “Smell the roses.” Well, we did. And we liked it! In my posts, I talked about distances covered only to highlight the fact that our bikes served us well despite only having a “measly” 7 speeds (newer models have 8!). We savored every moment of our Dutch slow cycling adventure.

People: Every single person we met was friendly and would bend over backwards to help us out with directions or advice. I can’t even count how many times someone would actually take us to a starting point or offer some “insider advice” on a route. The Dutch are proud of their country and it shows.

Cars, Pedestrians & Bikes: Simply put, bikes & cyclists rule in the Netherlands. It took us days to get used to the fact that cars would cede the right of way to Helen or I even when the signs said otherwise. We’ll have to take care when we get back to the (harsh) realities of cycling in Canada. Pedestrians walk on bike paths rarely. And when they do, they are keenly aware that they are “trespassing”. It seems as if they were always listening and as you approached from behind, they would scoot off of the path (fietspad) without you even having to ring your bell.

Helmets & Such: Marc told me that we would not need helmets. I took a risk and left ours behind. It was all good. Cycling is so safe in the Netherlands that we never once felt the need to wear one. I say this as someone who wears his religiously whilst cycling in Canada.

Money: Many hotels & restaurants in Holland do not accept charge cards (especially when you get away from the larger centers). You need cash. My debit card never worked anywhere (despite being told it would by the folks at TD Canada Trust). Be prepared to live with this if you travel in the Netherlands. Most banks cap how much money you can take out a day.

Trains: What a superb system. We decided to train it on 3 occasions simply because of time constraints or an unattractive route. You can buy your tickets right on the platform of every train station. The kiosks work in English. You will, however, need cash (coins). The fallback is the ticket counter which costs slightly more. And in smaller locales they are not always open. Like a person, you also need to buy a ticket for your bike. It costs 6 Euros (per bike) for a ticket that lasts a day (good deal!). Each train has clearly marked spots for your fiets. Just load them up and grab a seat. Helen & I did so thrice. Each time there was some happy Netherlander asking us if we needed some help hoisting our bikes up into, or down off of the train (we had 2 panniers each).

Security: We never once felt at personal risk. The Netherlands is quite safe. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about bike security. Bike theft is rampant in Holland. It is easy to see why. They are everywhere and sometimes easy targets for theft. I have found the best bike locks anywhere while in Holland. It was comical to see a 150 Euro lock protecting a 50 Euro bike. Helen and I bought 2 pretty sturdy locks while in Holland. The local advice was to paint your bike white or gold if you wanted to prevent your bike from being stolen – LOL.

Regrets: Only one really. We only budgeted 2 weeks to cycle in the Netherlands. One could spend months there….. We’ll be back next year.

Highlight: Oh dear. What do I say now? For pure cycling… well everywhere in Holland. Overall though…. Amsterdam. It is an awesome and charming city that will eat up your time like you cannot believe.

If you are planning on cycling in the Netherlands (Holland) and want some free advice, don’t be shy. Drop us a line.

20 Comments

  1. I think that your trip will remain in your(and our) memory for a real long time!

    When are you comming back to canada?

    Reply
  2. @ Natasya: Thanks for your comment. There was no real “event”. Just my wife and I deciding to buy 2 Dutch bikes and cycle all over the Netherlands!

    @ Philippe: Salut! Nous sommes de retour depuis vendredi. …Jetlag!

    Reply
    • Les:
      I sent the same question to Helen, but thought I’d copy you as well in the event that she’s on travel.
      I would love to ask for a little guidance on cycling in HOlland. We live in Colorado and I have an electric bike as I have one “challenged” leg from West Nile virus a few year back.
      We are heading north from Brussles for a week trip to Holland in September and plan to cycle most days on rental bikes. I need flat — as in really flat — country. I’ve been looking at routes in Zeeland but would much rather go to more rural inland areas.
      So here’s my question. Are there routes in Drenth, Gelderland, North Brabant or Limburg that you would recommend. We’ll probably settle on one place and do day trips out from there.
      Thanks ever so much for your help,
      Ann

      Reply
      • Hello Ann — North Americans have a hard time grasping the extent of the cycling network in Holland. There are more cycling routes ( +17k kms!) than those for gas powered vehicles. Simply put….. get on your bike and ride. You cannot go wrong. And if you do, ride to the nearest train station, buy tickets for you and your bikes and go somewhere else. We toured the country with minimal maps. It is really easy. Bikes are a way of life in Holland.

        My suggestion is to acclimatize yourself around a larger city and then get going. The only real hills are in the south near Belgium and when you have to ride up a dyke to see the sea.

        Also visit http://www.amsterdamize.com for a good taste of things. Marc has some great posts and photos (and videos).

        Again, this is a hard concept to grasp – especially if you are from Colorado!

        Reply
  3. I’m really glad you went home with such a positive impression. We liked it enough to move here…

    Reply
  4. Great write up to conclusion, Les. I long for it too, as fall really kicked in today…ha!

    It’s my mission now to get to Ottawa before you return to Amsterdam :-p

    cheers, Marc

    Reply
  5. What a fine travel report job Les,although I now have 4 hobbies camping/boating/live music making, and landscaping ,I, after 2 years of rest took again my practically new hybrid “Norco” bike for an 8 km spin just to test its and my”seat”, while fending off at least 4 nasty farm dogs on the loose here in the Glengary County. Thanks for your inspiring stories. Say, “Readers Digest” may be very interested to publish yr (b)log !

    Reply
  6. Welcome back! I started reading about your trip and could not stop. Bravo Les on your commentary. I felt like I was actually with you guys. Helen, the photos are spectacular! You really caught the true essence of the Dutch countryside and showed how important cycling is as a form of transportation in Holland. You two should be travel authors. With Les’s uncanny and often comical attention to detail and Helen’s gift with the camera,you guys could do this for a living. Think about it. Where to next?

    Reply
  7. Thanks “Ed”. We had a superb time in the Netherlands.

    Next? Dunno…. Stay tuned to find out!

    Reply
  8. Wow – what a trip! I finally got a chance to sit down with Tracy’s laptop and go through each day — makes me want to follow your route. Fabulous!

    Cheers

    Greg

    Reply
  9. I really enjoyed reading about your cycling trip in The Netherlands. Glad you guys had a blast.

    Tip; When you indeed come back here on a cycling trip, perhaps the area around Deventer, Arnhem and the nature of the Veluwe would be a nice part of the country to go to. And for more hills, Limburg has got great sights & sounds too.

    Hope the bikes you bought are still being used to satisfaction? When I did an internship in San Francisco (in 1997) I bought a mountainbike & used it for commuting from my apartment near GoldenGate Park to downtown. Everyone thought I was crazy ;-) No helmet, no lycra, just my office clothing… On weekends I made trips across the Golden Gate bridge into the countryside.
    Took it home too by the way.

    I went to Canada once, it was great. My parents lost their heart there, they go every year.

    All the best,
    : Marc

    Reply
  10. Hello,

    I intend on cycling in Holland during summer, for about a week, before moving on to Belgium. I would like to know if you guys camped and, mainly, what road map you used.

    Thanks for the advices and the tips.

    Peace to you and your family.
    Peace to cycletourism.

    Reply
    • Hi — No we did not camp. But there is plenty of it there. Re maps…. I only had a general map of the cycling routes in Holland. With over 11,000 kilometers of routes, you will be able to get everywhere with no trouble.

      Helen & I never got down south towards Belgium.

      You really cannot go wrong when you cycle in Holland.

      Reply
      • correction: over 17.000 km of routes/bike tracks :)

        Reply
        • Thanks Marc. I have been using that “other number” for so long that I cannot even remember where I got it.

          Are you saying that you have ridden all 17,000 kms. yourself or just 17,000 around Amsterdam?

          ;-)

          Reply
          • nah, at least 17 million km around Amsterdam, anything to keep the blog interesting ;)

  11. Fellow Canuck here, stumbled on your blog. Thanks for sharing! I’m planning a few days of cycling in the Netherlands this July, considering Lake Ijesselmeer area, but would like to just see where the pedals take me. Is it crazy to just ‘go’ with no hotel reservations? :}

    Reply
    • Hi Curtis. We never had reservations. But we went in September. July may be a different story. I’d (at least) make reservations for my first couple of nights and my last night. Things are busier then.

      Enjoy yourself. Holland is awesome!

      Reply
  12. Re: debit cards. I lived for eight months last year in Delft (little city between The Hague and Rotterdam). I bank with both TD and RBC. The situation with debit cards is slightly more complex than you indicate in your post. I was unable to use my debit card in any establishment or store, but I had no problems whatsoever in using my debit card in any of the ATMs I encountered.

    Anyways, great post. I concur wholeheartedly with your assessment of the Netherlands as cycling heaven. If I wasn’t planning at one point on finding a job there and moving, I’d already have gotten my dream bike from WorkCycles to use around Toronto.

    Reply
    • Thanks Derek. May I point out that we bought our 2 WorkCycles bicycles over there and transported them back to Canada for everyday use? Air Canada (go figure) did not charge us anything extra. In other words, next trip, contact Henry (Cutler) at WorkCycles beforehand and place your order!

      Reply

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