A cycling trip to Holland: the land of the bicycle

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2 – Hoorn to Deventer

From Hoorn we set off cycling northwards the 20 miles to the western end of the Afsluitdijk, where we'd turn north east to make the 18-mile crossing. I stopped to photograph some gorgeous traditional paving on the surface of a country road.


A beautifully paved road, but not too comfortable to cycle on

At the end of this road we turned left past a house, then along a cycle path with open fields on each side. Just as we'd got going I heard a loud crack behind me, then a shout from Sandra. I turned to see her on the ground, lying with her bike on its side. This is a sight you never want to see: your cycling partner flat out after a tumble, not to mention your own wife. I stopped and ran back, thinking: "She's badly hurt. This trip is finished." It could have been. We didn't know then, but she'd badly dislocated her left shoulder blade and broken two ribs.

There are two heavy bollards at the start of the path. One is in the grass at each side. In the centre is another collapsible bollard painted red and white. As she'd entered the path Sandra had been looking sideways at some horses in the field and ridden into the central bollard, knocking her left front brake clean off the fork and denting a pedal. Then she and her bike came crashing down, the left side of her chest falling on the handlebars. It was several minutes before she could get up again and she was in pain all over her left side.

What to do? A woman from the nearby house came over and asked if we were ok. Sandra was standing up by this time, but looking shaken. We asked for directions to the nearest town. Medemblik, she said, and there's a bike repair shop there. We cycled slowly over the bumpy cobbles, Sandra with no front brakes and feeling groggy. Sure enough, we came to the bike shop on the way into town: Leo Smit at www.twc-leosmit.nl.

We've nothing but praise for the helpful and friendly people who work in the Leo Smit bike shop in Medemblik. An expert mechanic repaired Sandra's brakes there and then for 10 Euros. Obviously the best bike shop in Holland!

Now we had a decision to make. We'd been headed north towards the 18-mile long dam leading to the far side of the Ijsselmeer, but at Enkhuizen a little down the coast in the opposite direction is a ferry across the Ijsselmeer. To continue our trip we needed to get across to Sneek that night. The bike shop mechanics reckoned it made more sense to stick to our original route, especially as there's only one daily ferry crossing (or perhaps two) from Enkhuizen. So off we went, northwards again, protected from the strong east crosswind by a dyke.


The Ijsselmeer is just over the dyke on the right

At the western end of the Afsluitdijk (photo) we turned east into the wind and set out across it. You cannot see the other end, 18 miles away. I really wanted to cycle this route and I think it was partly this that encouraged Sandra along. Partway over I crossed a footbridge over the main highway to get us some coffee and cake. Then we ploughed on again with the stiff crosswind now at an angle of 2 o'clock. The few cyclists we met going the other way seemed to fly along. Not us, and each time a truck went by in the other direction an extra gust of wind hit like a closing door.


Partway across the Afsluitdijk

At the eastern end we turned south east directly into the wind and zig-zagged along lots of country roads until it was time to phone the B&B to say we'd be late. Oppenhuizen was still maybe 10 kilometres away. Coby, the landlady, immediately offered to send her husband to pick us up in his friend's van – an act of kindness and generosity which we gratefully accepted. The Dutch are surely the friendliest people you could hope to meet anywhere, including Australia.

We thought of abandoning our tour that night†. We didn't know whether Sandra was badly injured or not. She was certainly in pain, but the next morning – day five – we'd see how she went and set off in heavy rain to Kampen over 50 miles away. After a couple of hours we were wet and cold, but lo! – Macdonald's with the manageress greeting us at the door with complimentary cappuchinos. Pretty amazing, that. The cheeseburgers and chips turned things around and we arrived at the superb B&B in Kampen in good order, considering everything.


Wetlands between the dykes

Day six to Deventer was damp but not raining hard, and the wind had dropped. Pleasant cycling in a brooding landscape under a hard grey sky, and all rather beautiful. Sandra was still doing okay but when we came into town we happened to stop near a medical centre‡ so we went to get her seen by a doctor. She'd dislocated her shoulder blade, he said, and as the next two days were 64 and 67 miles we'd go by train. It meant we'd also get to see something of Nijmegen on day seven, including the National Bicycle Museum and my father's war-bridge.


Street in Deventer – the facades on the left really do lean forward

Our B&B in Deventer was okay-ish and good value for about £16 each including breakfast. The room was up an attic ladder but peaceful, and our hosts were pleasant enough. Kampen and Deventer are both lovely towns with the usual canals but also the River Ijssel meandering its way up north to the Ijsselmeer. We'd have liked more time to look around, but that applies to all the places we visited in Holland. Next time, perhaps.

† We had Snowcard travel insurance with bike repatriation, but this probably isn't as simple as it might seem. We could have flown home quite easily but really didn't fancy someone transporting our bikes, and Sandra couldn't have carried anything. How does this work, I wonder? I should find out for next time.

‡ Finding ourselves outside a medical centre on arriving in the centre of Deventer was one of those odd coincidences that sometimes happen when you're travelling and when, if you respond to the moment, things fall into place in a different way. I've noticed this before.

Next: Deventer to Rotterdam »

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26 comments on “A cycling trip to Holland: the land of the bicycle”

  1. Garry wrote:

    I'm glad I've read this, Patrick, and looked at all the photos. I'd put off going there for years, because I thought it was too flat, and I'm definitely not going there now! It is not only too flat, but three flat and four flat!

  2. Patrick wrote:

    LOL – There's a hill near Maastricht apparently, down in the south. But seriously, Holland is beautiful, flat though it may be. We can't wait to go again.

  3. John wrote:

    Garry, If you don't go to Holland to meet the Dutch you will be missing out.

    Great write-up Patrick.


  4. Mary wrote:

    Patrick, what a star your Sandra is. THere is NO way I could of cycled after that injury. No way what so ever... Im far too much of a drama queen, and crikey she had a dislocated shoulder not to mention broken ribs! She reminded me of Mad Max where the injured hero stitched up his own arm, and carried on regardless.

    Glad the pair of you had such a good tour considering Sandra's crash. I do hope she is on the mend and will not suffer too much lasting injury.

    Great story as always and fabulous photos. I too, reckon us tourers often end up doing too much cycling and not enough exploring of towns and hamlets.

    Holland is on my list to do one day... I think it would be a good spot to try as part of my cycling into Europe plans (these are 'one day Ill do it ' plans).

  5. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks Mary (and John). I'm sure you'd enjoy Holland, despite what Garry said. It's so different from cycling in the UK, which in itself is a reason to go and see. But it's also very interesting, geographically and historically – much more so than Denmark IMO. Denmark is a lovely place for physical cycling and we'll go again, but every Dutch town is interesting in a different way, which is why we'll plan more stops on the next trip.

    Holland is easier to get to as well.

    Sandra's arm is now in a sling and she's due a shoulder operation next week to repair the ligaments and put the bone back in place. It's sticking out a bit. The surgeon said her arm is now held on only by muscle – I think he was impressed. Sometimes there's little choice but to carry on regardless. How do you get your bike and luggage back to the UK, for example, unless you ride it back?

  6. Chris wrote:

    Thanks for sharing the story and photographs. I suspect Holland will be the destination for our next tour (Mrs Bailey doesn't do hills – or camping), especially as we're fairly close to the port.

    I hope Sandra gets some relief from the evident pain she was feeling. I was reminded of Karen Briggs, a judoka from Hull, who regained her world title in 1989 despite dislocating her shoulder in doing so. Ouch.

  7. Hilary wrote:

    Great write up. I hope Sandra is on the mend, she did really well to finish the trip. I know exactly how it feels to see your partner spreadeagled and it really is the most horrible, sickening feeling. Stange how accidents always seem to happen in the most inoccuous places!

  8. Kern wrote:

    Great ride, great writeup. Condolences to Sandra and hopes for a speedy mend.

    Someone needs to buy Garry "ANWB Routegids Mountainbike Nederland" for Christmas.

  9. Alan wrote:

    Gosh, what a great story! I trust you are rebuilding Sandra's strength with chocolate cheesecake or her favourite comfort food. She was a total heroine.

    Interesting final thoughts, too, on Dutch cycling. Photos and videos I've seen had only had sit-up-and-beg styles, but I wondered how representative that was.

  10. Aidan Gloe wrote:

    I've just come back from a similar trip cycling in Holland. It's fantastic! No really, it's fantastic!

    I rode up the coast, over the dunes in the photo, to Haarlem, then stayed in Heemskerk. Then rode to Edam, then across to Naarden. Then caught the train to Gouda.
    Next day I rode Gouda back to Hoek van Holland. Had a brilliant time, and am already planning my next trip.

  11. Tim Beadle wrote:

    I see you've been reading Copenhagenize. But have you been paying attention? :p

    "If we're debunking flat myths, have a look at the list of the Most Bicycle-Friendly Cities in the world that we compiled here at Copenhagenize.com, based on trips by bike / modal share. Many flat cities feature on the list but there are cities that have a hilly topography. Gothenburg, Aarhus, Tokyo, Stockholm, Bern AND a high modal share for bicycles."


  12. Patrick wrote:

    I paid attention during my tours in Denmark and Holland but I didn't have time to measure anything like the %-age of trips. I stand by my comments. I agree there may be a cultural dimension but it springs from the basic geography: flat terrain, with maybe a few hilly pockets.

    The north of England where I live is hilly – not Alpine but rolling hills and valleys, and very few towns that are flat. No-one cycles here on a Dutch bike because they won't work in this landscape, and no-one cycles up hills with their friend on the rack or towing trailers full of luggage.

  13. Tim Beadle wrote:

    It's not (just) about the type of bike! Proper infrastructure is the key, not how flat or hilly it is! If you need more gears, fine, but the infra will help you go up hills without feeling like you need to be Andy Schleck so you don't "hold up the traffic". Conflict-removal in this way is even more important when speed differences are higher, e.g. on hills.

    Britain had a bike culture until the 1950s, when cars started being catered for in a big way, as they were in the Netherlands and Denmark. Except in NL/DK, they turned things around when the 1970s oil crisis hit and they realised they were throwing something away of value. Thus they re-established the bike as the best way of getting around, and between, places.

    David Hembrow's blog for more:

  14. Patrick wrote:

    Mark Wagenbuur's post (on David Hembrow's blog) explains how protected cycle paths in Holland go back to 1905. Then: "What has been a growing tradition in the Netherlands for over a hundred years can be adopted by other countries too." It's just ludicrous. Is the UK going to start a 100-year programme of ripping up streets and trees and push buildings back to accommodate cyclists? I don't think so.

    Flat ground and Dutch bikes go together. Riding a bike on a level path is effortless so more people choose one to get from A to B. It's even easier than walking and the bikes are simple with almost no maintenance and an easy riding position – hop on and go – all with luggage racks. Flatness has to be a factor, then policy follows because the audience is already there.

    Now there's a whole cottage industry of cycle bloggers making wicker baskets and writing how they're setting such a wonderful example for the rest of the world. It's all a bit tiresome.

  15. Kern wrote:

    I had not previously considered terrain as an "enabler" for mass cycling but it makes perfect sense. Another factor is population density. The Canadian prairies may be flatter than a pancake, but you won't have a problem finding a spot in a bike rack.

  16. john wrote:

    I too had a great family trip to Holland this year near Leiden. We took our two boys aged 6 and 11 and over 10 days road 345 miles, on a variety of day trips. We enjoyed it so much that we are to return next Spring to youth hostel.
    So what if the country is flat. For me it is about being on my bike, touring some great countryside and not having to go to work! Sure if hills take your fancy go to the alps, but dont knock Holland for being flat. The people were great, I enjoyed the cafes and whilst the food is not as famous as the French or Italian cuisine, it certainly went down well!
    The towns are very pretty, and it was refreshing not to have to worry about ignorant motorists. I look forward to revisiting the Scottish Isles on my bike and touring other parts of Europe in the future, but I cannot help feeling that I will always want to return to Holland because the culture is so bike freindly. I am envious of that way of life, and there are many reasons why we cannnot hope to emulate that. Hills are a factor of course, but I suspect there is a far deeper cultural attitude that many in Europe share, and sadly we seem to lack.

  17. Tim Beadle wrote:

    Wow – who would have thought one expat Brit was a "cottage industry"? I rather like David's tell-it-like-it-is approach, because it shows us what's possible, if only we'd look across the North Sea for inspiration. And I don't know how many times I have to say it: bike use is higher in many other places than the UK, some of which are hilly, because they've made protected space for bikes.

    Yes, Dutch and wider European culture is more civilised than the UK on many levels, but it's still something to aim for. Sharing the road with motor vehicles isn't exactly going so well at the moment. Adopting the European 5th Motoring Directive (strict liability for the heavier party in collisions) would help.

  18. Patrick wrote:

    David Hembrow is just one of the many -izer cycle bloggers blowing the trumpet and poking fun at the UK, not to mention several others actually in the UK who spend their time posting photos of poor bike facilities everyone already knows about.

    Your suggestion for the Motoring Directive is more constructive and I agree with it. It's affordable too. Where I don't agree is that Dutch and Danish-style bike paths completely separate from the roads and with their own sets of lights etc is realistic for us, except as an occasional token gesture.

    One thing the UK can be proud of is bridleways. I'm not aware of another country with anything like it. Not much use for utility cyclists but wonderful all the same.

    @john... that's an outstanding performance by your two boys! You're right: great countryside, pretty towns, and very nice people. We'll be returning next year too.

  19. WestfieldWanderer wrote:

    Flat country does not necessarily make good cycling country. Try riding for hours into a relentless headwind (quite common in that part of Europe). Plenty of hilly parts of Europe have a much higher modal share for cycling than Britain: Gothenburg, Aarhus, Stockholm, Bern, Helsinki. No, the lazy British are very good at making excuses. That's why they find people who repeatedly and conclusively debunk those excuses "tiresome".

  20. Patrick wrote:

    WestfieldWanderer wrote: Try riding for hours into a relentless headwind.


    Try it with a dislocated shoulder and two broken ribs. That is tiresome!

  21. Thanks for the nice peace you wrote on our Shop in Medemblik.
    I found it by Google, hope the brake of Sandra still is ok.

    See you next time in our Shop.

  22. alan oldfield wrote:

    Great report, even read your Dad's diary [bit of a war buff]. Saw some of the places we visited on our Holland tour last year, especially Leiden. Ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland really good, both new ships. get off ferry, turn left, and up the L1!
    We off to Eastern Holland for two weeks in June, like the look of your b+b's through 'guest' book site, will consider joining that this year.
    Hope Sandra now recovered and back cycling.

  23. Patrick wrote:

    Sandra is fine now, thanks, and I'm pleased you enjoyed the war diary. I hope you have a nice trip. If you go to Nijmegen, De Lentehof B&B (Tom) is top notch.

  24. philip wrote:

    just planning a similar trip for July, great blog, thanks!

    only difference is that i'm going on a recumbent trike.

    any advice on how easy it is to find the way from the europort hull-rotterdam sailing, to the maasluis ferry?

    not my first time, cycling in the Netherlands, love it there/ the culture

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