Friday, May 01, 2015

Public holidays and weather in Europe

I have spent many a pleasant hour or so reading "Crazy Guy on a Bike" - a website run as a place where cyclists can recount their adventures and pick up advice where to stop, cycle, eat or find the best beer in town (http://www.crazyguyonabike.com). Recently I was looking for information on cycling in the Netherlands and North Germany. Various of the articles mentioned difficulties with finding accommodation, somewhere to eat, shopping and the weather. I suspect there a few steps to take and a few facts to realise before you swing your leg over your bike and set out for the European Continent.

  • Accommodation: Check out accommodation before you go. Either use a search engine to find tourist office websites along your route, try to go to a tourism fair, check out our "Cycling in Europe entry" entitled "Cyclist- and bicyclist-friendly accommodation in Europe" or drop a line to the national tourist office of the country of interest. 
    • On the web you may well need to wade through a number of hotel booking websites to find an official tourist office website, where you can also find B&Bs and or holiday flats. You can also try using Name of City.de or .dk or .fr,  etc. which will lead to the official sites. There are also regional tourist offices. Checking these sites will give you a feel for the average price of accommodation in the towns and villages on route. 
    • If you are writing to the national tourist offices, once you get the addresses of the regional or city offices write to them. Normally you will be showered with information. Read it all. As an example, we found some years ago that the average price of hotels in a string of French towns could vary by up to 50%. This will also give you a feel for how much accommodation is available. This will help you save time when looking.
    • Once you are underway, if you are not booking ahead, try to start looking for somewhere to stop at 16:00 (4 o'clock). You will rarely find anything at a reasonable price much later.
  • Eating: If you find a place way out in the country that is super remember you might want to eat in the evening and if the house concerned is 5 or 10km from the near restaurant or inn, that's what you will need to cycle to get some food. It might be worth enquiring whether your landlady can prepare you an evening meal.
  • Public Holidays: These are taken more seriously than in the UK. Shops and tourist offices will be closed on these days. Public transport will still run, but may be with a restricted service.  It is definitely not like the UK where shops are open on public holidays, so make sure you have enough supplies. Public holidays do not match those of your country.
  • The weather: It can be as cold and wet in the Netherlands as it is in East Anglia, so take appropriate gear.  The wind is your constant companion in the Netherlands, Denmark and much of Northern Germany. If you are cycling in hilly country you are unlikely to climb more than a few thousand metres per day, i.e. hills come to an end sometime, however a continental head wind can last several days and can easily reduce your normal speed by 20 or 30%. The prevailing winds come from the west. Bear this in mind when you are route planning. Just as an example if you want to cycle along the Elbe then cycle upstream with the prevailing wind behind you, rather than cycling downstream. The major continental rivers have few gradients along much of their routes. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cycling in Amsterdam

Cycling in Amsterdam is like cycling in any major city with the exception that the city has more cyclists than you can imagine and about 400km of cycleway. There are parked bikes everywhere you look, fastened with one or often two heavy chains to street furniture. There are manned bike garages at some railway stations where you can leave your bike guarded or have it serviced while you travel up to town. Fietser (cyclists) zoom round the city, scattering all before them, up and over canal bridges, the only hills this side of Nijmegen, in their own lanes. Most of the bikes are Oma fiets (grannie bikes) single or three geared sit up and beg vintage 28” wheeled transport machines, some with just back pedal brakes. Second hand bikes are easy to come by. You can pick them up at street markets along with the important heavy duty chains. These bikes are real beasts of burden. We have seen them carrying a week’s shopping, one or two children, cellos or lawn mowers.

At rush hours the cycle lanes resemble the Charge of the Light Brigade. If you are a pedestrian crossing a zebra crossing as soon as the lights change you need to pick up your feet and run. Nobody wears a helmet apart from the shaven legged men and women on road bikes, often carbon fibre sculptures costing several thousand Euros. Nobody includes another problem on these cycleways, the Broomfietser (scooter or mopeds). These characters weave their way across the city, ignoring red lights, speed limits and pedestrians. In spite of the 400 km of cycleway some cyclists will jumpa a red light, cycle the wrong way down a road or across pedestrian zones to save a few seconds. It makes a pedestrian’s life interesting. After a while I developed paranoia both about cyclists and the expletive deleted Broomfietser. It probably kept me alive though. If it sounds like chaos it is, but it works. Bike traffic flows and in the main most of the cyclists are good humoured. 

We didn’t cycle when we were there. The friends we met there, were worried by the sheer volume of two wheeled vehicles. If you ever decide to cycle there, the best advice we can give you you is to get off the cycleway when you decide to stop to look in a shop window or your knowledge of Dutch will increase by leaps and bounds. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bike Hire in Amsterdam

Obviously in a city where 60% of all journeys are made by bicycle, it is easy to hire a bike in Amsterdam. There are bicycle hire companies all over town. These bikes are well maintained and prices are roughly the same. Competition is such that companies offering poorly maintained or expensive bikes would rapidly go out of business. Practically all of these hire bikes are brightly coloured and bear an advertising slogan or logo from the shop or hotel they were hired from. There is however at least one exception:

Bike City


Bloemgracht 68-70
1015 TL AMSTERDAM (Across the Prinsengracht canal from the Anne Frank House on a side canal.)
Telephone: 020 626 3721
Fax: 020 422 3326
Website: http://www.bikecity.nl 

For city use this company rents out black solidly built three and seven gear city bikes with two hand operated brakes. You are indistinguishable from local cyclists. The three gear bikes can be hired from upwards of half a day. The seven gear city bikes are slightly sportier, intended for use farther afield and have a minimum hire period of two days. The company does offer some slightly cheaper single gear bikes with coaster or back brakes which are adequate, as long as you are used to riding this type of bike. 

Bike City also has ten aluminium framed Hybrid Bikes with a minimum rental period of a week which are a cross between a mountain and a city bike that come with Ortlieb panniers front and back, 28" wheels, an eight speed derailleur, a 5-function speedo, lighting front and rear, SPD combi pedals, a bottle holder, a pump, toolkit and 2 locks. (Bike theft is a major industry in the Netherlands, so make sure you lock your bike to something substantial before leaving it, no matter who you hire from.) If you are holidaying in Europe and want to have a week or so's cycling, then you can hire the bikes, pack the panniers, leave your suitcases behind and set set off to explore Holland from the Rhine delta around Rotterdam and Maastricht in the south up to Groningen in the north. Cost in 2015 is 172.50€ for the first week and 22.50€ a day after that. You have to return the bikes to Amsterdam. You will need to pick up your cases anyway.

A disclaimer just for the record: We have no connection with this company and have received no payments either in cash or kind for this blog. I was very impressed by the company's website when we were planning a trip to Amsterdam with friends. For various reasons we did not do any cycling when we there, but as our friends were stopping nearby we visited the shop and I talked to the one of the team. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

e-bikes in Saarland II

To order a free of charge folding map with cycling tour suggestions, rental stations and other useful information, please call the tourist authority on 0049 (0) 681 927200 or email info@tz-s.de or check http://www.visitsaarland.co.uk/en/evelo-saarland-1. Saarbrücken, the starting point for many of the suggested tours is easy to reach via its own airport and Luxembourg and Hahn airports. You can also take a TGV or an ICE from Paris. 

This is the only e-bike rental company in Saarbrücken, the capital of Saarland. Most visitors to Saarland will pass through the city. Check with the company before you arrive. There are obviously a limited number of bikes to hire. 

by.schulz GmbH
Vorstadtstrasse 53
66117 Saarbrücken

Tel: 0681 / 925 52 52
Fax: 0681 / 925 52 53
Mail: info@bikes-ebikes.de
Web: http://www.bikes-ebikes.de

Schulz and Co offer Swiss built Flyers. The website is in German, I am afraid. (Hint Google Translator)
Rental costs for e-Bikes:
Half day EUR 12
One day EUR 20
Weekend all-inclusive price EUR 35 (from Friday 1 pm to Monday 1 pm)
For seven days: EUR 110

If you have ten days to two weeks to spare  you could pick up an e-bike in Saarbrücken, explore Saarland, Luxembourg and part of Lorraine or what I would be tempted to do is follow the Saar Coal Canal down to the Marne-Rhine Canal, where little added e-power is needed. Then cross over the Vosges where assistance is useful and look at the Inclined Plane in St Louis Arzviller, before cycling across to Strasbourg. After Strasbourg I'd head north through Speyer, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz and Bingen to cycle through the Rhine Gorge with its castles and vineyards. In Koblenz you can turn left to follow the Moselle upstream to Trier, Germany's oldest city, founded by the Romans. The e-bike is very useful in the Moselle Valley as the cycle route climbs up and down the valley sides. Finally you reach Saarland again and can follow the Saar to Saarbrücken. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

E-bikes on the Berlin to Copenhagen Route

The organisers of the Berlin-Copenhagen Cycle Route (http://www.bike-berlin-copenhagen.com) have put out a booklet called "Grenzenlos vernetzt" "Exploring the Berlin-Copenhagen Bikeway by Pedelec" which lists 57 points on the cycle route - cafés, hostels, camp sites and hotels where e-bikers can charge their steeds. Normally there is a small charge unless you stopping in the accommodation. Although the hard types who can cycle up the side of houses are probably wondering why you need an e-bike to cycle across flat landscapes. It is true that Denmark is remarkably flat. The highest hill in Denmark is lower than the highest hill in the Netherlands. However the wind in Denmark can blow as strongly  and as long as its Dutch equivalent. Hills finish at 8,848m (29,029') the height of Mount Everest, but the wind can blow for weeks. It is not such a daft idea after all to take an e-bike.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Don't forget, it's SPEZI 2015 over the weekend of 25th April

SPEZI has crept up on us this year. In two weeks time we'll be visiting the 20th SPEZI Special Bike Show on 25th and 26th April in Germersheim. It is world's largest show for recumbents, recumbent tricycles, quadracycles, folding cycles, tandems, family cycles, velomobiles, cargo bikes, e-bikes, special needs bikes, adult kick scooters, child and load trailers, hand propelled bikes, mobile exercise bikes and accessories. If I haven't miscounted there are 115 exhibitors from all over the world. This is a good chance to talk to the makers of your favourite or dream trike and then to nip out and burn round a test circuit.
Something that shows how normal cycling has become in Germany at least, is that two exhibitors are showing bike stands and garages. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

World Klapp The Le Schopp 24 Hours Race

Over the last couple of years we have written about the klapprad races organised by a group called the Pfälzer Klappvereins (Palatinate Klapprad Club). There is an annual hill climb up Kalmit on the edge of the Rhine Valley in early September. Last year the club went to Berlin and held a short 7.2km race around the government quarter in the German Capital. This year the klapprad community requested a longer race so that members of the Klapprad community could spend more time together.  Thus the club is organising a classical 24h race 24 hours le Schopp in the village of Schopp (Schopp-o-drom) near Kaiserslautern on 1st and 2nd May. Each team will have four members. The team that has completed the long distance wins. There will be a maximum of 48 teams. At the time of writing thirty teams have signed up for the event.  The racing machines must be an at least 30 year old 20" wheel single geared klapprad with its original handlebars.  Every starter needs to reflect the styles of the 70's, when klapprads were king or queen. This is especially true for the obligatory mustache. Fake mustaches or full beards are verboten. Ladies can obtain a Bartwuchsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (beard growth inability certificate) from the official race hair stylist.
Much more information and registration forms can be found on the World Klapp website: www.world-klapp.de.







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