Saturday, October 26, 2013

e-Bike Holidays in Switzerland

Over the years we have cycled a lot in Switzerland. When we talk about these trips with friends and acquaintances both cost and the mountains are mentioned. "Too expensive and we can't climb Alpine passes!" However I have recently picked up a Swiss national tourist office brochure with details of an eight or nine day trip across Switzerland from Lake Geneva via Interlaken and the Jungfrau region to Heidiland and the River Rhine through the mountains but over them. In 2013 the cost was about £1000 including e-Bike hire, luggage transfer and, bed and breakfast stopping in normal hotels. A similar trip stopping in youth hostels would have set you back about £825.  The e-bike flattens out the passes. Check out the trips in 2014 on

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bicycle Parking in Bensheim

Bensheim is a small town (about 40 000 inhabitants) in our county lying in the Rhine Valley between Heidelberg and Frankfurt am Main. The railway station has excellent bike parking facilities including bike boxes and bike racks.  There appear to be difficulties in the main shopping street, but there are moves by shops and stores to install more bike racks. In addition the council has set up a working party to investigate a bike parking garage. This might well use the model in Strasbourg. This would not be free of charge. I have my doubts about how prepared German cyclists are, to pay for parking, but we will keep our eye on matters and report. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cyclist friendly accommodation in the Netherlands

We are beavering away trying to get our updated, revamped Rhine 2 Cyclists' guide from Basel to Hook of Holland finished. For various reasons it is unlikely that we will be able to cycle from the German-Dutch border by Emmerich to Hook of Holland to check the route this year, unless global warming means that November is very warm and lack of global warming means the month is gale free. What we have decided to do is to prepare the book by working out a route using the knooppunt system. Dutch cycling facilities are so good that we don't need to go there to check the route.
We still need accommodation lists and were pleased to find the Fietsers Welkom! website published by Fietsplatform (Dutch cycling platform). This is an  “umbrella-organisation” (public-private partnership, foundation)bringing together the Dutch tourist’ union ‘ANWB’, the Dutch cyclist’ union ‘Fietsersbond’, the Union for cycle-touring clubs ‘NTFU’ and the national organisation for the cycling industry in the Netherlands ‘RAI’. With the support of the national and regional authorities Fietsplatform tries to improve the facilities for recreational cycling/ cycle tourism in the Netherlands.
The Fietsers Welkom! website is very similar to the German Bett und Bike website published by the ADFC and the Luxembourg bed + bike website published by the LVI. Landlords agree to the following conditions:
  • Open from May / September, at least five days a week from 11:00.
  • Campsites set aside an area for cycle tourists.
  • Hotels, B&Bs and campsites accept guests for one night.
  • The hotels, B&Bs offer a locked bicycle garage.
  • Simple tools and puncture repair outfits are available, as is obviously, a first aid kit.
  • Cyclists can refill their water bottle for free.
  • Bike maps are available for inspection and/or on sale.
  • Batteries of electric bikes can be recharged for free.
  • Wet clothing is no problem. The hotels,  etc. offer a dryer or drying rack.
On first inspection the Fietsers Welkom! website is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It offers a searchable map of the Netherlands with accommodation, knooppunt and the Dutch long distance cycle routes. It is in Dutch, but it is obvious how you use it, just go to 'Kaart'.
I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the search engine could do with tightening up. It is possible to search an area by entering its name, but if the name of the place you are looking for, comes in the title of the accommodation or in the address, one is overwhelmed by a flood of several hundred addresses, most of which are false. Try looking for "Hoek van Holland", for example. One finds 860 addresses. Cut the search item back to "Hoek" and you still find 60 addresses. If I remember rightly "hoek" means "corner" in Dutch. In such cases you will need to look on the map and click on the hotel or campsite symbols. You can zoom in and out of the map. It would be a good if there was a scale on the map to estimate distances.
If you are touring in the Netherlands you can download an App from iTunes for €2.69 both for navigation and finding accommodation. I haven't tested this because we don't have an iPhone. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hiring e-bikes

We have a problem at present. We want to finish our new e-book version of "Rhine 2"covering the Rhine from Basel to Rotterdam. Our printed version is now both out of date and print, but does still attract orders via older versions of the website ( which can be found on mirror sites in the Internet. We do have the upstream version "Following the Rhine gently upstream Rotterdam to Basel, a Cycle Tourist’s Guide" available from Smashwords and Amazon, which will be updated this winter.
The problem is that we need to cycle about 280km across the Netherlands from the German border to the Hook of Holland. We cannot do this until the middle of November.  In the Netherlands November means gales from the west, the way we want to go. To be sensible, we need an e-bike each. We can hire them, but of course when we are done we will need to return the bikes. This means a train journey with changes. Do the operators on the Dutch railways offer accompanied transport of e-bikes? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could hire a bike in Arnhem or Nijmegen and drop it off in Rotterdam? It is possible to hire bikes in cities in Switzerland and drop them off elsewhere in Switzerland. We have two possible cures:

  • We could persuade Batavus or Gazelle to lend us a bike each for the publicity.
  • We could buy a couple of Dutch e-bikes from the Gazelle Outlet Shop. These bikes in the Netherlands are cheaper than in Germany. The problem then is our local bike shop owner would probably scrag us and rightly so.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Czech cycleways

We went to a lecture last year at our local bike shop given by an employee who had cycled alone from Viernheim to Istanbul and returned via a different route with his girl friend. She described the return journey though the Czech Republic and mentioned the difficulty they had cycling on the rough paths there. We were surprised to hear this, but our experience is similar, although we only walked along a few km of Czech cycle route a few weeks ago. The tracks were bumpy, covered with layer of 1" sandstone pebbles, more suitable for the robust bikes the continental Europeans call trekking bikes than the thin tyred Audax road bikes many Brits and North Americans use for touring. Signposting was very good.
We did however find a new EU sponsored cycle- and footpath running from Doubrava, Czech Republic to Bad Elster west of the Bily Halstrov/Weiße Elster river as part of the Elster Cycleway from As (Czech Republic) to Halle an der Saale (Germany) which had a smooth high class tarmac surface. Maybe things are looking up.
Czech cycle route signposting on a minor road

Friday, October 11, 2013

City Hire Bikes in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen

In April of next year the cities in the Rhein-Neckar metropolitan region, i.e. Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen and Mannheim will set up a joint bike hire system à la Barclay Bikes in London or the velib system in Paris. The VRN, the regional transport authority has been authorised to issue a call for tenders. It is planned to incorporate the new bike system in the present combined payment system for public transport tickets and car sharing.
This move has perhaps initiated one major change: From 1 January next year cyclists will be able to buy a €1.80 bicycle ticket allowing them to take bicycles on local and regional trains before 09:00 on weekdays. Up to now one needed to buy an annual season ticket to travel with a non-folding bicycle between Mondays and Fridays in the morning rush hour which ruled out occasional transport on trains.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Le Tour - a book review

I was  checking what is available on the Smashwords e-book website on cycle touring in Europe, last night and discovered that  Selwyn Parker's "Chasing the Chimney Sweep" can be bought there.  "Chasing the Chimney Sweep" is an account of four friends who followed the route of the first Tour de France for a month during one summer about a decade ago. The book was originally published as a paperback by Penguin in Australia or New Zealand. Friends who visited NZ, brought back a copy and lent it to us. It is an excellent description of a long cycle tour through the French countryside, including what can go wrong. The history of the early Tour de France is recounted in fascinating detail. Those early cyclists make the rest of us look like milksops and the bikes were definitely instruments of torture.

However the book should come with a health warning. The author has strong opinions about various matters and some of these almost caused us to throw the book across the room in disgust. (We too have strong opinions!)

  • He thinks, for example, that using panniers is "uncool" for stylistic reasons and he and his partner cycled with heavy rucksacks. Unfortunately they happened to choose the hottest summer since records began and so cycling wearing a rucksack was very uncomfortable. They needed to send some stuff back to the Antipodes by post. The other couple camped and used panniers. They appear to have fewer problems. 
  • He then moans about the cost of using the French Postal Service.
  • Unfortunately he doesn't agree with the idea of "When in Rome…". He dislikes French coffee, because he likes to drink a very weak milky coffee at breakfast and the French hotels don't offer exactly what he wants.

However we recommend the book highly with some reservations about rucksacks and coffee.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Everything runs like it's just been oiled.

The city of Mannheim, Germany offers free bike checks in the summer at various events and it is an excellent way of showing folk who don't cycle much how make their cycling easier, by pumping up tyres, oiling chains, adjusting gears and making sure brakes work. It's a very popular service. The queues can be very long. When I first saw this I was impressed, although the ADFC Bergstraße has organised a stand for years at the biannual closure to motorised traffic of the Bergstrasse between Heppenheim and Darmstadt. We have even helped on the stand. I was also impressed to realise that the CTC had organised a similar service at the Prudential RideLondon weekend. This is obviously something that meets a public need.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Safer ways to school on a bike

Cycling to school is a good way for children to improve their fitness, build self-confidence and gain experience in traffic. However until they have gained some experience it can be a risky business, Parents can cycle the routes with their children, but this is not always possible. The ADFC is the German cycling club interested in touring, cycling as a means of transport and cycle paths rather than the sporting aspects. The Heidelberg section of the club has offered training courses for School Cyclists for the last three years.  Twenty fourteen to seventeen year old youngsters in Heidelberg have recently completed a twenty-eight hour training course. The youngsters then lead small groups of younger children to school and act as pilots. They check the bikes before the trip; make sure the younger  pupils know how to switch their lights on; discuss the critical areas of the journey; say where it is necessary to check the traffic behind the group and how one can utilise cyclepaths to best advantage. Two kids from Mannheim joined the training group this year and it is planned to offer the course in Mannheim next year. It strikes us as an excellent idea.

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