I am on my way to a work event in the UK and then the World Road Cycling Championships in Yorkshire, which has given me the excuse for a short early Autumn cycle tour. A tour which started yesterday in the Netherlands, experiencing not just Dutch cycle paths, but cycling infrastructure on an industrial scale.
Firstly a brief description of the plan. I am travelling on the overnight ferry to the UK from Rotterdam to Hull as I write these words. Then I will be working for a couple of days in the attractive market town of Beverley, for a European Project meeting that has totally by coincidence been planned for the week of the World Champs. (Yes honestly, I had no role in choosing either date or location!)
Then it is a couple of medium cycling legs from Beverley, via York to Harrogate where I will meet my brother and father for some cycling fanboy moments by the roadside of the first road world champs in the UK since 1982.
This plan will allow me to blog a bit about the riding, the racing and indeed some memories that have already been triggered by the locations along the way which are part of my cycling memory bank and our family’s collective memory.
For now, back to the first leg, which I must admit I have not been looking forward to.
When I booked this crossing I had made very little preparation for the trip, so it was a bit of a shock to discover that “Rotterdam” ferry terminal is actually at Europoort, about 40 kilometres from Rotterdam Central Station. And from all the route planning I could see that meant forty kilometres of riding alongside the monster roads, trucks, docks and oil refineries of Europe’s biggest port. I also know that Rotterdam itself has a bit of a negative reputation among Dutch cyclists because it remained a car-centric city much longer than other Dutch cities, so they were hardly going to waste resources building decent bike lanes out to the docks.
However I looked on a few cycling blogs and it didn’t seem to bother any other cycle tourists, they just mentioned “and there are cycle paths”, so I just braced myself and assumed it would be ugly, it could be raining and I could prepare myself for the UK by dodging trucks along the way.
In short, very little of the above is true.
It does take a bit of imagination to make this ride look scenic, but the first few kilometres were typical Dutch suburban riding with decent enough bike lanes and leafy canal sides and bright afternoon sunshine across water can brighten even industrial architecture.
But, but, but ……
Take a look at that photo of the trucks again. And then I can pull back the cropping of the photo and you can see where I was actually riding.
It may not be pretty, but every step of the way I found myself riding on 3,4,5 metre wide bike lanes that took advantage of the wide open spaces of the industrial landscape to deliver me to the door of the ferry. Yes, to the door, without sharing space with cars or trucks for one metre of the entire docks area.
It was occasionally a bit complicated to wrap the lanes around the road network, but when you are given vehicle-free use of a service road to tunnel under the harbours and private use of huge bridges over the waterways it would be churlish to complain.
At one point I was confused by a six-lane highway – of convergent bike lanes!
The final 10 kilometres was a waterside ride, following the shipping channels out to the ferry port itself, and with the sun on the water I realised that I had relaxed completely and was actually enjoying myself.
All I can say is wow! At times the Dutch love affair with concrete on an enormous scale can be a bit overpowering, but finding similarly scaled cycling infrastructure that seems to lead to every corner of this giant industrial area is an extraordinary achievement, and an unexpected bonus for the start of my tour.
I do not despair!