LOST IN NAVIGATION – a Dutch-style family ride

'No, Mum, we came down this road here, so we're looking for number 27'. Andrew wisely leaves the decision making to the girls.

Finding your way around Holland by bike is a no-brainer…um…except in Amsterdam South East.

A foolishly trusting Australian family, seduced by my personal charm, smart new bike with GPS computer and my apparently effortless command of the Dutch language, followed me into Amsterdam’s suburbs. Getting out of them was rather more difficult.

I was joining the Cycling Dutch Style group for a day ride from Amsterdam to Utrecht. Within minutes the group had disappeared into the distance, leaving me with the Gosbell family from Melbourne, poring over an inadequate map.

I’m supposed to be almost a local in Amsterdam now, so I took them under my wing. ‘There’s a route starting behind the Amstel Station with a signpost to Weesp,’ I confidently predicted. And there was.

We need more signs like this in Amsterdam South East.

The Dutch cycling network has a system of numbered ‘knooppunten’ (junction points) across the whole country. These are marked on a cycling map, and signposted along the way.

In theory a rider armed with just a series of numbers scrawled on the back of his hand can navigate from anywhere in Holland to anywhere else.

But in Amsterdam South East the friendly signs directing us to the village of Weesp had apparently been pilfered. Maybe they now adorn the wall of some teenager’s bedroom.

With my disciples trailing in my wake, I turned this way and that between rows of modern apartment blocks, neatly mowed green lawns and perfect cycle paths…without signposts.

We stopped to recharge the batteries and mother Kerryn broke open another packet of stroopwafels, the excellent syrup waffles that make the kids think it’s worth coming back to the Netherlands some time.

I asked local Amsterdam South Easters for directions to Weesp. There was a bit of ‘Ooh, if you’re going to Weesp don’t start from here’, but eventually a loop was made and knooppunt 65 appeared in a neat green circle.

We were off and running again. Phew!

The family on the road. The bloke in the red helmet coming up behind is no relation.

I know Weesp well. I could lead the team to a cafe by the water, where lo and behold, other Dutch Style Cyclists (DSC’s) were enjoying their koffie and swapping tales of their particular navigation problems.

From then on it was plain sailing. The route from Weesp to Utrecht along the Vecht River is one of the best in the country, through prosperous villages and past restored windmills and grand villas, and perfectly tended gardens with massed rhododendrons.

On the outskirts of Utrecht I thought it only fair to warn my followers,’I always get lost coming into this town.’ That was sad but true. However help was at hand, for who should appear but DSC Bernie, with his iPhone strapped to his wrist.

Where would be be without an iPhone with a wristband and a CoPilot app?

I’ve had disparaging things to say about my flirtation with the Garmin 800 GPS, but I confess Bernie’s iPhone with CoPilot app took us very efficiently through the normally confusing backblocks of Utrecht.

I don’t have an iPhone, but Mevrouw T has an iPad2. I think I’ll get her a very large wristband.

Thanks very much for the pleasant and patient company, Gosbell family. Good luck with your blogging, Emma, and well done, Ben! Only seven years old, riding a prototype bike and making it over a 500km ride.

The route from Amsterdam to Utrecht along the Vecht River.

To follow the route in detail, and to zoom in on where we went wrong, click here.

To follow the Cycling Dutch Style blog, click here.


Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland

14 responses to “LOST IN NAVIGATION – a Dutch-style family ride

  1. Page 49, of today’s Het Parool gives a fine review of navigator apps for bikes, Richard. It might be time for an iPhone. 🙂

    • Thanks, Mina. We had Het Parool already, so I went to p49. Good round-up and I downloaded the Fiets app for EUR2.99. Very good for giving routes around the knooppunten.

      Unfortunately, we need to add 3G to the iPad to get it to work anywhere but inside our apartment.

      But we can of course just write the knooppunt numbers on the backs of our wrists and set off.

  2. I don’t have an iphone either but in times like that they would definitely appeal.
    500km for a 7 year old is rather fantastic.

    • Getting the iPhone would be easy enough, CHFG. Working out how to turn it on would challenge me. Riding a bike, steering with one hand while watching the directions on my iPhone would be life-threatening.

  3. 500km really is impressive. It can’t have helped that you added to the mileage;)
    We’ll be heading to Amsterdam shortly (ash cloud permitting) – any top tips for where to cycle?

    • Yes, that ash cloud…I’m due to go to Iceland in July. But if you’re coming to Nederland…

      Day loop: Amsterdam – Muiden-Weesp-Abcoude-Ouderkerk a/d Amstel-Amsterdam is about 50km and all nice.

      Amsterdam-Durgerdam-Marken-Monnickendam-Broek in Waterland-Amsterdam is also very good, with lots of possible variations.

      For a few days’ cycling – Friesland or Zeeland, though you won’t find anywhere in the whole country without lovely cycling routes and great infrastructure.

      Which leaves only the weather to worry about!

  4. I intend to bring the weather with me from London, so hopefully that won’t be a problem. Thanks for the ideas!

  5. Pingback: Richard Tulloch’s latest post | Cycling Dutch Style

  6. Paul Martin

    Great post, Richard!

    Our method consisted of following the list of numbers and then when we lost them, follow the red signs. Also, we made a note of the general direction in which we needed to head (guided by the sun & wind). This ensured that we didn’t go in circles!


    • Ah, Paul – you were using the boys’ method of navigation, using wind and sun to find your way back to the cave with a mammoth over your shoulder. My wife prefers the girls’ way – ‘Ask someone for directions!’ Either way we make it there eventually, though not always together! 😉

      • Paul Martin

        Haha… that must be it. Pedalling into those headwinds felt like there was a mammoth on my shoulders that’s for sure!

        Great to meet you, albeit briefly, and I look forward to crossing paths in the near future. I think I need to brush up on my Dutch (or perhaps start learning Dutch…) so we can work 6 months there and 6 months here. 🙂


  7. Comment

    You can not generally use the knooppunt system in Amsterdam. (Incidentally “node” is the correct translation).

    The system was never intended for use in cities. At the edge of Amsterdam, the last number is sometimes followed by an indication that you must use another signage: e.g. “Volg Amsterdam-Noord” or “Volg LF7”. You follow either the standard cycle signage, or a long-distance route, until you rejoin the nodal network.

    In smaller towns, there may be signs for “fietsnetwerk” or simply “netwerk”, so that you can find the way to the nearest node. Conversely, there may be signs from a nearby node to “Centrum”. Often it is simply left to users, to find an entry point to the network.

    • Thanks for the clarification. Yep, ‘nodes’, that’ll do fine, though since I had some of my lymph nodes removed, it sounds a bit medical.

      And you’re quite right, in the cities we need to use some other technique to find our way around.

      But I do think it’s a great system for recreational riding, and use it regularly, in combination with maps, apps and as much common sense as I can still muster.

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