TOP BIKE NAVIGATION APP – for less than $5

Damn! Which way to Amstelveen?

We should never get lost on the bikes again, not in Nederland.

We’ve downloaded a navigation app called ‘FIETS’ (that’s Dutch for ‘bike’) onto Mevrouw T’s iPad. It cost EUR2.99, and does the job even without 3G, which we’re too stingy to buy. The system is in Dutch, but not hard to operate and I think it’s excellent value.

Here’s how it works…

According to my calculations, we're getting close to knooppunt 81.

The Netherlands is covered with a network of recreational cycling routes, marked by a system of ‘knooppunten’. Knooppunten (junctions, literally ‘knot-points’) are numbered signs, some with maps of the immediate area.

At intersections or forks in the route, arrows indicate the way to the next knooppunt.

Our app is simply a map of the Netherlands, showing the knooppunten. We can tap in our preferred route from knot-point to knot-point and enter it into the iPad.

Then it’s simply a matter of following either the list of numbers…

Knooppunt numbers - we can even read them without our glasses.

…or the map with the route drawn in.

Combined map and numbers. Also shows weather and elapsed time of trip, in case you're trying to set a national record.

Hard copy paper maps of the network have been available for some time, but many of these are unfortunately not detailed enough to help with specific street names.

There are some limitations to the system.

(1) Since the network is designed for recreational cycling rather than commuting, FIETS automatically sends us along the most scenic, bike-friendly route. This may be a plus much of the time, but not if we’re looking for the shortest route to escape from the rain.

(2) There are places in the Netherlands, particularly within larger towns, not considered scenic enough to justify inclusion on the knot-point network. I’m thinking of you, Lelystad! In such places we need to rely on the FIETS maps.

(3) If we stray from the path there is no Homer Simpson voice telling us off (as is available with the TomTom GPS, naturally at a much higher price), but if we think we’ve taken a wrong turn we can zoom in on the detailed FIETS map.

(4) If we drop a paper map on a cycle path, it may get muddy. If we drop a brand new iPad2 on a cycle path…

Fiets is published by ANWB, the Dutch motorists’ association. We’re impressed that in this country the same organisation represents both motorists and cyclists; they’re not seen as natural enemies!

All in all, an excellent system. Is it available in other countries yet? It should be!


Filed under Cycle touring, Holland

6 responses to “TOP BIKE NAVIGATION APP – for less than $5

  1. Comment

    The knooppunt (nodal) system is not suitable for navigational use. It is a monofunctional recreational network. Many categories of destination are excluded: it is not designed to take you to schools, hospitals, shops, and usually not to stations either. Urban areas are excluded, or treated as places to pass through quickly, preferably from park to park. And the system never, or almost never, uses the shortest route.

    The networks only exist in places considered suitable for recreational cycling. Conversely, the blank spaces on the map are the places no tourists ever go – and as such interesting, if you want to see what the Netherlands really looks like.

    This app should only be used for its purpose, recreational cycling. (On the other hand, using automobile navigation systems will get cyclists lost at best, and killed at worst).

    • Yes, some good points, thanks. I’m only using it for recreational cycling. In Amsterdam I usually know my way to the addresses I need, or I use a street directory like everyone else does.

      In smaller towns we usually (though not always) find a knooppunt near the station if the place is on a train line, and often by other places of interest.

      I used the system to ride from Amsterdam to Uitgeest today, though I added a couple of variations to take a more direct route. It worked fine.

      I don’t have a car, or a TomTom, so I’m never tempted to use the automobile navigation system on the bike – though I imagine it would take a poor cyclist to some motorways best avoided!

      • Björn

        First of all, the whole idea about nodal cycling is to cycle through nice environments. It is not meant to get as fast as possible from A to B.

        About car-navigation, nowadays (almost) all those navigation-programs have the possibility to change your way of traveling (car, bicycle, on-foot) and the navigation chooses a suitable route for it.
        And since this specific app is for iphone/ipad, it is even more so that you have better possibilities to get from A to B as fast as possible. For example in the maps-application you can set the navigation to pedestrian (which are routes where you can always also go by bike) avoiding roads you are not allowed. And yes, it still includes country-roads without sidewalks, but leaves out highways and so on.

        Your point about the most interesting points you won’t pass is kind off true. The nicest places (in my opinion) are the less touristic places. But then again, a tourist normally doesn’t have enough time to try all the unknown places and hoping it’s not boring.
        Though in that aspect I am mainly judging from the east of the Netherlands, where the chance of only seeing cows is quite considerable.
        Nevertheless, it would have been nice if you could insert an exact start/destination points.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Bjorn.

    Most of the time I’m on the bike for recreation seeing cows is pleasant, rather than boring. But as an Australian where all towns are less than 200 years old, I do like the old Dutch farmhouses and villages with 17th century town halls.

    The knooppunt system is not yet perfect (I heard it was invented in Belgium in the 1990s, so is fairly new, even in Nederland), but I’m enormously impressed with the effort that the Netherlands has put into developing infrastructure for both commuting and recreational cycling.

    And great to see that so many of us are using it every day.

  3. DaveM

    Found cycle navigation in Flanders using th LF routes was a bit of a nightmare, especially getting out of Ghent heading for Kortrijk. Too far between signposts etc. Once we bought the knooppunt maps in Ypres (Ieper), it all became a dawdle to navigate back to Oostende then on to Zeebrugge for the ferry home. Let’s get a system like it here, I say, maybe on the NCN roures first off

    • Hi Dave, yes we managed to stumble around the LF Vlanderenfietsroute (Flemish Cycle Route) in Belgium using a combination of signs and maps, and the signs were sometimes missing or inadequate.

      I haven’t tried long distance cycling there using the knooppunten (‘nodes’ I’m told, but that sounds medical). Great place to cycle though, isn’t it? Loved Gent and Ieper.

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