Tag Archives: cycle network

BIKE PATHS IN BELGIUM – how they made a profit

Bikes cram Bruges's market square

I’ve enjoyed riding the Dutch and Belgian cycle networks over the past few weeks, and I’ve now been doing some research.

The Belgians invented the cycle network system and it’s paid off handsomely. When the mines in the Belgian province of Limburg began to close one by one, mining engineer Hugo Bollen had a great idea. Putting funds into building cycle paths could generate work, and stimulate the Belgians to appreciate their land more. “The more people cycle through their area, the more they will come to value it…and valuing it will lead to nature and landscape being preserved.”

Hugo’s fietsnetwerk (cycle network) officially opened in 1995. By 2007 Limburg had 1860km of signposted cycle routes, 700km of it car-free. The idea spread to the rest of the country, which now has a staggering 13,000km of signposted cycleways. Holland, Germany and Denmark have followed the Belgian example enthusiastically.

Even Hugo probably didn’t foresee the economic boom his cycling infrastructure would bring. Over 700,000 cyclists visit the Limburg area every year, and this directly generates income in the region of more than 16million euros.

We invested a couple of hundred euros of our own in Belgian food, accommodation, trains, bike hire and alcohol last week.

Money well spent, I say!

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Filed under Belgium, Cycle touring, Cycling, Travel- Europe

THE BRILLIANT DUTCH CYCLE NETWORK – Amsterdam to Laren

With signage like this, who could get lost?

Mevrouw Tulloch loves Art Nouveau furniture. I like bike riding. After a short but spirited discussion, we agree to spend a Sunday riding the bikes from Amsterdam to the village of Laren, where more Art Nouveau chairs than you can shake a stick at are on display in the Singer Museum.

It’s a few hours ride away, so we have to find a good bike route to get there. I don’t have a GPS or even a computer on the bike. I’m past caring about my maximum heart rate.

Finding a Dutch cycle route is easy. I get on the net and go to a Dutch ‘bike route planner’ website. [NOTE: There are a few of these – google ‘fietsrouteplanner’.] I’m able to type in our location (Sloterkade Amsterdam) at one end, and ‘Singer Museum, Laren’ at the other. Up pops a map with the suggested door to door cycle route, distance (a modest 37.9km), estimated time (a comfortable 2 hours 6 minutes), calories needed (724 – how many are in a bowl of muesli and a slice of toast?) and noting our interest in art, it even suggests a couple of other museums we may find worth seeing along the way.

There are detailed instructions (in Dutch, I’m afraid) about turning left, diagonally right and going straight ahead, but for those who find Dutch a challenging language there’s a list of numbers in friendly green circles – 52, 55, 59, 15, 78, 79, 80… These I note down on a scrap of paper. Then we get on the bikes and set off – on the cycle paths of course – in Holland riding between those slow cumbersome motor vehicles is considered unnecessarily annoying and something to be avoided at all costs.

Number 52 is the point in Amsterdam, pictured above. It’s a ‘knooppunt’ (knot point), one of which we’ll be passing every few kilometres. Notice above my bike there’s a map with a ‘you are here’ and directions to knooppunt 55, the next one we need to find on our way to our destination, knooppunt 80 by Laren.

As if we needed any more directions, those signs above list towns we could visit. ‘Muiden’ happens to be our next one.

The cycle path looks like this...


Following the fietsnetwerk (bike network) route from knooppunt to knooppunt is easy and we roll along from 55, 59…to 80 where those Art Nouveau chairs are waiting. The Singer Museum won’t let us sit on them, but they do offer comfortable alternatives.

I won’t pretend that we did the route in less than the estimated two hours and six minutes, because we stopped to admire the villages of Muiden (lock and castle) and Naarden (old fortified town with moat), and we road tested the local chocolademelk and appeltaart.

Needless to say, the bike network chooses routes through the more attractive parts of the country. Canals, powerlines and motorways are nearly always in sight, but so too are cows, sheep and swans most of the time. If there’s a choice to be made between the fast route and the scenic one, green cycling signs indicate the latter, red ones the former.

Signs at every intersection indicate the direction of the next knooppunt.


Bike path into Hilversum Station


Finally when we’ve had enough of riding and Art Nouveau (I enjoyed that too, by the way), we head for the train line. At Hilversum Station, a few kilometres from Laren, you can hire a bike, buy a bike, park a bike, or leave a bike to get repaired while you go to work. We put ours on the train (it costs 6 euros a day for a bike pass which you can then use on any train in the country). This saves us having to ride into the stiff breeze which is now blowing rather too directly from Amsterdam.

A lot of money has been invested in this cycling system. But surely it’s paid off. Recreational cycling is enormous here, no doubt with considerable public health benefits. About half the Dutch population regularly uses bikes to get to school or work, thus avoiding ripping up the roads and polluting the air with their cars. That’s what I call a civilized society!

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Filed under Art, Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland, Travel- Europe