NL2018 – Thoughts on Velomobile touring in the Netherlands

Having toured now for two weeks, we thought it would be good to give an update on some of the equipment we have used and our experiences in the Netherlands.

My report is first, then Klaus’s in German below.

Helen’s Report

The Milan GT Velomobile

The Milan is not a touring Velomobile. It is designed as a racing machine. I am using it outside its preferred milieu, especially bearing in mind that I am a heavy and low-powered female rider.

The Milan is comfortable. There is plenty of space for the rider in the cockpit, there is room for the Radical Velomobile bags both sides, and I can also fit touring luggage behind the seat. It would not be possible to carry a tent though.

As it’s a racing machine it’s very low slung and this is not good in NL with all the drempels and other bumps. Likewise, the 14 metre turning circle is OK if you are riding on roads but causes issues riding on NL cycle paths. But I managed a two week tour in NL with this unsuitable bike and it wasn’t such a problem that I wished I were in a different bike.

We were lucky we had almost no rain as I would have been wet. However, I was glad for the good airflow in the Milan on the hotter days. There is a fair bit of cooling when riding at decent speeds, and I think it is a fair bit cooler than the QuattroVelo.

The weight of the Milan is a real plus point as it’s relatively light, even with my tools and luggage. However, constant stopping and starting does not play to the strengths of this bike, or any velomobile really. They need to be cruising at around 25km/h before the aerodynamic shape can give its benefit. Ride a Milan at 30 and it gets blown along and is really easy to pedal. Getting it to 30 on narrow cycle paths is not easy.

I have front and rear suspension in the Milan GT and I find the suspension good enough for the road surfaces I experienced here, but my lack of power means that rough surfaces slow me down a lot, which has the knock-on effect of reducing the aerodynamic and making it harder to ride. A stronger rider would be able to push these speeds higher and probably have a smoother journey.

As mentioned in the blogs, I am unable physically to use the grip shifter for my front chainring so rode almost the entire holiday in my 56 tooth chainring at the front and with 9 sprockets at the back (12-36) and this was perfectly adequate except for the hill in Berg aan de Maas. When I changed down to the granny ring twice this helped me conquer the hill but led to significant problems changing back up again afterwards. If I possibly can I keep the bike always on the large front chainring.

The wiring on the Milan was of a poor quality, and although we have upgraded sections there were still some old bits that caused us an issue right before the tour and was possibly also the reason for my lack of indicators on the last two days. Millie probably needs a rewire but that’s a bit of a mega job that I will try to put off for as long as possible!

And finally, the white paint on Millie is very forgiving, both of dirt/bird poo and also scratches. The British Racing Green paint on Humphrey developed some new scratches and these are very obvious; the Milan is pretty battered in some places but it’s not all that visible.

The Quattrovelo Velomobile

For Klaus this was an ideal touring machine. It’s so nice to be able to just chuck your luggage in the boot without having to stow it carefully around you. The bike was stable and easy to use, despite the extra weight of all our belongings. He found Humphrey comfortable and reliable and not as tricky on the larger hills than he would have thought. The turning circle compared to his Strada was an issue with the NL cycle paths but overall the Quattrovelo was a good option for touring.

Garmin Edge 1000 GPS

I have had my Garmin Edge for a few months and generally I like it. Previously I had a Garmin Oregon and I was very happy with that, but it was too large to fit on the tiller of the Quattrovelo so I sold it and bought and Edge.

The Edge has limited battery capability (it has just an internal battery, the Oregon had AA batteries which you could change if necessary) but this has not affected me on this trip as my rides are short enough that its battery can last the whole ride time.

One issue I had with it is its speed at drawing the map when rotating. If you are following a track round a roundabout it can be very slow to rotate the map as you go round the roundabout, which meant that both Klaus and I occasionally took a wrong turn if there were multiple manoeuvres in a short time.

I also had issues uploading the day’s completed track to Garmin Connect from my Garmin via my android phone. I can only do this through WiFi as if I try with bluetooth then my phone goes completely bonkers (windows open and close, it flicks across screens, there is a mouse pointer symbol!!!!) and I can only get the phone to function again by switching off bluetooth and turning the phone right off. Not good. As I am not using Bluetooth I have set the Edge to use WiFi upload but it can be very reluctant to do this. WiFi download from Garmin Connect (for example, a new track) is also very unreliable. It took eight hours before it would download a new track one day.

But the main thing – it displayed the map and track of where I needed to go, and it recorded where I had been and what speed and heart rate and cadence I had. Those are its core purposes and it did them well enough.

NL hotels, B&Bs and Vrienden op de Fiets

We have had very good hotels and B&Bs except for the one in Egmond which was a bit sub-par. Cleanliness has been fine, they are usually fairly spacious and there have been some really lovely B&Bs in Burgh Haamstede, Groningen (the caravan), Weert and Nuth. Prices for accommodation seemed a bit keener than in Germany, but this was offset by the increased price of food so overall I think we spent more per day.

Vrienden op de Fiets has also worked well for us. We pay 20 Euros a night each and this includes breakfast. Sometimes the descriptions on the website weren’t 100% correct (in Maastricht and Den Haag the blurb said there was a separate bathroom for us but we shared the family’s bathroom), but we found this a very good option, especially in Den Haag. The hit rate was low, I wrote to about 8 hosts for each confirmed booking, but this could partly be explained by our large bikes needing a home too. We could of course have extended our search to AirB&B but that is not something I have used before. But generally the accommodation was fine.

NL food and customer service

Klaus and I both like German food. We find NL food rather dull and also overpriced. A pizza that would be 8 Euros in Germany seems to be 11 Euros in NL for the same or lesser quality. We also find the bread very tasteless compared to German bread. German breakfasts in hotels are much more to our taste! Cakes are also often a disappointment, although we have had a few nice ones. Choice is often fairly small. Apple cake is usually a safe choice but it’s not what I generally want.

Supermarkets are good although some of the items are expensive. We had three evenings where we just ate food we bought in a supermarket. Our impression was that there was more plastic packaging than in Germany as well. We also noticed once again the huge difference in price between the Netherlands and Germany for medication. Germany is hugely expensive for just basic things such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamines. The Netherlands has prices more like UK prices and sells these basic items in supermarkets.

However, a big bonus for me is the tea making. When I order tea (explaining I have my own teabag so just need hot water and a little milk) I get what I ask for without any further explanation. In Germany this is such a complex request that I usually end up with no milk. However, in Germany I probably only get charged for 1 in 3 teas, whereas in NL I was charged for all of them except 2 (so that’s probably 1 in 20 that is free!)

Customer service in NL is very good, much better than Germany which has a reputation for poor customer service which we often experience. The servers are friendly and helpful; you often get great waiters and waitresses in Germany but you also often get very sour people who can’t do anything even slightly away from the standard requirements. In NL it seems you often need to pay at the bar but that’s fine, you can usually get the bill settled quickly; in Germany you are often waiting ages for them to come to you to settle the bill.

NL Landscape

Most of our time in the Netherlands seems to be on the motorway heading to Hoek van Holland or to Dronten, and it all seems featureless and concretey (as you would expect on a road). Because I knew NL was flat I sort-off assumed it always looked pretty much the same, but this was decidedly not true! What has been really nice for us on this tour is seeing the wide variety of landscape around the Netherlands. It’s not just flat with windmills, there are very obviously different types of landscape including sandy dunes, woodland, arable and of course the canals and reclaimed land sections.

What I particularly liked were the houses. They are of a very different style than German ones. Firstly, the windows in Dutch houses are much larger which must make the houses brighter inside. The houses are often also more interesting designs – more like English houses, not just a flat block. I was very surprised about how many thatched houses there are, even including brand new houses. And when inside, even modern houses seem to have very narrow or steep stairs. In Germany it seems most houses have spiral staircases, in NL they are straight but steep.

We found the towns with pedestrianised centres were much nicer to sit and relax in. When we visited Baarle-Nassau/Baarle-Hertog our lunch was spoiled by all the cars and trucks driving past. Germany seems to have been a bit more organised in pedestrianising towns, or perhaps it was just an artefact of the route that we took.

NL cycle infrastructure

The NL cycle infrastructure is lauded throughout the world. Yes it is very good, has some excellent benefits but it is not always ideal for people in non-standard bikes. We in Velomobiles are a real minority and are not in the minds of cycle infrastructure planners, but we both feel that we would probably avoid NL for a longer tour again because of the difficulties of using the cycle paths with velomobiles and the drempels and cobbles. Adults on upright bikes are well catered for, short children and velomobilists can end up riding blindly into dangerous situations with road crossings. But we love the fact that bikes are everywhere, they are everyday transport, they are just normal.

We also like the fact that the Dutch don’t feel the need to poke at our otherwise touch our velomobiles. In Germany people seem to have a feeling of entitlement, their children may be touching this private property but they don’t stop them and get annoyed when we remonstrate. We felt more relaxed leaving the Velomobiles parked somewhere and sitting down for a cuppa when in the Netherlands.

Despite many of the VM manufacturers being in NL, most of the people we need haven’t seen a velomobile before. I suppose there are probably only 1000 or so in the Netherlands, but I did find it interesting that we met two velomobiles whilst riding although unplanned. So they are there in the wild!

 

Klaus’s Report

2017; Ostsee-Berlin; 1900k; 3 Länder… wie kann man so etwas toppen? Wir hatten einige Ziele in Erwägung gezogen wie beispielsweise die Voralpenregion oder auch eine klassische Flusstour. Wir haben uns dann aber letztendlich für die Tour Rund um die Niederlande entschieden.

Die Gründe für den Entschluss lagen zum einen im überschaubaren logistischen Aufwand, dem zur Verfügung stehenden rollenden Material und dem eigenen Fitnesslevel.

Nachdem wir mit eigenen Streckenplanungen schon angefangen hatten, haben wir uns dann schlussendlich auf eine bereits bestehende und velomobilgeeignete Tour aufgesetzt. Basierend auf der Strecke der Dutch Capitals Tour, die durch die Hauptstädte aller niederländischen Provinzen führt, haben wir unsere Tour geplant.

Helen hat wohlweislich, bedingt durch die zu erwartende niedrigere Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit, die Etappenlänge auf  max. 120 Kilometer/Tag begrenzt. Obwohl ich anfangs nicht so sehr davon begeistert war, musste ich Verlauf der Tour feststellen, dass dies eine sehr gute Entscheidung war.

Die Vorplanung der Übernachtungen hat auch dieses Mal der Cheforganisatorin Helen übernommen, wie eigentlich auch die gesamte Tour von Helen geplant wurde. Ich muss sagen eine sehr entspannte Art des Tourens.

Jetzt, einen Tag nach Tourende ist natürlich noch die ganze Seele von den Eindrücken der letzten 15 Tagen erschlagen und ist kräftig am Verarbeiten, doch ich werde versuchen ein Resümee zu ziehen.

Das Land:

Wir haben natürlich die Niederlande direkt vor der Haustür und viele unserer Touren gehen auch ins benachbarte Ausland. Eigentlich denkt man, man hat schon Alles gesehen. Auf einer solchen Tour wird man aber sehr schnell eines Besseren belehrt. Die Niederlande sind eben nicht nur plattes Land, Nordsee und Amsterdam. Vielmehr ist die Landschaft äußerst Abwechslungsreich; Heidegebiete, Wälder, Alleen und kleine Dörfer und zu guter Letzt auch Berge.. Dutch Mountains.

Die Leute:

Im Großen und Ganzen (wenn man das so pauschalieren darf) ist der Niederländer ein recht entspannter, offener und freundlicher Zeitgenosse. Unsere Gastgeber ob bei Vrienden op de fiets, B&B oder Hotels waren sehr zuvorkommend und der Service, dann doch eine Klasse besser, im direkten Vergleich zu Deutschland. Diese Unkompliziertheit macht das Reisen schon wesentlich entspannter.

Die Fahrradinfrastruktur:

Die Niederlande gelten ja schlechthin als Fahrradnation und dem kann ich auch uneingeschränkt beipflichten. Überall fahren die Leute Rad und in den Großstädten kann man erahnen, wie eventuell die Zukunft aussehen könnte. Das ist schon sehr beeindruckend. Wir mit unseren Velomobilen passen allerdings nicht so ganz in diese Welt. Wir sind zu sehr abhängig von bester Asphaltqualität, gerader langer Strecken, wenig Stop and Go. Das bekommt man in den Niederlanden nicht überall geboten. Die Radwege sind teilweise eng geschnitten und die Kurven erfordern doch manches Hin-und Her-Manövrieren. Die Oberflächenqualität lässt meist auch sehr zu wünschen übrig. Pflastersteine in fast jedem Dorf oder Stadt (sind zwar nicht so schlimm wie deutsches Kopfsteinpflaster) reduzieren im erheblichen Maße die Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit und zerrten an unseren Nerven.

Abgrenzungen mit Hecken haben auch so ihre Tücken, speziell wenn man mal wieder irgendwo über die Straße geschickt wird. Die Sicht auf den Verkehr ist gleich null. Jetzt könnte man behaupten, dass wir ja ziemlich niedrig sind und somit selbst Schuld tragen, aber es gibt auch Verkehrsteilnehmer die nicht auf einem Hollandrad 1,80m über Straßenniveau sitzen beispielsweise Kinder, Menschen in Rollstühlen etc.

An fast jeder Straße ist auch irgendwie ein Radweg angeflanscht. Das trägt natürlich wunderbar zu einem entspannten Leben zwischen Autoverkehr und Radverkehr bei auf der anderen Seite ist das natürlich auch ein enormer Landschaftsverbrauch. Die Niederlande zählen zu den dichtbevölkerten Länder und freies Land ist ein hohes Gut. Da stellt sich wirklich die Frage, ob man Alles zubetonieren muss. Just my two cents

Das Essen:

Ja wir haben in den letzten Tagen einige Highlights erlebt. Marieke und John Spijkers (ein Arbeitskollege) haben uns bei sich zu Hause für eine Nacht beherbergt. John zauberte am Abend ein leckeres Abendessen in deren formidabler Küche. Besten Dank nochmals für die Unterbringung und Verpflegung. Auch das letzte Abendessen in Nuth… sehr lecker. Ansonsten war das Essen nicht schlecht aber auch nicht gerade herausragend gut. Auch die Preise hatten es doch in sich. Besonders zu erwähnen…. Kuchen- und brottechnisch sind die Niederlande eher Entwicklungsland. Aber wir wussten auf was wir uns einließen; wir waren vorgewarnt. Also liebe niederländische Freunde… tolles Land, tolle Menschen das gute Essen beziehungsweise Kuchen müsst ihr uns noch beweisen.

Die Tour:

Größere Überraschungen und Herausforderungen waren nicht zu erwarten. Wir planen unsere Touren nicht als Abenteuer und man bewegt sich in einem Land mit perfekter Infrastruktur. Da kann fast nichts passieren und selbst wenn, ist man gut aufgehoben und versorgt.

Die 15 Tage waren wieder sehr erholsam für Geist, Seele und Körper (der Kontakt mit den Eichenprozessionsspinner lassen wir mal außen vor).

Wir sind beide sehr positiv die Tour beendet und planen die eine oder andere Region wieder zu besuchen.

Das Material:

Beide Velomobile sind ohne größere Schäden durch die Tour gekommen. Eine Speiche, ein Plattfuß, ein defektes Ladegerät und defekte Blinker, sind die einzig zu beklagenden Schäden (Humphrey hat noch an ein paar Stellen Lack abgeben müssen). Ich durfte Helens Quattrovelo bewegen (mein Strada ist derzeit in Reparatur) und konnte die sehr gute Reisefähigkeit dieses Velomobils erfahren. Gepäck für zwei Personen, Ersatzteile und Unterwegsverpflegung war problemlos unterzubringen. Das Fahrverhalten, trotz des Mehrgewichts, neutral und unspektakulär. Selbst die Bergetappe am vorletzten Tag war ohne Probleme, und zu meiner vollen Zufriedenheit, abgelaufen. Ein tolles Velomobil.

Nochmals besten Dank an das Team von Velomobiel.NL und Alex de Jong, die uns bei der Ersatzbeschaffung des Ladegeräts behilflich waren.

Fazit:

Tolle Tour. Es hat Spaß gemacht und wir sind schon am überlegen, wo wir nächstes Jahr hinfahren. Das Reisen mit den Velomobilen ist schon ein einzigartiges Erlebnis. Lieben Dank an meine “Wing Woman” Helen. Hervorragende Planung, liebenswerte, verlässliche und besonnene Reisebegleitung; was braucht man mehr.

2 Comments

Filed under Cycle Tours, Humphrey the Quattrovelo, Millie the Milan GT Carbon, Netherlands Tour 2018

2 Responses to NL2018 – Thoughts on Velomobile touring in the Netherlands

  1. Hi Helen and Klaus,
    Thank you for your report. As a citizen of the Netherlands, it is interesting to learn how others experience your country.
    As a velomobile driver in the Netherlands, I try to prevent riding on cycle paths as much as possible. They are usually to narrow and too crowded. I even crashed into a cyclist once, ending a cycling holiday that lasted just two hours because of this. Instead, I drive on the smaller roads ‘c’-roads. Their quality is usually quite okay with very little traffic.
    Cheers, René – I only we had German-style bread here everywhere –

  2. Tim

    I disagree in your characterization of the Milan GT as not for touring, since it’s name implies just that: Gran Turismo. I could fit my whole camping gear and winter clothing easily into my GT with the added luggage compartments in front of the wheel wells. Hell, I once transported 3 5l-kegs of beer to our annual club meeting. Of course, cycle tracks in the netherlands are a contradiction to the term “Gran Turismo”. For that one needs roads, not paths.
    The scraping noises can be almost eliminated by changing the suspension to a longer, harder type and a bit of change in the way to go over obstacles.
    The SL without rear suspension is the variant for racing with reduced ground clearance, a wider turning radius and generally reduced volume inside – no chance for kegs or six-packs, only bottles of beer!

    Keeping your struggle with the few climbs in the netherlands in mind, a tour in a region with real climbs (Voralpenregion) would require a real makeover of the gears in the Milan GT for climbing and a bit of (at least mental) training for yourself, too – you need to get used to taking a climb in stride, just putting out the same power as in the flats, then it’s “just” as if you would ride a longer way in the flats. That’s no easy task, mind you!

    Cheers,

    Tim

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.