Penelope does the Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen

The ADFC (German cycle club) in the region Krefeld-Kreis Viersen seem to have quite a lot going on (hurrah), although I suppose this is to be expected as this part of Germany is well known for its cycling.

Having been on the ADFC ride to Xanten and Wesel last Sunday I was interested to see that this Sunday’s ride was rather different in flavour, a much shorter distance.

Tour des Monats info

There was also a very detailed webpage for this tour with a GPX track and more.

I contacted Hartmut Genz to say I’d be coming along and he sent me a very nice email with lots of information about various cycling events that they have done in the past. He said he’d be at an event in Kempen the next day (Saturday, the day before this ride) and if I wanted to say hello then I should come along.

So I cycled over to the Hoffest at Gut Heimendahl (a very interesting farm complex) and enjoyed the stalls selling crafts and more, food, music and having a chat with Hartmut (on the left) and his cycling friend Ulli (on the right).

Hartmut, Ulli and meI told Gudula (my landlady) about the ride and she said that she and Frank and daughter Lara would also go so it’d be a rather enjoyable family trip. The weather forecast was for sunshine and 21 degrees so it had all the makings of an excellent day.

Which it was! I gave the dog a good walk and then came back and got ready to head off to Grefrath where the ride starts (13km/8 miles away). Originally Gudula had said they would drive to Grefrath with the bikes in the trailer as she is less used to very long rides but it turned out they decided to ride there and back as well. Lara’s friend Jonathan also decided to come along.

So at 10:15, having caught an escaped Poppy twice (she wanted to come too!) and put her back into the house, our little group of five cyclists headed over to Grefrath. One velomobile and four traditional German city bikes.

Ride to Grefrath TrackThis was 12.71km and it took us 40 minutes – we averaged 19km/h which is a pretty good speed with the German City bikes. As we were heading into Grefrath I spotted a really fast-looking recumbent bike with tailbox whizzing along the other side of the road and waved at him. I mentioned this sighting on the German Velomobile/Recumbent forum and the chap who it was said hello – he lives in Viersen and has an ICE Vortex but this was his TT bike – which I think was a TroyTec. Looked very fast anyway!

There were people marshalling us to the start point as we approached the Grefrath Freilichtmuseum (which is apparently very well worth a visit). And there were a heck of a lot of people there already, milling about and picking up various free gifts and other goodies.

I had read beforehand on the Kreis-Viersen website that there was a 5€ charge which was for lunch. Frank paid for all our entrance tickets (apparently if you have Gazelle bikes then it was free, and Frank and Gudula both ride Gazelles, but I don’t know if they got free entry) and we were each given a little book of four raffle-type tickets, the top one said ‘Essen’ and there were three that said ‘Wertmarke’. Apparently this was one ticket for food and three for drinks at the lunch stop.

WertmarkeAt the registration desk there were lots of free goodies too – a map of the route, free rear blinker lights for your bike, free baseball caps (I didn’t realise they were free else I would have got one – they were advertising Kreis Viersen, our local council) and, very typical for Germany, a free box of matches for those smoking cyclists. Oh, and a free reflective elastic trouser clip.

Kreis Viersen Free GiftsThe bag contained various newsletters, cycling information books (ringbound and laminated so good in the rain) and more. Including a leaflet on the rules about when you must use the cycle path and when you can use the road – I’ve read it all but there’s no mention of special rules for Velomobiles as there are in the Netherlands (in NL you can use the road if you are wider than 75cm which all velomobiles seem to be – probably on purpose to make the most of this ruling).

I met Hartmut, the leader, before we set off and he suggested I started off near to the front. He’s an experienced recumbent rider and knows that it can be difficult to see what’s going on in a big group when you’re on a laid-back bike. There were loads of photographers around and even people filming – there was a chap from Kreis Viersen (a council worker I guess) who had a Go-Pro attached to the back of his bike – I rode behind him for a bit so I expect I’m on film somewhere.

Here we are before the off.

Before the start
Hartmut had told me that he expected about 150 people and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were actually more than that.

I had no idea before the ride how incredibly organised it was (although this was Germany so I should probably have expected it!) I had found the GPX track online beforehand, and the official map, but I didn’t realise that they had booked out the entire lunch café for us (so we could have our food and drink with the tickets) and I didn’t really twig what the role of the police would be.

Here are two of our police escorts.

Two of our police escorts
Notice they carry guns in Germany – I find that very weird as, as an Englishwoman, I’m not at all used to guns and have never seen a pistol in the UK (as I live near Colchester where we have an army base I am used to soldiers carrying machine guns and also living in a farming area I am used to shotguns, but pistols are entirely alien to me). Anyway, there were four policemen all riding what were presumably their own bikes, the usual German city bike.

So we set off, initially riding through some of the residential areas of Grefrath.

Trundling along the back streets in Grefrath

It was quite hard riding in such a large group – people were generally riding two abreast which meant it wasn’t easy to pass, so for the first couple of miles I was pretty much stuck in the same location in the big group.

Here is our track for this ride:

ADFC Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen May 2014

Click here to see the GPSies.com track where you can zoom in and see the route a bit more clearly.

We were soon out of Grefrath and cycling through some of the farmland that’s a feature of this area. The long line of cyclists stretched back, with people of different ages and abilities trundling along at 14km/h.

A long line of cyclists

Most cyclists wore jeans or shorts and t-shirts, there were just a few of us in lycra. It was a good example of the German attitude towards cycling – it’s an everyday thing which you do in normal clothing with any old bike. Most of the bikes were a bit battered and old and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of racing bikes and even British-style touring bikes. I was a bit surprised at one point, though, to see a chap who appeared to be cycling in his boxer shorts/underpants. I’m not sure if they were meant to be normal shorts but they didn’t look like it and I made sure I didn’t check too closely.

Between Grefrath and Mülhausen we used the Bahnradweg which I use regularly and normally feels like a fast, easy ride. With a group this size it didn’t – it felt too narrow and of course loads of other people were out on a Saturday cycle ride coming in the other direction which meant there were regular shouts of ‘Gegenverkehr!’ to warn us to squeeze across to the right a little more.

Bahnradweg

After Mülhousen and a brief additional section on the Bahnradweg we headed north towards Klixdorf in open fields.

Cyclists in open farmland

I’d stopped to take some photos and ended up riding behind my little party but one of the ADFC chaps appeared and suggested I followed him up to the front, so off we went, zooming along beside the long string of cyclists until I hit the front of the long trail of riders. I must admit the view is better at the front – you can see more of the landscape and less of other cyclists’ backsides. It was pretty hot in the velomobile at such slow speeds (it requires a bit more speed for the ventilation to work successfully) so I did a brief blast off the front to cool myself down, although I didn’t go past our police escort, of course.

Our police escort

After Klixdorf we headed to Schmalbroich and then up to Ziegelheide, past a couple of the little chapels I have visited recently. Then we crossed one of the main roads (from Kempen to Straelen), where the Police stopped the traffic while we all crossed – which is extremely cool!

Police cyclist stops traffic

We were then riding in Wall which is just a couple of kilometres from our start point but soon turned away again, heading west towards Abtei Mariendonk (the convent where pretty much every ride in this area seems to have to go past).

As we were on quiet country lanes I asked Lara if she fancied a ride in the velomobile and she did, so I hopped on her bike and she took over Penelope for four or five kilometres.

Lara in Penelope

It’s very interesting riding one of the traditional German bikes. For a start, Lara’s bike hasn’t seen any oil in a few decades, by the look of the chain, and it makes weird grinding noises on every pedalstroke, and the basket on the front makes the steering weirdly heavy, and it has a back-pedal brake so no brake lever on the left side, and the grip-shift gears turned the other way than Penelope’s, and… and… but it didn’t matter as I pootled along happily at 15km/h which was the speed of this large group. I was able to take some photos whilst riding as well as a short video.

After we passed Abtei Mariendonk we heded south along Grasheider Straße before turning off into a little wooded area (still with a tarmac road, fortunately) and our café lunch stop. Which had signs up saying it was closed for a special event (private function, as we would say in the UK, although over lunch when we discussed this the Germans would never consider this private as anyone could join at the start. A linguistic difference!)

Lunctime café stop

Bikes were everywhere, but I noticed people were locking them (which surprised me a little). I didn’t bother locking Penelope of course – it would be massively obvious if anyone tried to ride away in her. I always take my valuables out when I leave her though – that’s only sensible.

mass cycle parking

It was here that our special tickets for our lunch came into play. We all settled outside and people came round with trays full of various drinks (beer, fizzy water, Apfelsaftschorle (a very popular German drink), Coke, Fanta) and you just handed over one of your Wertmarke tickets per drink. All drinks appeared to cost the same – one ticket.

Unfortunately I don’t like beer, fizzy water, Apfelsaftschorle, Coke or Fanta. I am very picky and I only like tea, pure orange and still (tap) water. So I asked for tap water and they brought me some after a short delay – I still had to pay with one of my Wertmarke tickets but that was OK.

Lunch was Gulaschsuppe and bread, paid for with the ‘Essen’ ticket.

Gulaschsuppe

It was very hot and tasty and much needed after a long ride on a hot day.

The drinks kept coming round and so I had a second drink of water. You just had to put the ticket into a beerglass on the tray which I did but some people found the server had walked away without taking the ticket, thus we ended up with some spares.

I asked whether it was possible to have either an orange juice (pure orange) or, even better, Teewasser (hot water for a cuppa), and the server said he’d have a look. I thought he had forgotten about me as he disappeared for a while, during which time the ADFC leaders offered a short guided walk to something notable in the forest (I didn’t catch what that was). Lara and Jonathan went off on the walk but I just had cycling sandals with SPD clips so I didn’t fancy too much walking and am aware of the slight issue of ticks around here – didn’t fancy a tick on my toes. So I stayed behind with Gudula and Frank and some other people who had sat on our table including a chap who appears to have gone to school with Frank years ago (they were discussing various people that they both knew).

Then the server appeared and said “I managed to get you an orange juice!” and there it was – lovely and cold and refreshing. So I gave up my third drink ticket.

And then about a minute later a woman came along with my Teewasser. I had run out of tickets but the chap we were talking to gave me his – and then the woman refused to take it anyway (so I gave it back to the chap). The cup of tea was very refreshing and of course I was able to demonstrate the marvel that is the Tetley Drawstring Teabag.

The ADFC had set up a stand with various maps and other goodies and I had a look, taking away a leaflet on the Fietskanal route (which goes from Neuss, near Düsseldorf, to the Netherlands, and is 100km in total). Gudula was very interested in this as she’s leading a ride with some friends next month so might use part of this route. When Hartmut wandered past we nobbled him to get more information about the route and it was very helpful.

The excellent organisation of this ride was also shown by the fact that the St John Ambulance were in attendance at the lunch stop (and at various other points on the ride) in a car and there were a couple of cycling St John Ambulance people too. All extremely well thought through and with lots of sections where we were filmed and photographed by chaps from Kreis Viersen council.

After a stop of an hour and a half (after 25km or 15 miles!) it was time to head off again.

This next bit of the ride took us through some more flat field sections before we started heading up the hill to Hinsbeck. I had ridden this entire ride on Friday (two days before) to check that it was Velomobile-friendly (it was), but the long ride up into Glabbach was rather hot in the VM at such slow speeds. In the end I decided to head up the outside of the column of riders to get a bit more speed and airflow which, although involving more energy expenditure, meant I was a lot cooler. So I was veritably whizzing up a long hill, passing lots of people with their electric bikes – a good feeling!

I got near the front of the queue when we all stopped to gather the group together before the downhill back towards Grefrath. The downhill wasn’t as fun as it had been on my own on Friday as I spent the whole time on the brakes – Penelope wants to go much faster than everyone else downhill but on a narrow-ish road this was not possible. Still, at least everyone went a bit faster downhill so there was more cooling air going through Penelope’s cockpit.

We then joined the Bahnradweg again between Lobberich and Grefrath which is my favourite cycling section here in Germany as it’s so fast! Except not when in a group of 150 people going at 15km/h. In the end I decided to have a quick blast off the front of the group so put the pedal to the metal and had a bit of fun for half a mile or so, reaching 43km/h before slowing down as I reached the police escort at the front. It was brilliant fun – Lara and I are going to have a couple of races along this section with my trike and velomobile sometime in the next few weeks to see who is the fastest (she is super-sporty and wins everything but I am an experienced recumbenteer…)

Then it was back along the residential bits of Grefrath, where we passed some light blue paint on the side of the road which apparently denotes the Fietskanal Radweg, useful for Gudula to know when she organises her ride.

Back at the Freilichtmuseum, our start point, was the draw for the raffle. Every person who registered got a chance in this raffle which included some pretty decent prizes in a bike-related theme, the top prize being a cycle holiday for several days (I didn’t quite hear exactly what it was all about). Gudula was very disappointed not to win one of the ten prizes!

Raffle prize at the end

The group section of the ride had been 38.33km (23.82 miles) in total, and our moving time was 2 hours 36 minutes so that makes and average of 14.7 km/h (9.1mph). Which is pretty slow! And amongst this huge group there was not one puncture that I heard about although apparently there was a slight accident somewhere – presumably two bikes coming together. Not that surprising really with so many people.

It was time for our little group to head back to Kempen so we set off, enjoying riding at a much faster pace – our return home, 12.7km or 8 miles, took just 37 minutes which is a speed of 20.4km/h or 12.7mph.

Calorie burn for this ride (I was wearing my heart rate monitor) was 368 calories for the journey to Grefrath and 310 for the return (I think the HRM wasn’t recording properly on the return) and 901 for the actual group ride section (because it was so slow – my average heart rate for that section as 119 but it’s normally 140 or above!)

All in all it was a very enjoyable day with 63.75km/40 miles ridden in total, and we all went out for an Italian meal in Kempen in the evening (also by bike, another 11km or 6.87 miles). Sunshine all day on the bike and a meal outside at 8pm in the warm makes for a pretty good day!

Thanks to the ADFC for organising such a great ride and to Kreis Viersen for providing free gifts and policemen!

And here’s the official report of the ride on the Kreis Viersen website: http://www.presse-service.de/data.cfm/static/881229.html?CFID=14938995&CFTOKEN=77810165

4 Comments

Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

4 Responses to Penelope does the Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen

  1. Gerhard

    Those bikes the police were riding may have been government funded, there actually are cycling patrols in some cities.The similar helmets surely look to be government issued. Not sure about your feelings concerning the guns – It appears to be ridiculously easy to obtain a shtgun license in Britain; Those are not at all a common sight around German farms. However – I am a bit surprised that you didn’t comment on cycling helmets and high-visibility vests, as they seem to be so much the vogue these days.
    So, do you think what you have experienced can be described as typically German or do you rather think that was kind of a special and rare event?
    Your blog is so interesting because it shows us Germans our own country from a different angle, different point of view and I have already learned a lot from it.

  2. I hadn’t even noticed the helmets as they are so ubiquitous in the UK that I don’t really see them any more – and only a couple of high-vis vests for (apparently) 200 people – I reckon half of the riders in the UK would have high-vis and helmets. But then there would be more traffic. It seemed to be just the police and a few others with helmets on the ride.

    I gather that this cycling event is a once-per-year with the police but there is obviously a lot of keenness in Kreis Viersen to encourage cycling – both for local people and tourists – and I am benefiting very much from that! I’ll be in England for next month’s Tour des Monats so won’t be able to take part (and it is starting in Kempen for once!) but I’ll try the one after that as well.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying my thoughts and impressions of Germany – it’s the little things that I notice, rather than the big things that probably I knew about before. That’s why living in a different country is such a worthwhile thing to try!

  3. Gerhard

    I just wanted to add another thing: You wrote that you were surprised that the people locked their bikes; Now, statistics say that every year roundabout 350.000 bikes in Germany get stolen, and these are just the official numbers. Since only 10 per cent of those are recovered many people who have their bike stolen don’t deem it worthwile to report the theft to the police. I gather that many of those stolen bikes get heavily modified or sold off in parts or they are found later in scrap condition. If you ride an expensive bike in Germany you better have a FEIN code engraved to the frame, which massively betters the chances of having a stolen bike returned. In Frankfurt alone every month about 500 recovered bikes go on auction because the owner couldn’t be found.

    • I guess if the bike is cheap and old (as most of them seem to be – i.e. nothing special) then it’s probably not worth reporting the theft. And if it gets pinched then it’s not the end of the world.

      In the UK I tend to hang out with people who have beautiful titanium or carbon racing bikes which are upwards of 2000€ and it would matter VERY much if they got stolen so are always carefully locked (and the person usually sits within sight of it too).

      Because Penelope is so weird-looking I am less worried about her getting stolen as she would be almost impossible to sell on without me knowing (I believe she is the only purple Versatile in existence). And with my trike, it is so individualised that, again, I’d probably spot it if it went up for sale.

      The bigger risk for me is joyriders but I’m not really worried about that. I don’t plan to leave either of my bikes for several days in a railway station car park though – that would be too risky!

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