The time I cycled the long way from Amsterdam Schiphal to Utrecht on a cheap Chinese rental bike

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Back in the Summer of 2017 I cycled from Schiphal Airport to Utrecht via the edge of Amsterdam on a cheap bicycle rental bike with luggage. It was a bit crazy, but it was an experience.

The day started strangely by not going to bed the night before. Instead, sometime after midnight I hopped on on my bicycle and cycled into my hometown. I locked my bicycle to the railings of the local bus station and jumped on a late night bus from Ballina to Dublin Airport just before 1am.

The plan was to sleep on the bus and then again on the flight, but my sleep was far more limited than I had expected. So, after getting out of the airport terminal — when I took the below image of the Obike outside Schiphal Airport — I was planning to cut my trip short but at least cycle just into Amsterdam, for the novelty of it, and get a train to Utrecht.

I didn’t take any trains that day.

After figuring out that the Obike — a dockless bike share system which has since closed up shop — was worse to cycle than DublinBikes, I should have went into Amsterdam and grabbed a train.

I have many excuses why I didn’t see sense that morning — including the lack of sleep or the summer heat. While I don’t run, the trip turned into a personal version of a bicycle marathon. The struggle of using the cheap bike for an unsuitable journey fits with the determination of finishing a marathon which runners have described to me — hitting a wall and then keeping going. Doing it again and again.

Although, at no point did I suffer marathon-like sickness, my legs were about to fall off me by the end.

But the experience for me strongly reinforced a number of things including:

  • Cycling for all level infrastructure is not just for urban areas.
  • How comprehensive and generally high-quality Dutch cycling infrastructure is, but also:
  • How they have made mistakes and how their infrastructure is not perfect.
  • Upgrading inter-urban routes (as they are planning across the Netherlands) will help increase longer-distance commuting by bicycle, especially electric bike.
  • The many bridges and underpasses of large roads, railways and canals goes a long way to making up for less hilliness in the Netherlands.
  • Using cycling-friendly gradients is hugely important when building new cycle routes, bridges, roads or cycling under or overpasses for rivers/canals/roads/railway/etc.

In the last few years I’ve run a number of what are called ‘study tours’ to the Netherlands — showing the wonders of Dutch cycling and their infrastructure to groups of Irish campaigners, politicians, and professions dealing with cycling. That was the reason I was in the Netherlands.

At the time I didn’t go into too many details with my Dutch contacts, but they thought my route was a bit odd to say the least. Needless to say that on an Obike with two bags, and with a few stops, it took much longer than three hours:

The infrastructure was generally high quality even along my a random enough route. Here I started by heading towards Amsterdam and before getting fully away from the airport you cycle under part of the airport apron:

Then you cycle parallel to a motorway with a very decent buffer:

Just before the route heading into Amsterdam, I turned right somewhat in the direction of Utrecht — and onto another road with a large green buffer and cycle path:

Underpasses provide for safe and effective travel across busy roads:

The cycle routes in the Netherlands seamlessly can merged into low-traffic access roads (the main road shown on the right):

I stopped for a few seconds in the Amsterdam suburb of Amstelveen where there was this rather nicely done contra-flow cycle path:

I took a little detour to cycle along this mini-greenway, the entry point marked with railway crossings markings:

I’m not sure if the railway running along side the greenway was little used or disused:

Then there was a choice between using an underpass or an at-grade crossing at junction of Beneluxbaan and Hammarskjöldsingel in Amstelveen, Amsterdam — this type of set up allows for people worried about social safety (for example, at night) to avoid the underpass, but to use the quicker underpass if you want.

You can see it on Street View:

IMAGE: Google Street View

Looking back towards Amsterdam, two police officers chose the overground option:

A nice wide cycle path beside a section of the Amsterdam Metro:

This is the type of rural road with cycle lane design where I’ve seen the worst examples of driving from Dutch motorists:

This is farm and bicycle only access south of Amsterdam (Middenweg Bovenkerkerpolder) — this is unusual design approach but could be used to allow for two-way side-by-side cycling with less visual impact in rural areas:

Along the way there were pro-cycling designs for urban and rural areas and both. Like this bridge where people on bicycles and pedestrians don’t need need the same clearance as the largest trucks, so, the cycle and foot paths can stay more at ground level:

When the infrastructure is good enough, sporting cyclists will be happier to use it:

Here’s an example of tourist / leisure route signs — you can find more about these at hollandcyclingroutes.com:

This is an unusual divider on a two way cycle path where there’s a bend on a ramp up to a bridge:

And another example of a rural two-way cycle path — we need them badly in Ireland, can we have too many examples of such?

Even on many rural cycle paths, people driving have to yield crossing into or out of minor roads:

I had a healthy lunch in the village of Wilnis:

Along the way there was of course also one or two of these:

And too many of these:

This is a narrower, less busy road and had a similar narrower cycle path:

There was also some cycle paths which were a bit too narrow, although nice buffer:

Sometimes a more substantial buffer is called for:

Another example of priority over a side road — in this example, note the raised table on main road:

On the short sections of route where you’re kicked out onto the road where there’s rural painted cycle lanes there was some dreadful cycling bypasses of pinch points… please excuse the photo quality, this was at a point where I thought if I stopped I might not make it to Utrecht:

It was on this type layout in a liner village where a Dutch motorist overtook a school child within inches of his bicycle’s handlebars:

And while there was examples of poor cycling bypasses to traffic calming on these roads:

There was also examples of what looked like more modern examples with improved designs:

In the 50km or so, this was the one of the only sections of cycle path is desperate need of repaving:

But it and other sections nearby are nice examples of segregation with trees between the roadway and the cycle path:

For a long time Castle De Haar outside the city of Utrecht was a landmark I was waiting for… but on a normal bike I’d still be 40 minutes away and that would mean it will take me longer…

Getting closer to Utrecht this is an example of bollard removal –bollards can cause injury risk, especially to older cyclists, and there’s often less need for bollards after there’s acceptance a road is closed to through traffic:

An example of just grass verge segregation;

This is a park in the suburbs of Utrecht — for clarity, this path is just for people walking, running, and cycling:

The park also had these quite nice bicycle-sized benches:

These five next images are of a very nice urban cycle path in a new suburb, but it’s a bit too strange (and was a small struggle on this last leg of my cycle) — Mark at BicyclDutch has written about this cycle path.

 

As the route I was on joined the Dafne Schippersbrug most people crossed the bridge towards Utrecht city centre while I turned to the right, staying on this side of the massive Amsterdam-Rhine Canal.

The Dafne Schippersbrug ramp visible on the oppsite side of the canal was built on top of a new school building:

Nearly all that was left on the journey was a refreshing short cycle along the canal:

Where you also get a view of the underpass of the motorway to Amsterdam — this section of the motorway was recently given a rooftop which now better connects Utrecht’s new suburb and the city centre.

And when cycling along the canal you see people cycling in all directions below and also above you:

The modern business district where my hotel was located included wide cycle paths — it looked like it was car-orientation planning compared to the rest of Utrecht but it was hard to over the weekend staying there.

I might try a half random route between Dutch cities again, but next time I’ll probably use a better bicycle…

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

5 Comments

  1. Fascinating journey! Good for you, and not a great bike! It shows what can be done with the right will and planning. And not a helmet or hi-vis in sight!

  2. Very interesting

  3. I recently moved from Dublin to Utrecht — you’ll have to come back if only to check out the new bike parking garage at Centraal!

  4. @Lauren — I was in it when it was being built! Back again twice since and hope to be back this later year again.

    I hope you enjoy living in Utrecht. It’s a lovely city.

  5. Funny to see a cycle infrastructure tourist actually riding through my neighbourhood!

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