Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Dutch City Bikes

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014


I’m endlessly fascinated by the bikes of Amsterdam, in all their volume and variety, colorful, but practical urban transportation.


Heavy and sturdy upright bikes with old fashioned handle bars and no top tube, they usually have a light and  are often equipped with a plastic milk crate style front basket.


The Dutch love their fully sprung, big ass saddles, often a leather Brooks saddle.


For obvious reasons, most Amsterdamers put a plastic cover over their saddle when leaving their bike parked outside.


Some of the bikes are dressed up with decorations on the bars, a quick way to add some class to a vehicle that might be on its third or fourth coat of paint.


With the purpose-built bike lots overflowing, bikes are parked everywhere, including alleys and bridges.


Some of these bikes are clearly not going anywhere soon, and are almost certainly abandoned, victims of theft, vandalism, or neglect.


The authorities periodically tag these derelict looking bikes, giving notice that they will be hauled to the bike pound unless moved within a few weeks.


Normally hosting about 12,000 bikes at a time, the Amsterdam Bike Processing Center (Fietsdepot) waits 3 months for individuals to claim their lost bikes, and then humanely disposes of them.

Bikes parked on Amsterdam bridge

Hopefully, some of these orphans are adopted, to return to the streets of Amsterdam.

Fiets Don’t Fail Me Now

Saturday, September 27th, 2014


I’ve always wanted to try biking in Amsterdam, and last week I borrowed a single speed bike from the Amsterdam CitizenM and took it for a mid-day trip to nearby Aalsmeer.  Designed for slow and comfortable urban use, upright bikes are an entirely different experience than the multi-speed road bikes I grew up with.  This design is hugely popular in northern Europe, and used by people of all ages for commuting, shopping, visiting, and otherwise enjoying the sophisticated network of bike paths.


Starting from the hotel near Amsterdam-Zuid rail station, I headed south on one of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous dedicated bike lanes, headed west, and then followed a bike lane along the #5 tram line until I found one of the red and white bikers signposts that pointed me towards Aalsmeer.  


Outside of one wrong turn at a point where the dedicated bike path was under construction, an error quickly corrected, I was easily able to make the 17km ride to Aalsmeer without the need for a map, let alone GPS.


Surrounded by greenhouses and polders (reclaimed marshland), Aalsmeer is a lakeside town with an intimate relationship to water.  I rode through the town, and rode for several kilometers through a neighborhood that had countless boat yards and yacht basins, on both sides of the road.


When I the road dead ended, I turned around to look for lunch.  I chose a lakeside café restaurant, In de Zotte Wilg (In the Crazy Willows), which had outdoor seating looking across the water.

In de Zotte Wilg

The ubiquitous fries.  With mayo.

In de Zotte Wilg

After lunch, I headed back through town and country. The bike trails north of Aalsmeer follow the top of the dikes that form the polders, providing a good view from a slow bike of fields and houses, some of which are below the level of the path. Noticing a windmill in the distance,  I decided to ride down a path on top of a different dike and check it out.


Built in 1742, Stommeermolen (Stom Lake Mill)  is a poldermolen (polder mill), which used windpower to pump water from the polders, low lying reclaimed swampland that are often below sea level. The polder is the area to the left in the photo above. A paved bike and walking path follows the top of the dike, and the drainage canal lies just under the sedge along the right side, almost disconcertingly higher than the rooftops of the houses within the polder. The modern polder pumphouse is out of site behind the windmill.


The neatly restored mill is now a residence, so it wasn’t open for visit, but a sign provides a cross section of the mill, illustrating how the wind drove a water screw to raise water from polder to canal level.


My original plan was to do my original route backwards, but I was enjoying a fietspad (bike path) that follows a tramline that was shut in 1950, so I continued down the path along the edge of the Amsterdamse Bose (Amsterdam Wood), back into Amsterdam (with another short sidetrip to look at a windmill that is now a restaurant), and past an old station that houses a florist.


After the dedicated path ended, I followed the northbound bike lanes along the Amstelveenseweg, an increasingly urban boulevard that skirted the edge of several green parks.


I rode back under the Ringweg and railroad tracks, reentering Amsterdam about 1.5km west of the CitizenM.  I continued north until I crossed a canal, and then zigzagged through residential and commercial neighborhoods back to the hotel.  After a sunny 4 hours in Dutch city, suburb, polder, and park, I reluctantly applied my coaster brake for the last time, locked the heavy city bike, and turned in the key to the front desk.

Riding with the Amish on the Walmart Trail

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

The Holmes Trail

Sixteen feet seems like a very wide bike trail, until you encounter a speeding Amish buggy. Six years after its completion, I finally had a chance to spend some time biking on the Holmes County Trail.  This rail to trail project is uniquely wide because one half is smoothly paved with asphalt for bikes and runners, and the other half has a more durable “chip and seal” pavement intended for equestrian traffic.

On the BikeE

All the necessary pieces came together in July, with Dad giving me the keys to his BikeE(don’t worry, Scott, I eventually figured out how to pump up the air shock), us building a place where you could store the bike, and Elizabeth getting a Texas-sized pickup with an eight foot bed so I could haul this oversized recumbent bike to the trailhead.

Killbuck Bottoms

The slow bike movement rejects the inconvenient and sweaty accoutrements of biking, and my slow paced rides on this quiet and level trail were undertaken without high tech bike clothing, without special shoes, and with no head protection other than a ballcap from Tractor Supply.  The segment between Killbuck and Millersburg curves through the Killbuck Bottoms, with several rest spots where you can sit on a bench and watch turtles, geese, and herons. I also saw pileated, red headed and red bellied woodpeckers, orioles, bluebirds, and blackbirds.

Viewing the Holmes Trail from a bridge

The traffic picks up in Millersburg, with the Amish using it to get to the Walmart and the thrift shop.  They zip right along in their buggies. I did encounter people on horseback when biking in the English countryside, but I never experienced horse drawn vehicles. The trail is luxuriously wide, until you get to one of the bridges, which are narrower. It makes good use of the old railroad bridges, adapting them to bikes and buggies by covering the riveted metal sides with wooden sheathing.  I’ve had to wait out some buggies, and once had to come to a stop when an oncoming group of bike-riding Amish girls filled up both lanes of the bridge and were too busy texting to notice that they were riding straight for me.

Holmes County Bicentennial Barn and County Home

North of Millersburg, the trail goes through areas of hardwood forest, and farmland.  The familiar sites of the Holmes County Home and its Ohio Bicentennial barn are visible across a wide corn field. Continuing through Holmesville, I made it all the way to Fredericksburg on one trip, grabbing a burger and shake and hanging out with the other bikers mid-way through a 30 mile slow bike ride.


Lem's Pizza

Eventually, the trail in Holmes County will be just one segment of the Ohio to Erie Trail, which is planned to run from Cincinnati to Cleveland. At this point, no off road trail exists to the north between Fredericksburg and the Ohio & Erie Canalway in Massillon. The southern section of the Holmes Country trail, from Killbuck to Glenmont, is missing some bridges and isn’t expected to be completed for several more years.

Bridge of Dreams

I haven’t taken a bike on it, yet, but the old rail tunnel under Route 62 was reopened by ODOT a couple months ago.  An unpaved trail is now open from Glenmont through the Bridge of Dreams at Brinkhaven and into Danville. A paved trail is open from Danville to Mount Vernon, and eventually, the old rail right of way should be reclaimed all the way to Columbus.

Fall Foliage

The Free Beer Bike Ride

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Free Beer

Just a few miles from my house, there are some lovely parts of Surrey for an evening or afternoon bike ride. Feeling the pressure of our upcoming departure from England, I’ve been trying to squeeze in some last few rides in the part of the local countryside most familiar to me.  This ride on the last Sunday of August turned out to be an especially memorable one.

I filled up my water bottle and put my Canon G9 into my handle bar bag, and took off for the wilds of north-western Surrey.  It takes about 3 miles of riding through traffic before you get to a more relaxed place.  Although surrounded by motorways, railways, and suburban sprawl, Windlesham is a nice little community.  Church Road is a quiet and wide street that includes the Half Moon pub and Saint John’s Church.   Crossing underneath the busy M3, the countryside starts in earnest with Hook Mill Lane, a very narrow uphill through the hedgerows. Taking a right on Burnt Pollard Lane quickly brings you to the tidy suburb of West End.

Garden Allotment in West End

I stopped at the northern end of West End to wander around the allotment. Allotments are public areas that have been set aside for the use of gardeners, and they are a common scene in England. They are also very common in the German-speaking lands, where they tend to be much, much, much more regimented and formalized. English allotments, although they can have some very elaborate fixtures, tend to be ‘organic’ looking, tending towards the sloppy.

Charles George Gordon statue

Gordons School is located on the other side of the road from the allotments.  Originally sponsored by Queen Victoria, the school is named after the extremely colourful British army officer, George Gordon. Known as Chinese Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, the school features a statue of Gordon and his camel.  Portrayed by Charlton Heston in the somewhat romanticized flick, Khartoum, Gordon was killed at the fall of Khartoum in 1885. Although he was probably in over his head, Gladstone could arguably have saved him by sending relief forces earlier, and Victoria never forgave the PM for Gordon’s death.

Dry Wash Road

Riding through West End and then taking Pennypot Lane back north, I crossed the A319 and went looking for Watery Lane. Featured in several guidebooks, it is apparently the status of a byway, connecting Clappers Lane with the very posh pseudo-rural neighbourhood along Ford Road.  The road is certainly accessible by horse, and possibly by a very fit and ambitious mountain biker, but I chose to walk my bike along the narrow path that parallels the perpetually flooded and well-named lane.

I turned East on Windlesham Road, crossing the B383 along the northern end of Chobham.  Past the Red Lion Pub, the road changes its name to Gracious Pond Road. Much beloved by local cyclists of all skill levels, this long and smooth road skirts along the southern edge of the Chobham Commons, passing through lovely birch tree stands.

Gracious Pond Road, Chobham, Surrey

On the other side of Gracious Pond, I headed back towards Chertsey. Riding about 1/8 of a mile East on the busy A319, I crossed over to Philpot Lane. A beautiful little arched masonry bridge, crossing a burbling brook, is one of my favourite sights on these nearby trips.

By this point, I was getting tired and ready for home.  I almost didn’t stop when I saw the huge handwritten sign, “Free Beer,” in Chertsey. Then I remembered that there had been a beer fest the day before, and realized that they must have some left over that they would be throwing away.  I immediately turned around and headed for a large tent with a large Pimm’s banner drooping along one side.

After the Beer Fest

It was like beer heaven.  They gave me a pint and congratulated me on arriving just before they shut down. I bought a sausage and downed my pint, hoping for seconds. That’s when I noticed some well-pickled locals who were filling up soft drink bottles at the bar. I poured the water out of the bottle on my bike, kicked myself for not having brought two bottles, and filled it up with the lightest ale that they had (why overdue it, right?).  It looked like I was bringing home a urine sample, but I figured it was a worthy experiment.

About a mile and a half down the road, I heard a little pop sound, and noticed a stream of foam, volcanoing away from the nipple of my bottle. I stopped, took about an inch off the top, pushed the nipple back down, and headed for home without further incident. I put it in the fridge, and had it with my dinner a couple hours later, after church. It was flat and sour–just like it was when I got it out of the tap. Perfect!

Several other pictures from my rides around Surrey can be found on my Cycling Surrey photo gallery. The map/satellite image below shows my route in blue, and it can be zoomed in so you can see some of the places from my trip.

London Thames Cycle Route Part 3: Gravesend to Richmond

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The trail heading east out of Gravesend was in horrible shape, threading its way through a mostly obsolete industrial area.Lousy Trail

(If you want to follow along on this trip, a larger version of the map below, including mile markers and elevation, can be found on the Mapmyride site.)

Just after mile 41, the path crossed a bridge over an inlet into a small marina that turned out to be the former basin of the Thames and Medway canal.  The path went down a sort of dark alley formed by abandoned warehouses, and then took an apparent turn to the right. As it turned out, it did turn right, but not where I thought it did. Unable to find any more cycle route signs, I doubled back, and finally found a very narrow path behind an old fence. 3 feet wide at best, it made a right angle around the end of a building (not the first blind and narrow right angle turn on this cycle trip) and continued down the most convincing example of an abandoned cycle path that I’ve ever seen on two continents. The photo above shows a spot where the path actually widened enough that someone thought it a good place for fly tipping. Carefully avoiding the broken class, the path went across what was apparently the floor of a demolished factory or warehouse, an area strewn with tire-sized blocks of concrete.

Cycle Route along Thames and Medway Canal

Happily, the character of the trip changed entirely at mile 42. For the next  mile, a private and smoothly paved road followed the filled in bed of what had once been the Thames and Medway Canal. The pavement gave out, but the dirt was very smooth, and I could see for miles across the Shorne Marshes , which were mostly filled with salt grass, an MoD shooting range, and a lot of cows.  A 19th century fort was visible in the distance. At mile 44, I stopped to let a pair of oncoming bikers pass a motorbike barricade, and we got into a long chat. He recognized that I was riding a vintage Bianchi Volpe, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d been a bicycle mechanic (deja vu all over again, remembering the meeting with Alan far up the Thames in Richmond).  He showed me where you could just make out a fort on the far side of the Thames. At mile 45, in the village of Lower Higham, the path started following public roads again. There were mostly very quiet, and it was the only rural section of the entire trip.

Higham, Kent

At mile 48, the cycle route entered a former MoD area, making a steep hill climb through Chattendon, followed by a gloriously long and fast downhill into the charming village of Upnor (there’s a Lower Upnor, so why not an Upper Upnor?).  This looked like a great place to stop for a pint, with a charming little buildings all bunched together on a steep hill with a view of the Medway Estuary in the distance. I didn’t stop.  After 49 miles, I was ready to head for home.

A short offroad section dumped me out onto a dual carriageway and a confusing array of bike paths. I chose wrong, but doubled back and found the path, which soon took a steep left up a hill past an old oast house.  I stopped at the top of the hill to admire a view of Richmond’s bridges and castle, and what appeared to be a WWII submarine.

Rochester and castle

The narrow path made a steep and dangerous downhill towards river level. When I arrived at Commissioner’s Road, I couldn’t find a route sign, but right seemed to be the best choice. This was the last climb of the trip, and I was starting to drag. A little bright orange car buzzed me, spraying me with wiper fluid. At mile 52, I passed the Strood Rail Station, and decided to keep pushing on towards Rochester. At the intersection of Station Road and High Street I still hadn’t located a cycle route sign, so I asked someone to confirm that I was headed in the most level route towards the Rochester Bridge.

There are actually 3 parallel bridges leading into Rochester: a rail bridge, a newer bridge that had 2 lanes of incoming traffic and a bike path, and the older bridge with the outgoing traffic.  I stopped on the side of the bridge to take a photograph of the castle.  The last mile through Rochester was a busy one along the A2, taking me past a remnant of the medieval city wall. With both a Norman castle and a cathedral, I’m sure that Rochester is worth a longer visit, but it was after 5pm and starting to get dark, and I was ready to head back for home.  According to Mapmyride, I rode 53.17 miles between London Waterloo and Rochester Station. According to my GPS software, it was 53.75. I’ll add that to 1.5 miles round trip from my house to the Ascot rail station and take credit for a 55 mile day.

It was a fascinating trip, with a lot of interesting sites that were totally different from what I usually see on a bike ride. Very little of it was attractive, but much of it was highly interesting. Surprisingly, there multiple spots in the trip where I went several miles without seeing another person, and other stretches where I only saw people in the far distance. It wasn’t a particular fast ride, with much of the trip across rough stone, pavement, or gravel, and there were a number of barriers that required stopping, and even dismounting. It wasn’t really physically strenuous, although there are far more hills during the final 25 miles than I had anticipated.  I did the trip on a touring bike with 32cm tires, and I wouldn’t recommend trying it on anything less sturdy, or with narrower tires. 35cm would have been more comfortable.


London Thames Cycle Route part 2: Thamesmead to Gravesend

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Earlier this summer, I’d led a photo club visit to the Crossness Pumping Station, a Victorian sewage treatment plant with a lavish interior and a beautiful restored steam engine.  Located at mile 19, it was very quiet. Just downstream from it was the newer facility, with a much more modern building and its waste burning plant.Sludge Burning Plant

I rode along the Thames for several miles without seeing another person–not another biker or walker, not a boat, not someone in a nearby building, nor anyone on the opposite shore, which was increasingly farther away.  The path was relatively smooth, but not especially scenic, scrunched between a metal railing and an industrial fence, sometimes topped with barbed wire. It passed through the meadows of Thamesmead, surrounding the sewage plant, and then went past the site of a former power plant, no some sort of industrial estate, and at one point climbed a steep little hump next to some sort of factory.

Aggregate conveyors

At this point, the Thames was giving off a very nautical sort of oceany smell. The tide was out, leaving several hundred feet of mudflat, punctuated with pieces  of abandoned dock, and strange sorts of garbage, including television sets and an old bathtub. For unknown reasons, shopping trolleys head for the Thames to die.  On the outskirts of the town of Erith, I first glimpsed the suspension bridge at Dartford, still 6 miles ride ahead.

Low tide at Erith

The path diverted from the Thames, and at noon, I took the opportunity of stopping for lunch at Running Horses, one of the few functioning pubs I passed on this trip.  Sold out of their only real ale, it was not a memorable meal.  The path headed through an extremely unsightly industrial area, and just before mile 23, I went through an (ineffective) motor bike barrier and entered a flat area of pastures, scrub, and scrap metal yards. The next 3 miles were uncomfortably rough riding on dirt with heavy gravel.

Heading East from Erith

At mile 25, in Slade Green, I passed a large dirt bike track with a race in progress (Google satellite view of the motocross track). The view was all dead grass, a narrow brown river, the Littlebrook Power Station, high tension wires, repair yards, and scrap dealers.  The path emerged into a charmless industrial estate, where I took a wrong turn at a roundabout. Doubling back, I continued along the A206 (essentially the same route I was in in Rotherhite, 20 miles earlier), and rode into Dartford.  Just past the rail station, I should have taken a left at Central Road.  Cycle Route 1 actually took a right and then, following a relatively direct route into Gravesend along the side of Watling Street. This didn’t seem very interesting, and I wanted instead to follow a different trail that went closer to the river that was shown on a Sustrans map. If it was marked, I missed the sign.  I continued up a steep hill into Dartford.

To make a long story short, after fruitlessly asking directions several times, and finally resorting to the GPS-enabled map on my Blackberry, mile 31 found me back on a bicycle path alongside the M25, headed towards the Dartford Crossing. The path followed the map and then suddenly disappeared. I stopped and asked a guard at the entrance to the tunnel, and he promised me that the path shown on the Sustrans map underneath the Queen Elizabeth II Thames bridge didn’t actually exist. I eventually proved him wrong, but instead of finding the path immediately (the narrow green thing in the middle of the photo below), I backtracked, crossed over the M25, and came into Greenhithe from a different direction, rejoining the marked bike path.

The Dartford - Thurrock River Crossing

Just past mile 34, at the Greenhithe rail station, the cycle route turned directly south through a mildly interesting residential area, and turning East on narrow Mounts Road at mile 35. With a 2% grade, this turned out to be the steepest climb of the trip.  Swanscombe was much prettier than Dartford, with a nice park and a traditional English church. I missed a turn, but after taking a wrong turn, I found the entranceway to a bike and cycle path across an area that had been extensively quarried for chalk.  The narrow path took a screaming downhill, followed immediately by a metal barrier, and then climbed a bridge over 7-8 rail high-speed rail tracks (its worth zooming in on the Google map image at this spot–the bridge is marked ‘A’). As shown on the photo below, the Ebbsfleet International Rail Station is located here between St Pancras and Paris.  A Eurostar train went past at speed when I was leaving the bridge.

Ebbsfleet International Terminal

At mile 37 I went through a short tunnel underneath another train track and then quickly became confused by the bike route signs and ended up riding down the charmless Northfleet High St until I noticed a bike route sign pointing off to the left. A steep descent provided a view of the last of what had once been several dozen cement plants, all of which left huge holes in the surrounding chalk hills.  Riding through a lonely and broken down industrial area, I finally ended up in the middle of Gravesend at mile 40. I took a quick ride up and down its High Street, a pedestrianized hill perpendicular to the Thames.

Clipper Aya and Tilbury Power Station

Returning to the Thames for the last time, I stopped at a local riverside park. It had a cafe, a band was playing in the bandstand at the fort park, and it offered the first public toilet I’d encountered on the entire trip (to be fair, there is supposed to be one in Woolwich).  I admired the view of the river traffic, and called Elizabeth.  It was now 3:30 in the afternoon, and I wasn’t sure how far it was to Rochester.

A larger version of the map below, including mile markers and elevation, can be found on the Mapmyride site.