In the closing weekend of the London Olympics 2012 a group of ‘s-Hertogenbosch civil servants cycled to London and back (a 600 kilometer round trip) to promote the fact that ‘s-Hertogenbosch was the city where the Dutch Olympic athletes would be welcomed home on Monday. The Dutch railways are a main sponsor of the Olympics and they provided the athletes and their entourage transport home by high speed rail from London directly to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. (I wish they would make that a regular service!) But greeting the athletes by bicycle was an even better idea, since ‘s-Hertogenbosch is after all “Cycle city of the Netherlands“. When I took photos of the riders as they left the city, I had no idea that I knew 3 of the 23! In those matching outfits and some who were wearing helmets they were hard to recognize.
But that does mean I can now offer you a follow-up as one of the commenters of the original post asked. The following story is of one of the riders. His day job is designing bicycle infrastructure in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, so his view of the ride to London might be interesting.
“All in all we had a great time. We only had one flat tire, 5 times a broken spoke and two falls, but without any really significant consequences. It is of course not without risk to ride with such a large group at a cruising speed of 27 to 30 km/h on average. We never needed a helmet, but we had some sense of a helmet necessity nevertheless. There was a feeling of constantly being at risk. In general the road surface in England is a bit worse than we’re used to in the Netherlands. Many times you have to steer clear of manhole covers, glass in the streets, cracks and potholes.
That cycling hardly got any attention in the more recent past was demonstrated by the (im)possibilities to cross the Thames. The ferry between Gravesend and Tilbury is not in service on Sundays. The alternative is the Dartford tunnel or bridge, 10 km away. But this busy highway is obviously not suitable for bicycles. Maintenance staff takes cyclists to the other side in cars. Apparently nobody thought of bicycles when they designed this river crossing.
On Saturday we have cycled through London from Lewisham to the Holland Heineken House in Alexandra Palace in North London. That was a 40 kilometer round trip right through the heart of London. It was clear that some effort is taken to create cycling infrastructure here and there. But the green cycle tracks do not come close, when looking at width, continuity and comfort, to what we are used to in the Netherlands. As a Dutch professional bicycle infrastructure designer it was shocking to see 10 inches high kerbs* right next to incredibly narrow cycle tracks. Making the very thing that has to protect you as a cyclist, that kerb*, a potential danger if you so much as accidentally hit it. The huge number of traffic lights makes it impossible to build up any reasonable speed. Especially with a group of 23 cyclists having to ride single file. Mostly the green time was (understandably) way too short to have the entire group pass in one go. That we were ‘allowed’ to use the bus lanes was really a blessing. The ‘nuisance’ of the buses was limited, but then again this was on a Saturday. We never saw many commuters. Those that were there overtook us! In our eyes they were racers, of the bike messenger type.”
The actual Welcome Home party on Monday was a great success; 15,000 people came to greet the successful Dutch athletes.
Short video of the ‘Welcome Home party’
* That’s ‘curb’ if you are not from the UK.