dangerous slope 10 percent

Cycling “in the Dutch Mountains”

“Flat as a pancake” is the phrase often used to describe the Dutch landscape. That is correct for a large part of the country, certainly for the provinces North and South-Holland, but in the Center, the East and the South-East of the Netherlands there are some quite hilly parts. A number of the hills have grades of over 10%. Sports cyclists on their light race bikes go there to practice cycling in more hilly terrain. But you can also see locals cycling there on the typical heavy upright Dutch bicycles. If you look carefully though, some are actually e-bikes. Very practical!

The area I visited for this blog post is around the village of Berg en Dal (“Mountain and Valley”) situated near the German border just South-East of Nijmegen. The steepest hill there has a grade of 11.8% but I only found a sign of 10%.

dangerous slope 10 percent
Officially the wrong sign (this would mean uphill not downhill) but there really is a 10% slope downhill here.

As you will see in the video I managed to ride a speed of 29km/h downhill, in a 30km/h (18mph) zone on my single speed heavy rental bike with coaster brakes. One hand on the handle bars, the other holding the camera. But even if I had ridden more than the speed limit I would have stayed on the right side of the law: speed limits in the Netherlands only apply to motorised vehicles, never to human powered vehicles like bicycles.

Cycling up and down hills in the Netherlands. Music: ‘In the Dutch mountains” by the Nits.

I have fond memories of this area of the Netherlands. As a 12 year old boy-scout I cycled here all the way from Utrecht (an almost 200km/125miles round trip) to summer camp. During the camp week we specifically went to this particular area to experience what it was like to cycle in hills. I remember I had to dismount, because even with my three hub gears I couldn’t get up the – in my eyes – mountain. Surprise surprise, 34 years on I still couldn’t conquer the hill (with the added difficulty of a rental bike with no gears at all…).

boy scout cycling trip 1978
Left; some of the bikes in front of the tent for boy-scouts summer camp in the area near Nijmegen in 1978. Right; as you can see from another picture from that time I already had a three hub gear bike with hand-operated rim-brakes as opposed to the (in that time) more common single speed, coaster brake bikes.

This area has always been very attractive to Dutch tourists. Especially when it was opened up with the construction of an 8 kilometer electric tram line from Nijmegen. From 1913 this tram transported tourists to Berg en Dal in 24 minutes.

Mountain bridge in Berg en Dal for the tram line
Mountain bridge in Berg en Dal for the tram line that was in operation from 1913 to 1955.

The line was know as “Bergspoor” (Mountain track) especially because there was an 85 meter (279Ft) long bridge over a valley 20 meters (65Ft) below it, near the end destination. This was unique in the Netherlands. The tram line stopped operating in 1955, which had everything to do with the upcoming ownership and use of private cars, and the bridge was destroyed in 1969. In my video you can see a remaining tram stop shelter at 2:16 and the sub power station for the tram line opposite it at 2:22.

There are of course no real mountains in the Netherlands but the Dutch do know what cycling up and down hills means. In general they consider it a lot easier than riding on the far more ordinary flat terrain against the fierce Dutch winds! Because in hills there is always the going down part, but the wind is always in your face…

14 thoughts on “Cycling “in the Dutch Mountains”

  1. I live on a steep-ish hill (in Germany) and right now I’m looking at a plan to paint some cycle lanes at the bottom. 2 metres on the right and 2 metres on the left.

    I suspect that the uphill cyclists need more space than that (to wobble around in and to overtake each other) and that the downhill cyclists could mix comfortably enough with general traffic (residential-ish road with 30 km/h speed limit, a few buses an hour and the odd lorry serving the supermarket at the top of the hill).

    What is the general Dutch guidance on adapting infrastructure widths when significant gradients are present? I seem to remember that it’s a thing, but I can’t find any details.

  2. “But even if I had ridden more than the speed limit I would have stayed on the right side of the law: speed limits in the Netherlands only apply to motorised vehicles, never to human powered vehicles like bicycles.”

    I disagree on this, as I have told you a couple of hours ago on Youtube as well but I think it might be a nice debate here as well.

    RVV 1990:
    Article 1 basic concepts
    bestuurders: alle weggebruikers behalve voetgangers;
    Drivers: All road users, except pedestrians;

    Article 19-22 don’t offer speed limits for cyclists in and outside built-up areas, that’s true.
    Article 19: A driver has to be able to stop his vehicle within his line of sight and in which the road is not used. <- can be used for a cyclist
    Article 20: Speed limits within built-up areas, no cyclists are mentioned
    Article 21: Speed limits outside built-up areas, no cyclist mentioned
    Article 22: Special limits for other kind of vehicles like tractors, etc.

    So there's no real maximum limit.
    But we move up and go to chapter 3, traffic signs.
    Article 62: Weggebruikers zijn verplicht gevolg te geven aan de verkeerstekens die een gebod of verbod inhouden.
    Road users are obliged to follow up traffic signs that show a commandment or prohibition.

    Since a cyclist is a 'road user' a cyclist has to follow up signs that show a maximum speed. It's not allowed to drive faster than 50kmh, if a sign shows Vmax = 50kmh.
    But when you see an end of Vmax, you can drive as fast as you want.

    1. I do even read it as:
      A pedestrian running on a road with Vmax 5kmh, is not allowed to walk faster, since he uses the road. Yet he’s not a driver, but that exact statement is not mentioned in Article 62. Only “Road users”
      And since a pedestrian is a road user according to article 1, yet not a driver, he must follow up a traffic sign with a Vmax on it.

  3. I was born in Berg en dal so i recognized all the places you drove by. Sadly the tram line stopt working I few years before I was born. You can also take a ride from Berg en Dal to Groesbeek over the zevenheuvelenweg (seven hills road) an get some spectacular speed results 🙂
    thanks for the post 🙂

  4. This reminded me to this video depicting some good Dutch craftsmanship.

    Best example on how some daily exercise keeps you strong and fit.

  5. Love, love, love Nijmegen and Berg en Dal. I think I spotted some Beek-Ubbergen as well?

    I visited that area in May. I started to film the cycle path on the Nijmegen train bridge, but stopped. Why? Cause I knew Mark’s video of the bridge contained all the memories I needed!

    1. Yes there was some Beek-Ubbergen in both videos! Glad you enjoyed the post. I have also filmed the long bridge again. This time all the way to the end. You’ll see that in an upcoming post.

  6. It may be a function of the day or time you were filming, but I saw a much higher proportion of sport cyclists on these hills than elsewhere. It stands to reason, of course, as roadies are attracted to hills like flies to honey, but also I wonder whether hills typically skew the riding population to a different demographic. Would it be frequent, for instance, for a sixty year-old housewife to climb a ten-percent grade with groceries as she cycles home?

    In the eternal debate between wind and hills, I always will opt for the other as easier when I’m riding the one. As I’m just back from an cycling holiday in the French Alps, I swear that climbing the Alpe d’Huez seemed rather more difficult than the Pacific breeze blowing in my face yesterday.

    1. I suppose that the housewife prefers an alternative route if there is one … And there is always the e-bike nowadays, remarkably popular.
      As for wind, my newspaper today has a diary of a 52 year old public prosecutor living in Friesland, flat and very open to seawind. After two rather sedentary days at his desk he decides to ride his bike to work, 45 km/30 miles, a very refreshing experience. When at the end of the day he heads for home he finds that he has a strong headwind all the way so after 30 km/20 miles he gives in to the constant battering and calls his wife to pick him up at a roadside cafe. Hills at least go up on one side and down the other.

  7. Nice post! When I’m looking for a few Dutch Alps I head out to the dunes around Bloemendaal, west of Amsterdam. And don’t forget the feared Cauberg in Limburg, a towering 137m high, which featured in the course of the recent World Championships.

    1. What is the cycle modal share in the hillier parts of the Netherlands? Do they enjoy similarly high levels of cycle infrastructure as in the flat west and north?

        1. No, it’s higher than that. Looking at the percentages per municipality, Vaals does indeed come out at the bottom with 3%, but that is an outlier, presumably because it not only is hilly, but also has a very large German population (it’s basically a suburb of the German city of Aachen). To get a more reasonable estimate, we have to (also) look at other hilly places, and then I see:

          municipalities in South Limburg (the hilliest part of the Netherlands):
          * Margraten 12% (18%)
          * Gulpen-Wittem 9% (14%)
          * Vaals 3% (4%)
          * Valkenburg a/d Geul 10% (16%)
          * Voerendaal 11% (14%)
          * Simpelveld 10% (15%)
          * Heerlen 9% (12%)
          * Landgraaf 13% (18%)
          * Kerkrade 9% (12%)
          * Brunssum 10% (13%)

          Some other relatively hilly municipalities:
          * Groesbeek 15% (18%)
          * Rozendaal 17% (20%)
          * Montferland 24% (35%)
          * Maastricht 20% (28%)

          The number between brackets is the percentage of trips <7.5 km that are done by bicycle. Looking at these numbers, 10% of all trips and 15% of trips <7.5 km would be a more reasonable statement for the number of bicycle trips in the hilly areas of the Netherlands – compared to something like 22% and 32% for an average Dutch municpality, and 32% and 45% for the highest scoring ones.

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