What’s worse, Dutch winds or hills?

The debate is still ongoing about what is more annoying: Dutch head winds or hills. I’m not sure yet either, but I do know now what is worst: riding uphill against a Dutch head wind on a heavy single-speed back pedal brake rental bicycle. One for the category: don’t try this yourself!

Preparing the rental bike for the filming by attaching the pole with the 360 camera to the handlebars. Inset: the gradients on some of this route.
The end of the built-up area of Groesbeek. This is where the route begins. You can clearly see that this is not a completely flat part of the Netherlands.
The cycle path looks deceptively flat, but the farms on the left hand side are a lot higher than those on the right hand side of the road.
This is clearly a hill! It is Kampheuvel (Camp Hill) and the incline is 8.4% here. This is where we had to dismount for the first time.

I’ve shown you some of the Dutch hills around Nijmegen earlier. That time I took the Van Randwijckweg in Berg en Dal which has a maximum incline of 9.6%. I was holding my camera in my hand on that occasion and there is no way you can cycle up (or down) a hill that steep, one-handed, on an single speed OV-fiets (rental bike) with a back pedal brake, safely. So for that video I just filmed other people struggling uphill, or enjoying the downhill ride. The additional problem with hills is that you can’t really see or comprehend their steepness on a video. Everything looks much flatter than it is in reality. However, I got that 360 degree camera recently. That camera is attached to the bicycle and offers 3D images if you watch the result via VR-glasses. This – I hoped – would solve both problems. In an attempt to better convey the fact that the Netherlands does have some hills I decided to do an experiment. This involved cycling the road from Groesbeek to Nijmegen. Not just any road. This road is called “Zevenheuvelenweg” which means Seven Hills Road. And yes, the road lives up to its name…

A gradient of 8.4% is really too much on a single speed Dutch rental bike… When you look at my shadow you can see I’m walking…
Fortunately, after every ascent there is a descent again! Here we could go really fast, because it is a straight downhill cycleway. Note that there is lighting on the cycleway, not on the roadway.
And then there was another climb again!

I wasn’t alone. I had my partner with me. We had visited family in Nijmegen and from their home we then cycled to Groesbeek via Malden. That ride is almost flat and after being on the fast cycle route to Mook/Molenhoek (The Maas-Waalpad which I showed you earlier) for a big part, our route then took us alongside the old abandoned railway line (going from Nijmegen to Cleves in Germany), mostly between hills. The ride from Groesbeek back to Nijmegen station (where we had rented our OV-Fietsen) is exactly 10 kilometres, but we experienced an unfortunate fierce headwind to begin with, and then came the hills… The entire ride involves an ascent of 64 meters and a descent of 95 metres (according to Google). The steepest part is the second hill (Kampheuvel), with a maximum incline of 8.4%. In just 1.2 kilometres you climb 47 metres. We tried to cycle up the hill but that proved just not possible on the bikes we had against the wind we experienced. So at exactly the steepest point (I found out later) I jumped off the bike and walked. I wasn’t alone in that decision, we both pushed our bicycles up the hill for a few hundred metres. Of course, in very clear words (though maybe not the friendliest) I was asked how I could come up with this totally stupid idea of trying to cycle in these hills on a heavy ordinary Dutch bicycle. Well… apparently I underestimated the steepness of the route and overestimated our physical abilities… But after that hill we rode for most of the way again. Down, but also up. Again cursing at the fact that in the countryside you need to give way at side streets at the bottom of the hills which makes you loose all your momentum right before you have to cycle uphill again.

A mountain biker came from the other side. She also had to stand on her pedals! This was a nasty S-turn when you have so much speed coming down the hill!
People also like to come running on these slopes. We were happy that this was one of the last hills before we reached Berg en Dal (the highest point).
After you enter the built-up area of Berg en Dal (Mountain and Valley) there is one last hill to conquer.
The 10 kilometre long route and its altitudes according to Google. I placed two red dots where we dismounted.

People argue whether there are really seven hills, I read on the internet, and we didn’t count them either, but we did encounter several more. One of the other hills was too much for us as well. So we walked twice for a few hundred metres in total of the entire 10 kilometre ride. Six of the hills are named and those names sound rather impressive when translated into English: Giant hill, Camp Hill, Box Hill, Fourth Mountain, Angels’ Mountain and Devil’s Mountain. (Knotseklef, Kampheuvel, Boksheuvel, Vierenberg, Engelenberg and Duivelsberg). But maybe the Dutch are exaggerating slightly when it comes to bumps in their flat land… Once we had reached the town centre of Berg en Dal (which means Mountain and Valley) it was almost all downhill to Nijmegen. That was very convenient, even in the head wind. I stopped filming when we reached the edge of Nijmegen.

This street in Berg en Dal is actually a one-way street which we entered the wrong way (no “except cycling” here). We were so busy cycling up the final hill that I completely missed the no-entry sign (I only saw it in the video!). Fortunately, the street was closed for road works, only residents could use it now, so we didn’t see any driving vehicles. If you look at the small white wall you can see better that this is an uphill street.
From Berg en Dal to Nijmegen is mostly downhill and very easy. The road has one-way cycle paths on either side.
Entering the built-up area of Nijmegen.

You can watch the video normally on your PC or in 360-degree on your PC and smartphone. If you don’t like the 360 effect just watch it like you normally would: in one direction only. I did find out, however, that the best way to see that we really cycled in hills is by watching the video via VR-glasses. That way you can really see depth in a 3D effect and yes… the Dutch hills finally come alive!

This week’s 360-video: cycling on some Dutch hills.


5 thoughts on “What’s worse, Dutch winds or hills?

  1. Here in UK, people often tell us (erroneously) that the reason cycling is so prevalent in Netherlands is because it is flat. It seems they are blissfully unaware of the Dutch historical-political motivation for the provision of intelligent cycling infrastructure. They probably also do not appreciate the significance of adverse winds in a flat countryside.
    From my perspective as a regular cyclist in a moderately hilly region of UK (The Chiltern Hills), and as a fairly frequent cyclist in Netherlands, I would say hills are preferable to Dutch headwinds.
    Why? – When cycling uphill, one is (generally) somewhat protected from the worst blast of headwind by the hill itself. Only while in the last uphill section, and along the summit, does the wind present the greater challenge. During the downhill run, the beneficial slope (generally) provides respite from the preceding struggle.
    A partial solution to the Dutch headwind challenge does sometimes seem to be to be available. Occasionally one can elect to modify one’s route to obtain a degree of shelter. This might be provided by finding a route through woods, between hedges, or (if desperate) narrow streets, where the surroundings provide shelter, or at least some friction to reduce the wind speed. Even being on the slightly more sheltered side of a hedge can help.
    Sailors (does that include most Dutchmen?) will understand the concept of tacking into the wind. Adapting this to cycling, a well selected ziz-zag route can sometimes eliminate the tedium of an otherwise head-on wind.
    Local knowledge, if you have it, is obviously an advantage, but close inspection of maps (eg OsmAnd) can provide useful clues to aid route-planning if a headwind is inevitable.

  2. Here in Wales flat roads are an exception, and when you find one they always seem to come with a headwind! Hills are no problem though on Dutch bicycles, as long as you have enough (low) gears. The idea that a heavy bicycle makes climbing difficult is mistaken. Think of the combined weight of rider, bike, luggage and shopping that you have to pedal up the hill: the few kilos difference between a light-weight bike and a so called ‘heavy’ Dutch bike really don’t make that much difference. A comfortable position (which for most non-sporty people means upright), a large enough frame with the seat at the right position, and plenty of gears (21+) are far more important. Of course a standard OV-fiets fails in the last two respects. I have been selling pre-used Dutch bicycles (of the type called ‘sporthybrides’ in The Netherlands) for years now and get a lot of pleasure from seeing people happily pedalling uphill, enjoying the views. I also surprised quite a few ‘cyclists’ who thought they knew it all, and had difficulty reconciling their theories about weight with what they just experienced.

    1. You do know that Dutch bikes weigh twice as much as any road bike. So trying to pedal a 50 lb boat anchor up a hill is the same as acting like a sail with the 90° upright position.

  3. I have rented a single speed bike in Netherland. Not so fun, could not sit for days. But welcome to Norway. Climbing all the way. E-bikes are the solution. I have build several. Riding a bike should be fun, not walking beside your bike up the mountains and hills. 🙂

  4. There’s some serious hills in that area. I once had to go somewhere in the east part of Nijmegen, and decided to take an OV-fiets to get there. However, I made a wrong turn and ended up in the nearby village/town of Ubbergen instead. The road from there back to Nijmegen was steep enough that I just walked it. (Ubbergse Holleweg, 600 meter, average 8.2%, steepest part 10.3%).

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