A longer ride on the recreational cycle network

If slow tv is your thing this post is for you! In this week’s video I ride almost one and a half hours in the countryside just south of my hometown ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Contrary to popular belief the recreational cycling network in the Netherlands is not all on separated cycling infrastructure. In fact, in this particular ride it was only a bit more that a third of the time that I rode on protected cycling infrastructure. What does that mean for safety? How pleasant is it to ride then? Let’s look at the reality in this post.

Billet en français

The start of the route is at junction number 84 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The first part of the route was full of people walking. They are allowed to do that and most did stay to the side, but their numbers, so close to the city, were just a bit too high for comfort.

This was a ride I filmed in between rain showers on a cold day in March 2021. Even though we are much nearer to summer now, the weather has not changed that much since then. In fact this week is one of again rain and more rain and temperatures of around 13 degrees Celsius. (55F) That is almost the same as on this ride. The tour was 27.2km (16.9miles) and started at the south end of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. From there I cycled via Sint-Michielsgestel to the village of Gemonde and a forest south of it. From the bridge over the river Dommel I cycled north again, back to Sint-Michielsgestel. After seeing that town for the second time I passed through Vught, which finally brought me back to ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Since the entire ride took 1 hour and 27 minutes I could calculate that I rode at a leisurely pace, on average 18.8km/h (11.5mph).

Further out of the city it was a lot more convenient to cycle.
This is a space that is shared with cars and this picture and the next are a nice demonstration of how different drivers are. Some don’t go out of the way at all, such as this driver.
While this driver makes sure there is a safer space to pass each other by taking two wheels off the surface. The sides of the road are usually hard enough to do this. When not there will be a warning sign “Zachte berm” (soft shoulder) which is one of the few road signs in the Netherlands with words on it.

Although I had never cycled on parts of this route I did not have to check a map once. I simply followed the signs of the numbered junction network. I had plotted the route in advance at home and I had just scribbled the numbers I was going to follow on a piece of paper. I used to follow a route like this online on my smart phone, but since you are no longer allowed to hold an electronic device while you cycle, but you can still hold a piece of paper to glance at every now and then, I do that now.

Ths particular street in the municipality of Sint-Michielsgestel is where I encountered most motor vehicles. The lines on the surface do not mean the strip is a cycleway, because there are no bicycle symbols. This is just a line to optically narrow the street and thus keep the speeds down. This is a 30km/h zone. The brick surface is an indication for that.
This is a 60km/h road outside the built-up area but it is very much traffic calmed by some strategic modal filters (bollards) that keep through traffic out, while every property is still reachable with a motor vehicle.

Part of my route was on the now defunct long distance cycle route LF7. That route has very recently been replaced by the LF Maasroute. This particular part of the route is no longer part of the long distance network. It does remain part of the numbered junction network. When I filmed this the signs had not yet been removed.

At the border between the countryside and the built-up area there is always and indication of the new speed limit. In this case the speed drops from 60km/h in the countryside to 30 km/h in the built-up area. This is the entry to the village of Gemonde which, as the sign also indicates, is part of the municipality of Sint-Michielsgestel.
I followed the signs of the numbered junction network. In this case there is also a sign of the long distance cycling network for the LF7 route, but that route is being retired. It has been replaced by the LF Maasroute and that runs in a different location. The numbers of the long distance cycle routes have been replaced by thematic names.

Well over a third of this route (38%) was on separated cycling infrastructure (especially next to busier roads) or on minor roads completely closed to motor traffic. On the rest of the route (62%) I had to share the space with motor traffic. In that part of the route I had a lot of interactions with cars. A lot of cars (74) were either passing me or coming towards me.

Much to my surprise part of the route was on a dirt road. There aren’t many in the Netherlands and they are in fact so unusual that I would not know what the speed limit on such a road would be.

I wanted to explain these encounters a bit better, so I decided to break the route down a bit in the style of Jitensha Oni. He made charts for a lot of my routes, but I thought I could do it myself for a change. It turned out to be a lot of work! I’m now even more in awe about all of his work!

The dirt road later turns into a cyleway that has no hard surface either. Such cycleways are a bit more common, especially in the woods. We see two signs here for the numbered junction network. They appear to be the same, but they are from two different organisations. The total network is managed by a lot of different organisations. They each manage a part of the network. At the edge of their areas you sometimes have signs from the neighbouring managers. The dark green edges at the bottom shows two different names of the managing organisations.
It is lovely that the Netherlands still has such dreamy paths in the woods, considering how densely populated the country is, but you are never really alone.

When you do break the route down it becomes clear that most the interactions were in the built-up area while most of the distance was in the countryside. In fact, only 7 interactions with motor vehicles were on a rural road with a speed limit of 60km/h, while that was a little over a third (or 34%) of the route. Only 22% of the ride was in shared streets in the built-up areas (16% on 30km/h streets and 6% on 50km/h streets), but I saw 67 of the total 74 cars there! One encounter was on a cycleway. A driver wanted to cross that cycleway. She almost failed to see me, but stopped just in time to give me my rightful priority and she made an apologetic gesture.

This is a graph of the route. From the beginning (left) to the end (right). I indicated when I encountered motor vehicles (the figures represent minutes into the ride) and on what type of infrastructure. The (mainly) cars were very much clustered in the built-up area and most were just on two streets in the town of Sint-Michielsgestel.
No encounters with motor traffic on this bigger road with a separate protected bi-directional cycleway.
When you are leaving the built-up area you will find a sign with the crossed out name of the town you are leaving and the new speed-limit of the rural road. This does not mean this is also the municipal border. Those borders are usually in other places and they are rarely marked.

I am not so happy with all the distance I had to cover on 50km/h roads inside the built-up area that was without protected cycling infrastructure. Some parts did have on-street cycle lanes and some had advisory lanes, but that is not considered up-to-date cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. I’ve written about this before. Why such streets are not okay becomes clear when you see that 33 (45%) of the encounters with motor traffic were there! No wonder the Dutch Cyclists’ Union advocates for those streets to be updated to the design recommendations!

This is the town centre of Vught. In the distance you can see a modal filter with bollards. This is a through route for cycling, but not for motor traffic.
On-street cycle lanes in Taalstraat in Vught, which is a 50km/h street. I know that the municipality did want to change this design, some years ago. But redesigning this street with separate cycling infrastructure would have meant that the trees in the distance would have had to be cut. The residents opposed to that plan and the council didn’t want to push the plan through. That means that for just a few hundred metres this street now does not meet the design recommendations.

I was happy with the just 7 cars I encountered on the rural roads. That means that these 60km/h roads are really only used by local traffic and not as short cuts for through traffic. All in all the ride was pleasant and safe. However, if someone would ask me if I think the streets in the municipality of Sint-Michielsgestel meet modern design standards, I would have answered “no”. The chart of this ride seems to agree with me on that gut feeling. Improvements are always possible, also in the Netherlands.

The final part of my route back into ‘s-Hertogenbosch is on this wide bi-directional cycleway alongside a canal. This path was widened some years ago. It is going to be part of the F2 high-speed cycle route from Eindhoven to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. I showed you those plans in an earlier blog post.
The end of today’s route at junction number 54, again in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
My video with the 1 hour 27 minutes long recreational ride around Sint-Michielsgestel.
(I will turn off the advertisements on this video, (as much as YouTube allows me) for uninterrupted viewing.)

The map of the route in Google maps, which would allow you to study it if you so wish.

The route on a map showing the numbered junctions.

If wrote an explanation on how the numbered junctions work in an earlier blog post!

6 thoughts on “A longer ride on the recreational cycle network

  1. My normal exercise ride of an early weekend morning is from home to a coffee shop just under 20 km each way. All of that is on normal suburban roads with speed limits of 40 km/h to 65 km/h, no marked cycle lanes (one town along the way doesn’t even have pedestrian sidewalks). I avoid traffic by starting at dawn. Just saying.

    Any chance you could put your rides on Rouvy?

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