Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cycling in Sweden

We have recently come back from a trip along the Inlandsbanan - Inland Line, a railway line running roughly north south in Sweden. We spent some time in Malmö and Stockholm on our way to Mora and were surprised by the number of bicycles and the excellent bicycle facilities. Why we should have been surprised in the case of Malmö is not clear as it is only a hop, skip and a jump from Copenhagen which has probably the best cycling facilities in the world. Sweden is not a cheap place to visit, but empty spaces and wild life in the north or the greenery of the south coupled with good waymarking mean it is an excellent place to cycle. You can cut costs by using one of the Swedish Youth Hostels which also welcome grey and white heads such as ourselves. The official Swedish Tourist Website is here. This is a country where everybody speaks English. The only Swedish I know is "Hej, do you speak English?".
Cykelfrämjandet, the Swedish Cycling Club has followed the example of the ADFC in Germany and set up a Bed & Bike website. Some parts are in English, but the hotel/hostel/guesthouse descriptions are in Swedish. However this is why you have Google Translator on your computer.
If you are interested in a guided tour then check out www.swedenbybike.com. This website which is mainly in Swedish in August 2013, but a full English version is promised. The idea is you find a tour that looks interesting and then contact the tour operator via the website.
We will discuss bicycle service and hire in a later blog.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tour de Flanders: The Flanders Ring

We are gradually uploading all our photographs and books to a cloud based system, just in case we have serious computer problems - the legendary Coca Cola drinking, peanut butter eating puppy comes to mind. We are using a number of different files in our cloud and so have been looking through our old photographs. I have just found the photographs we took on our trip through Belgium or more exactly Flanders in 2003 (www.fietsroute.org/indexuk.php). It was an excellent twelve day trip from Maastricht back to Maastricht with in part superb Knooppunt signposting. I suspect it is all now signposted in this way.
Historically, it was an interesting trip with visits to Waterloo and Ypres. One does get the impression that although Napoleon lost at Waterloo, the locals seem to think he should have won. There is little mention of Wellington. The main monument is the Lion's Mound (or "Lion's Hillock", "Butte du Lion" in French, "Leeuw van Waterloo" in Dutch). It is a large conical artificial hill raised to commemorate the location where the Price of Orange (William II of the Netherlands) was knocked from his horse by a musket ball to the shoulder during the battle. 

It is difficult to get away from WWI in West Belgium. We found the Peace Cycle Tour from war memorial to war grave cemeteries in Ypres very moving and even more so when we returned on a wet November day.

We were surprised to learn there were cyclist regiments who acted as a quick response force along the flooded sections behind Ostend in 1914 and 15.

Farther north on the River Schelde we and many other cyclists made good use of the ferries.
The food was very good. The chocolate was magnificent. The chips (French Fries) were excellent and came in washing up bowls and then the beer, aaah! the beer was wonderful.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Crossing the English Channel

There has been a fair amount of correspondance in the "Guardian" and on cycling forums recently about the decision by Eurostar to reduce the size of the biggest packet allowed as carry-on luggage to a maximum of 85cm. It was formerly 120cm. This makes crossing the Channel with a bike on Eurostar more difficult and more expensive especially for non-Londoners. Check the AtoB website (http://www.atob.org.uk) for details. One way round this is to take a ferry or use the bike shuttle operated by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle who run the vehicle carrying trains under the Channel. If you wish to travel to Paris and then farther by train there is a snag though with both options. SNCF (French Railways) are upgrading many of their long distance trains to TGV standard. Not all TGVs take accompanied bikes. The last bike-carrying TGV leaves Calais Frethun station by the entrance to the Channel Tunnel at 12:32, so if one wants to travel on to Paris take an early ship to Calais. The Eurotunnel option drops one too late in Calais. The DFDS service to Dunkirk is a better bet. The voyage needs to be followed by a 20km ride from the port to Dunkirk station. There is good service of bike carrying trains to Paris from there. The AtoB website reviews all the possibilities of crossing over and under the Channel. We try to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cargobike hire in Germany

We have written an article for "AtoB" on government sponsored projects to increase the use of human powered and pedelec cargo bikes in inner city deliveries. There were two interesting German projects: "Ich ersetze ein Auto" - "I am replacing a van" aimed at courier and taxi services and VELOTransport aimed at the general public and families.
One of the nuggets of information found on the VELOTransport website was http://www.velogistics.net/en/. This is an interactive map of western Europe showing where cargo-bikes and -trikes can be hired or borrowed. At the time of writing, the majority of hire points seem to be in Germany, but there is one in Bristol.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Ramblers' Holidays are offering trips to the Rhine Valley

I was amazed and amused this morning to get a newsletter from Ramblers' Holidays - the commercial end of the British Ramblers' Association. We have had a number of holidays with the Ramblers. All of them were good. Some were better than others. The newsletter was enclosed with a brochure on cruising and walking which was binned very rapidly. I have no desire to have to pack a penguin suit to eat dinner.
However the newsletter had an article by Martin Hesp, the Senior Features Editor of the Western Morning News about a holiday in Rüdesheim where he praises walking and cycling in the Rhine Gorge. We have been pushing the advantages of holidays in Germany for well over twenty five years: Prices are cheaper than in France. More people speak English. The food comes in large portions, but is very similar to British tastes. The wine is reasonably priced and much underrated in Britain. The beer is wonderful. There are excellent networks of cycle routes, backed up by good public transport.
Thanks Ramblers!
You can get a lot of background information about cycling in Germany by downloading our Cycling in Europe guide. If you get a taste for cycling in the Rhine Valley then check out our
"Following the Rhine gently upstream…" or "Riesling Route" shown on the right. The new version of "Rhine II" should be out by October, if all goes well.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

E-Bike charging points in southern Rhineland Palatinate

Southern Rhineland Palatinate is a good place to cycle with its warm climate, vineyards, quaint villages with their stone built houses, an extensive network of cycle routes and solid rib sticking food. It is quite hilly in parts and so e-bike batteries can drain quite fast. The local electricity utility has stepped in to help the e-biker and installed free charging boards all over its distribution area, marked by the red points on the map below. To help with the orientation: The Rhine runs along the right edge of the map and Wissembourg shown in grey at the bottom is in Alsace, France.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Bicycle lights in Germany

At the moment if use you a bike in Germany at night you need to display lights, white at the front and red at the rear. By law these lights must be dynamo powered. If you use battery powered lights you could receive an on the spot fine of €15 from a policeman. Whether this applies to foreign tourists is not clear. The transport minister Peter Ramsauer wishes to change the law, so that battery powered lamps are legal. Reputedly this should happen this week. The ADFC the German cycling club is against a move to make battery and dynamo powered lights equal under the law, on the grounds that a dynamo is the safest source of power. This change in the law does mean that cheaper bikes in future will probably be sold without dynamos.
6 July 2013 The law has been changed and will come in to effect next year on 1 July 2014. Battery lights will need an indicator to show how much power is left in the battery when in use.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Bicycles on commuter trains in Germany during the rush hour.

Trains in Germany fall into two main groups: subsidised regional trains and non subsidised long distance trains. The majority of trains are run by Deutsche Bahn (DB). The company is required to run the long distance services at a profit. The InterCityExpress long distance trains (ICE), DB's high speed flagships do not take bicycles, apart from bagged folded folders. However we often travel with our bagged Bromptons on ICEs.  Some long distance trains: InterCity (IC/EC) and overnight sleeper trains (CityNightLine - CNL) have reservable bike spaces. A bike ticket costs 9€ per journey, even if you change trains underway. We recommend you to reserve bike slots three months in advance if you are travelling on these trains with a bike, because they are very popular with cyclists.
You can neither reserve seats nor bike slots on regional trains. Sometimes you pay to put your bike on the train. Sometimes it's free to transport a bike on the regional trains. It varies from region to region and which ticket you buy. It is worthwhile trying to avoid travelling on regional (commuter trains) with an accompanied bicycle during weekday rush hours (07:30 - 09:00 and 16:30 - 18:00). There are limits to the number of bicycles allowed on a train. Once this is exceeded you can be asked to leave the train with your bicycle. If the train is very full the conductor may stop you getting on the train with your bicycle. It is no use arguing because the conductor will keep the train in the station and call on the Bundespolizei (Federal Police) to remove you. Just get off the train and wait for the next one. Otherwise the train will be delayed for anything up to an hour . The other passengers on the train will not be happy. The reputation of cyclists will get a black mark and the reputation of your native country will go down the pan as well.

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