With a major life change rapidly approaching, and winter closing in, every weekend has suddenly become precious. If it’s sunny, then cycling we shall go.
This ‘carpe diem’ attitude sparked the latest mini adventure: a tour to northern Holland and the island of Texel. This picture sums up the trip: gorgeous.
In case you don’t know where Texel is, this map should help orient you. Amsterdam is down in the bottom left corner. The route is about 120km in total, and easily done in a couple of days. You can ride on dedicated bike paths for almost the entire time.
And who was cycling, exactly? Well, this time your trusty cyclists were Friedel & Alicia – not Andrew, because he was away in Germany. A girl’s weekend out. Fun! Even more fun was the fact that we both had new Brompton folding bikes, so we decided to test their touring credentials. Here we are, with our almost-matching bikes.
In the summer, the area we rode through would be heaving with tourists. Happily, in November, it was desolate and beautiful. We rode through empty forests…
And alongside sand dunes (the ocean is just on the other side)…
And sometimes we stopped at a farm stall to pick up treats, like blackberry jam. If we’d been here in the summer, we might have also bought strawberries, honey or even wool!
The whole weekend turned out to be a bit of a culinary adventure. Cheese, potatoes and Texel beer were quickly added to our small bags.
We also got up extra early on Saturday, to photograph the sunrise, with Alicia’s medium-format camera.
On sunny autumn weekends, Texel is a landscape photographer’s dream.
From there, it was on to see some friendly seals at an aquarium and seal refuge.
And finally back home again, via a beautiful lighthouse.
A short trip, but a very rewarding one – and through all of it the Brompton bikes held up admirably. We were impressed at how comfortable they were to ride over long distances, even on some unpaved paths. And there’s no arguing with the ease of putting them on the train compared to other bikes. No extra bike ticket. No time restrictions. Perfect! Other Brompton trips are almost certainly in the planning for the future.
If we had to pick a favourite season for bike touring, autumn would be it.
Summers are too hot, and the bike paths too crowded. Spring is too wet, and winter too icy. But autumn? It’s perfect. Who could argue with a ride along a misty, tree-lined road like this, on a Sunday morning in late October?
All around us, colours are popping – not least in the ripe corn, just waiting for the farmer to come and pluck it off the stalk.
The beauty of the surrounding landscape, and the good company, give us plenty of reasons to smile, as we ride along nearly deserted bike paths.
Darkness falls early in October, so by 5pm we’re setting up camp. We’re the only tenters in a huge campground.
We spread a phenomenal amount of food out on the picnic table. Will 3 people really eat all this? Yes, as it turns out. It’s going to be cold tonight, you know – below freezing. We need insulation! From this pile of food, we make a vegetable curry, rice, smores over the campfire and an apple desert. Yum!
Before supper, however, we cut wood for the campfire and laugh – a lot. Some of us (Andrew) end up working more than others. Well, there should be at least a few benefits to being 6 months pregnant!
As night falls, we stoke the campfire, roast marshmallows and talk, until only coals are left, and we wonder if autumn will be kind enough to give us just one more weekend like this, before winter really sets in.
One day. Six different bicycles to test out, and a bright summer’s day with beautiful blue skies.
If it sounds like a perfect combination, that’s because it was. After our first test of recumbent bikes a few weeks ago, this time we were on our way to Maia Ligfietsen in the Dutch city of Dordrecht. To get there, we biked 30km and then took the Waterbus ferry. What a gorgeous ride and a bargain for just €4.
We were on a mission to test the Gekko fx folding trike in particular (Friedel’s current obsession), but someone hadn’t returned it on time, so instead we got to test some other bikes.
We started with the fun Pino tandem, from another renowned German bicycle maker, Hase. It’s not a bicycle we’d ever buy (unless we win the lottery) because we can’t see ourselves using it that often, but it’s a blast to ride. And with one person sitting low down in front, everyone has the perfect view.
Maybe we’ll rent it for a short tour next summer…
While we were testing the Pino, Alicia was trying out a folding Brompton bike.
We briefly tried it and found it a little twitchy to ride but Alicia told us that she soon got used to it. There’s no doubt that a Brompton is ultra practical in Europe for hopping on and off public transport, and the folks from Path Less Pedaled have certainly gone far on them.
Trevor, meanwhile, was still trying to find his perfect recumbent bike. He tried one from Nazca but it was the GreenMachine from Flevobike that really made him fall in love.
Andrew hopped on briefly and loved it as well. It’s a beautiful bike to ride. If only that price tag weren’t so steep - €3,800 (about $5,500 U.S.)!
In the afternoon, we turned our attention to some trikes. Not the Gekko fx that we wanted to test, but the Scorpion fx from HP Velotechnik for Andrew and the Kettwiesel from Hase for Friedel. We both had a lot of fun in these ultra-comfortable trikes, and we discovered a few leg muscles that we don’t normally use.
Turning around took a bit of practice…
What a fun day.
Followed by an equally fun over-crowded boat ride to a campsite on an island.
It’s just too bad the campsite didn’t tell us they were planning an all-night party, with the main music tent set up right beside our tents. Not exactly what you expect from a Nature Camping Site (campgrounds that are supposed to be quiet). We packed up and left at 9pm, and we’ll be asking for our money back…
Next up? Well, the bicycle store has kindly offered to let us borrow the Gekko fx for a few days at home, so Friedel will be trying it out on her daily commute plus some shorter rides over the coming days; possibly including an S240. After that, we’ll put together some more thoughts on touring on a recumbent tricycle.
If you thought that bicycle touring was our only passion, you’d be wrong. We have many loves, and near the top of the list is a good beer.
Lucky for us, we live just a hop, skip and a jump from Belgium – probably the best beer-making country in the world. So, in August 2011, we set off to explore the beers of Belgium by bicycle. We gathered up 4 other friends (all newbie bike tourists but definite beer lovers) and started mapping out a weekend jaunt.
Planning the route was challenging. Many breweries aren’t open to the public, and Belgium doesn’t have good online bicycle route information. Thankfully our friend Alicia (an experienced beer cyclist) came to the rescue with a 90km route from the Belgian city of Antwerp to the Dutch city of Tilburg, passing the Westmalle and La Trappe trappist breweries along the way.
To get started, we had to take the train to Antwerp. We live in Holland, and it’s normally easy to take the train because there’s always a bicycle car. On this train, it wasn’t so easy. One minute we were waiting in the late afternoon sun. The next we were frantically trying to find our place on an outdated Belgian train, with no bicycle signs on any of the doors.
Only after we crowded onto an ordinary entrance did we discover there was actually a bike carriage one wagon further down, so we changed at the next station. Later, we asked the conductor why it wasn’t more clearly marked. He didn’t really answer, and he told us that in future there might not be any bike space at all on this route. Hummmmm.
No matter. We made it to Antwerp, and started with beers of course in the main square. De Koninck was the beer of choice. It’s made in Antwerp, so it’s the obvious local choice.
Li drinking a De Koninck beer.
Next was a great meal at De 7 Schaken, a casual gastro-pub just off Antwerp’s main square. After a few more beers, we settled down for a night at ‘t Katshuis (a remarkably good value B&B). By Saturday morning, we were ready to go, but not before we packed our panniers with Elisa chocolates.
Aside from the chocolates, Andrew put an empty beer crate on the back of his bike, just in case we found anything tasty along the way.
It wasn’t long, of course, before we found a pub and stopped for beer. This time, it was the delectable Corsendonk that made the grade. Their dark beer was later voted best of the trip. Everyone gave it a raving review but who needs words? The smiles say it all really.
The strawberry waffles weren’t half bad either.
From there, we pedalled along quite Belgian lanes and bicycle paths to the Westmalle Trappist brewery. There are nearly 200 Trappist monasteries around the world but only 7 produce beer, and this is one of them. They aren’t open for visitors, but we had our picture taken at the entrance anyway, and then we hit the nearby Cafe Trappisten for a sample of the local brew, fresh from the tap.
When we got hungry, we stopped for strawberries – from a vending machine, of course! Put in a couple coins and out comes a box of refrigerated, luscious berries. The Belgiums seem to like their vending machines. We also saw bread and meat products (outside a butcher’s shop) being dispensed from similar machines.
Now we were near the border, and it was time for a stop at what turned out to be the highlight of the trip: a beer shop literally on the Dutch-Belgian border. The border line ran right through the shop, and they had the most amazing selection of beers you’ve ever seen. Andrew’s beer crate was suddenly full.
With the right crate, you can easily carry 24 bottles of beer on your bicycle. Photo by Li.
We also wanted to stop at the Dochter van de Korenaar brewery but it was closed for vacation. Next time. Instead, the weekend ended with a quick stop at La Trappe and then beers on the train home. Yes, you can crack open a couple beers on the train. It’s no problem in the Netherlands (although it seemed odd at first to our no-drinking-in-public Canadian mentality).
Beer Cycling Tips:
Go slowly. About 30-40km a day is ideal for tasting lots of beer, while still doing a bit of cycling at the same time.
Consider leaving your camping gear behind, so that you’ll have more room for beer (and don’t forget the crate on the back of the bicycle!)
Research, research, research. Make sure you know the opening times of the breweries, and see if you need to call ahead to visit. Book your accommodation too because at least in this part of Belgium there are a lot of private B&Bs that you won’t find by chance as you’re passing through.
Stop to enjoy some Belgian food too. Waffles, chocolates and french fries are ideal for soaking up all that beer!