The Netherlands is criss-crossed with a network of dedicated bike paths. Every part of the country is accessible by bicycle. If your bucket list includes riding every path, you would have to cycle about 29,000 km. There isn’t anywhere that you can’t cycle to. It was clear from my “Bicycling 101” class that all I had to do was wheel my bike outside the front door, choose a direction and start pedalling. And be sure to avoid the 53 ways to pick up a road rules fine.
I used a Garmin Edge 705 GPS cycle computer in Houston. It came with a detailed road map and points of interest. So I could use the unit to navigate with exact, turn-by-turn directions to any address or intersection. I used my Edge more for tracking where I had been rather than for planning routes. Nevertheless I installed a map of the Netherlands. If nothing else I would be able to see on the screen exactly where I was hopelessly lost.
The best thing about the unit is that when maps and sign posts fail, it will get me back to where I began my ride.
I quickly discovered that I would have little use for the navigation functions on my Edge 705 in the Netherlands. The 29,000 km of bike paths are sign posted. And since the Dutch are nothing if not meticulous, they didn’t stop at just one sign post system. They have four that I know of.
The first type of sign post is much like what you would see on normal roads. Signs point in the direction of cities and towns, listing the distance to each. A more distant major destination is listed on the bottom of each ‘finger’, and the closer, minor destination is shown on the top. Once a destination is listed, every subsequent sign along the route will list that destination until you reach it.
The sign posts for cyclists feature red or green lettering on a white background. The options shown in green are less-direct alternatives that offer scenic routes through the Dutch countryside.
The second type of sign post for cyclists sits low to the ground and is mushroom-shaped. These signs are located in more rural areas where the bike paths intersect away from roads. Each of the four sides has direction and distance information for destinations nearby. The sign below with the red lettering on a white background is a newer one. The older style has the same shape but features black lettering on a white background.
The third system of providing directions for cyclists is the Bicycle Node Network (Fietsknooppuntennetwerk). Each junction on the cycling path network has been given a unique one or two-digit number. You need a map showing all the ‘knooppunten’ or nodes. These maps also list the distance between nodes so you can work out how far away your destination is.
Planning a route from the starting node to the ending node is a simple matter of making a list of all the intermediate nodes that you want to cycle through. There is a list of online route planners at fietsen.123.nl to help with this.
Each junction or node is marked with a sign showing the node number and a map of the immediate area.
Signs like this show you which way to go to the next closest nodes.
The fourth system is a network of long-distance, or LF (Lange afstands Fietsnetwerk) routes. There are currently 30 LF routes covering some 4,500 km in total. These routes include the LF 1 North Sea Route, which starts in the south near Sluis at the Belgian border, and continues up the coast to Den Helder in the north. The Not Possibles often cover sections of this route between Hoek van Holland and Zandvoort during their Saturday morning rides.
The LF routes are marked in both directions with rectangular white signs with green lettering. In this case the sign pointing in the opposite direction reads “LF 1a”.
With few exceptions the various wayfinding systems on the bike paths served me well. I would pick a destination and let the signs show me the way. Confident that if I did get lost, which happened on a few occasions, I could always access the menu on my Edge 705 and select “Back to Start”.