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Category Archives: Cycling in the Netherlands

By the Numbers

I bought a Garmin Edge 705 when my first road bike was delivered.  I used it initially to record where and how far I had ridden.  You can download the details of your rides to a Garmin website called Garmin Connect.  Among other things Garmin Connect displays maps showing exactly where you went on your ride, or run or hike.  It was fun to be able to show my biker chick where I had gone on my bike.

Garmin Edge 705

When I started doing longer rides with the West End group I used the speed display to help me keep a consistent pace when I took my turns at the front of the peloton.  I hadn’t bothered to install the speed sensor, or the cadence sensor for that matter.  I depended on the speed data calculated by the GPS chip. I used the heart rate monitor out of a casual interest in what my pulse rate was rather than as a training aid.

I rode solo during my first year in the Netherlands.  The “Back To Start” function came in useful on more than one occasion.  One canal, or windmill, 0r field of cows looks much like another.  No help when you are lost and 40 km / 25 mi from home.

The heart rate monitor saw some serious use once I started doing organised rides (by that I mean longer and faster than I was used to) with the Not Possibles.  By that time I had a rough idea of what my heart rate zones were.  Tracking my pulse rate helped me manage my effort so that I didn’t wear myself out before the end of the ride.

Since 31st January 2010 I have been transferring all my rides to Garmin Connect.  There are 412 rides in my account.  I took a look at all that data today.

The first set of numbers shows how much ground I have covered on my bicycles in three and a half years.  Enough to get me from Kuala Lumpur to Warsaw and back.  24,448 km / 15,191 mi.

Total KM

68% of my time since January 2010 has been spent in the Netherlands.  It follows that most of that pedaling was amongst windmills and canals.

What surprised me was the average length of my rides.

Ave KM

I hadn’t expected the average Houston ride to be slightly longer than the average Den Haag ride.  I must have done more 20 to 30 km / 12 to 18 mi rides in Holland than I thought.

I am not surprised that the average ride length has dropped in Kuala Lumpur.  I do the Damansara Heights ride fairly regularly.  That one never exceeds 16 km / 10 mi.  The Putrajaya ride tops out at just over 20 km / 12 mi.

The shorter rides in Kuala Lumpur are somewhat made up for by more frequent rides as compared to Houston and Den Haag.

Ride Frequency

I rode on average every 4 days in Houston.  In Kuala Lumpur it is every 2.6 days.  I put that down to linking up with a group of cyclists as soon as I arrived in Kuala Lumpur.  There are four or five groups rides per week in Kuala Lumpur.  There were three weekly group rides in Houston, and only one per week in Den Haag.

Elevation data is suspect.  The barometric altimeter in the Edge 705 is not accurate if it is not calibrated before every ride..  I don’t bother.  Websites like Strava and Ride With GPS allow users to overwrite GPS elevation data with data calculated using a variety of data sources and algorithms.  This “corrected” elevation data is often, but not always, more reliable.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at elevation data for comparative reasons.  I did expect the data to show that rides in Kuala Lumpur require the most climbing.

Ave Climbing

The average for Houston surprised me at first, but upon reflection it makes sense.  Chappell Hill was within easy reach by car.  We rode quite a bit there.  Training for the hills of Austin that were to come in the BP MS150!

The Netherlands is as flat as advertised.  Cyclists are only partly joking when they say they go to a multi-storey car park to practice hill climbs.  The Dutch hide some elevation in the dunes along the coast but that is about it.  The climbing average for Den Haag is padded by a few visits to Limburg and Belgium, where there are some real hills.

Regular readers will already know that I was startled by the degree of climbing required when riding around Kuala Lumpur.

Total Climbing

It won’t be long before I surpass the number of meters I climbed whilst in the low country.

The final number is also for guidance only.  You know what I mean if you have ever looked at the “calories burned” numbers that exercise machines produce.

Bic Macs

However I won’t let details get in the way of feeling pleased with myself for burning the caloric equivalent of 1,802 Big Macs.

A milestone ahead, pardon the pun, is 25,000 km / 15,534 mi total distance.  I’ll be beyond 1,000,000 calories burned by then.  I wonder what number that would be in nasi lemak terms?

Flying the Colors

I thinned down my collection of cycling jerseys when we came home to Kuala Lumpur.  Among the jerseys that I kept were my local club jerseys.  The camaraderie that those jerseys represent makes them near and dear to me.

“Club” sounds a bit formal.  “Group” is a better word.  My first cycling group was West End.  So named because our rides started outside the West End Bicycles shop on Blossom Street in Houston, Texas.  The shop owner, Daniel Murphy, told me about the group and the rides that they do.  There are Tuesday and Thursday evening rides that start at 6.30 pm, and Ted’s Taco Ride on Sunday mornings.

I met Daniel not long after I started cycling.  In my days of riding my Trek 7.5FX hybrid bike in my baggy shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes.  My first ride with the West End group was spectacularly unsuccessful.  I got dropped within the first few kilometers.  Dropped so badly that I lost sight of everyone’s tail lights.  I didn’t know the route so I had to go home.

The next ride went much better.  Largely due to a few riders hanging back to make sure I didn’t get lost again.  I can’t thank them enough for that.

The West End group introduced me to riding further than 16km / 10mi in one go, how to change a flat tube, what to bring with me on a ride, and the culinary delights of Jax Grill and Doña Maria.

West End Bicycles sold these jerseys.  I know about Frank, the dearly-loved and sadly-departed shop cat.  I don’t know anything about the dog in the shop logo though.  I can tell you that the West End group lives up to the motto on the collar.  Fast and Friendly.

West End

There have also been a series of 6.30 jerseys.  Including this one, which I no longer have.  I donated this jersey, along with others, to an aid organization in Den Haag.  Perhaps someone is still sporting this jersey somewhere in South Holland.

Photo courtesy of West End Bicycles

Photo courtesy of West End Bicycles

It took a while to find a group to ride with in Den Haag.  All the Dutch cycling clubs that I encountered were very serious.  In the typically Dutch way they were very well-organised and had excellent facilities.  They were also geared toward the competitive rather than the recreational cyclist.  Some even required that you met a qualifying time for membership.  Ride 40km / 25mi in an hour for instance.

So a year had gone by before I heard of the Not Possibles.  A group made up largely of expatriates living in the Den Haag area.  Weather permitting, the Not Possibles meet outside the DAKA sports store in the Leidsenhage shopping center on Saturday mornings.  The route for the day often depends upon the prevailing wind, and is usually about 40 to 60km / 25 to 37mi long.

Th group was described to me as one that rode at a pace between 20 to 25kph / 12.5 to 15.5mph.  I learned on my first ride with them that this was not strictly true.  They averaged about 25kph / 15.5mph for the entire ride.  Including the slow rolling start from Leidsenhage, the stops at traffic lights and the slow rolling through built-up areas.  I spent most of my first ride with the Not Possibles frantically trying not to lose sight of the tail end of the group as it sped through the trees in the dunes.  This struggling on the first ride was becoming a bad habit.

A few months after I hooked up with the Not Possibles we decided that we needed group jerseys.  This is what we came up with.

Not Possibles

The Not Possibles introduced me to routes north, east and south of Den Haag (west was not possible because the North Sea gets in the way),  riding in the rain, harnessing a tail wind for 60km / 37mi and taking the train to get home, and the delights of apple pie and coffee at the Coffee Club.

I hooked up with a group of cyclists within a few days of arriving in Kuala Lumpur.  As soon as my bikes arrived I was off on a ride with the Racun group.  “Racun” is the Bahasa Malaysia word for “poison.”  In this case the name refers to how people are poisoned by the cycling bug.  One bike becomes two bikes becomes three bikes.  Every bright and shiny new accessory becomes a must-have.

The name is especially appropriate because the Racun group are linked to Van’s Urban Cycling Co.  Where new temptations are constantly presented.  Like the new Knog Blinder Road light.  I am not the only one in the group who is sorely tempted by this light.

The Racun group has introduced me to the world of folding bicycles, urban night rides, breakfast at Sharif Roti Canai, and orange + green apple + lychee juice.

Van’s was sold out of the original yellow and black Racun jerseys.  Fortunately for the new joiners a second batch of jerseys was made up.

Racun

The jerseys may be different, but they represent the same things.  A love of cycling, fun and friendship.  I fly these colors with pride.

How To Join a Bicycle To a Car

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Bike and Car

This meme promoting cycling over driving pops up in various guises on the internet.  At least one blogger recently checked to see if the sentiment holds water.  Your results will vary.

I was able to keep bike and car separate.  Well, in the beginning anyway.  When I started cycling in Houston I was able to roll out of the Commerce Towers car park onto Travis Street and pedal away.  Everywhere I wanted to get to was within cycling distance.  That is until I decided to commission a custom built bicycle from Alchemy Bicycle Company, located at that time in Austin.  As part of the process of deciding what frame material and geometry would best suit me, James Flatman wanted to see what I was riding at the time (see Jumping Into The Deep End for more).

It is possible to ride a bicycle from Houston to Austin (See Austin Or Bust, 2011 BP MS150, 2013 BP MS150 Day One and 2013 BP MS150 Day Two).  But not there and back in a day, and certainly not together with my biker chick.  The hybrid bike made the trip in the trunk of the car.  Which was only possible because the car had fold-down rear seats.  The resulting space was deep enough to accommodate the bike as long as the front wheel was removed.  Most importantly the trunk lid closed without squashing anything.

C Class Boot

I mulled over the idea of getting a bike rack on that first trip to Austin with the Trek in the trunk.  There would be a custom road bike to transport to Houston in a month or so. I decided to get a Saris Bones 2.  It looked simple enough to attach and remove, and would fold down into a relatively compact form for storage.

Saris Bones 2 Bike Rack

This rack attaches to the rear of the car via a series of hooks and straps.  Once the rubber feet are properly positioned and the buckle straps tightened the rack sits very securely on the car.  Ratcheting straps lock bikes to the adjustable arms.  An unexpected bonus was that the buckle straps are long enough so that the ends can be used to tie down the wheels and handle bars to stop them spinning and swaying.

Saris Bones 2 on Car

Once I linked up with the West End Six Thirty cycling group the Saris Bones 2 got more and more use.  We had to drive to get to any sort of hill, and to get to the start of some of the organized rides we signed up for.

The Saris, and the car, came with us to the Netherlands.  The rack sat unused for a year.  All my rides started at the entrance of our apartment building.  Even the starting points of the first few organized events I did were within riding distance of home.  Then I did the Ronde van Vlaanderen with Eugene (see I’ll See Your JZC and Raise You an RvV!).  That involved a drive to Sint-Denijs-Westrem in Belgium.

The Saris came out of storage to carry our bikes.  As we drove south I noticed that I was the only one with a Saris or similar bike rack.  All the other cars had either a rack on the roof or a tow-hitch mounted rack on the back.  Complete with a turn signal and brake light bar and number plate.   It turned out that my bike rack was illegal because the bicycles obscured the car’s turn signals, brake lights and number plate.  I was also told not to worry too much about it.  This being the bicycle-crazy Netherlands, the police would likely turn a blind eye.  Which may have been the case as I got back to Den Haag without being stopped.  I didn’t test my luck any further.  I went back to putting my bike in the trunk.

I did consider a tow hitch mounted rack like this one.  I had taken the car to the local dealership for a routine service.  They had a rack and light bar on sale for something like €200.  Which was a great price.  The catch was that our car didn’t have a tow hitch and ball mount.  The dealership was of course happy to install the required hardware.   I was not happy to pay the €1,500 for that to be done.  My bikes would continue to make do with being hauled around in the trunk.

C CLass Tow Hitch Bike Rack

The following year I made a return trip to the Ronde van Vlaanderen, this time with Richard.  He had a Thule roof rack.  We decided his compact car might be a bit small for both of us and our stuff.  Which meant moving his roof rack onto my car.

A clever part of the Thule design is the huge number of fitting kits available.  The racks, load bars and feet are standard.  The fitting kits contain custom pads and brackets that fit the specific contours of a vehicle’s roof, or attach to an existing roof rail.  The standard feet attach to the brackets.

Thule feet

Naturally the fitting kit for Richard’s car didn’t fit my car.  A quick trip to Richard’s local Thule dealer solved that problem.  Thule makes fitting kits for vehicles from over eighty manufacturers.  A Thule 3049 Fixpoint Fit Kit was all I needed to attach Richard’s roof rack to my car.

I was so impressed with Richard’s Thule roof rack that I decided to get one.  That led to the “Het is niet mogelijk” moment that I retell whenever I can.  I went to a shop, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, that sells Thule products.  I told the salesperson what I wanted:  two Thule Outride 561 bike carriers, a pair of Thule 960 Wingbars, and four Thule Rapid System 753 feet.  He asked me what car I had, and consulted his computer.  A few seconds later he uttered that most-frustrating of Dutch phrases.  “That is not possible.”

“But it is,” I protested.  “I had that exact configuration on my car a few weeks ago.”

“Nee.  Het is niet mogelijk.”

There is no point arguing when faced with that phrase.  All you can do is admit defeat and move on to plan B.  In my case that was to go to the second Thule dealer on my list, A & P Verhuur Service, where it was possible to purchase what I wanted.

Thule 561 Outride with Bike

The roof rack and I made a few more road trips in the company of the Not Possibles cycling group (you can probably guess the origin of the group name).  The Thule system is easy to install and remove.  The feet and front fork attachment are lockable.  Bikes sit rock solidly  on the carriers, all the way up to the maximum rated driving speed of 130 kph / 80 mph.  The only downside is the wind noise.

The Saris and the Thule racks came with us to Kuala Lumpur.  The car stayed in the Netherlands with its new owner, together with the Thule Fit Kit.  The racks haven’t seen any use in Malaysia.  Even though I have to drive to rides in Kuala Lumpur.

My biker chick kept her car here while we were away.  I could have hung the Saris off the back of her car.  I see a few trunk-mounted racks around.  I also see too many rear-end collisions to be comfortable driving around with my bike between the rear of my car and the front of the car behind me.  So it was back to the bicycle in the trunk routine.  In the meantime I was on the lookout for a car for myself.

We live in an apartment building in Kuala Lumpur.  The apartment came with two indoor car park spots on an upper floor of the parking garage.  All very convenient, except that the headroom clearance on the ramps between floors is insufficient for bicycles on a roof rack.  That narrowed my choice of vehicle down to a hatchback with enough trunk space to fit a bicycle or two.

Which is why I drive a Perodua Myvi.  Among its most important attributes . . .

Myvi Boot Area Seats Folded

Plenty of room for bicycles.  I’ve transported two bikes with no problem.  I could pack in three or four.  This weekend I will find out if I can get the Ritchey Break-Away in the trunk without having to fold down the rear seats.

S&S Case

Share the Road

I have a “Share the Road” sticker on my car.  It reminds other drivers to do their bit to help make our roads safer for cyclists.

During last Sunday’s ride up Genting Peres I was reminded that cyclists share roads and bike paths with more than just vehicles.  I have encountered enough birds and animals while on my bike to stock a small zoo.

Dogs are of course everywhere.  Fortunately I haven’t been chased by any.  Though I do recall a particularly ornery dog that used to lie in wait on Sylvan Road in Houston for us to ride by.  Our Taco Rides would be enlivened by this dog barking furiously as it burst onto the street.  I keep a wary eye on the feral dogs that roam the back roads of Hulu Langat and Genting Sempah, though I have yet to hear even a whimper out of any of them.

I expected to see more cats than I did in the Netherlands.  A lot of our riding was through villages and towns, but I guess the majority were house cats and therefore weren’t out and about.

Ducks, geese and swans were another matter.  Water birds are everywhere in the Netherlands.  I had to stop frequently for various birds as they ambled across the bike path.  More infrequent were pheasant bolting across the bike paths when we passed too close to their nests.

In Malaysia we come across the occasional chicken trying to cross the road.  The challenge with chickens is that they often change their minds about the direction they want to head in.  I haven’t seen anyone hit a chicken yet, but there have been some near misses.

I’ve had a few near misses with rabbits.  The dunes along the coast north and south of Den Haag teem with baby rabbits in the spring.  The best tasting greenery always seemed to be on the other side of the bike path.  Like chickens, baby rabbits often don’t have the courage of their convictions, and turn around mid-path.  Much to the alarm of cyclists.

The dunes are also home to foxes, which don’t like to be out in the open and move very quickly when exposed.  I saw very few foxes, and when I did it was late in the evening.

The same is true of hedgehogs.  Out late in the evening I mean.  Not moving very quickly.

It was broad daylight when the Not Possibles got the shock of our lives.  A large deer  appeared out of nowhere and ran beside us for a good fifty meters or so before veering off into the bushes and trees of the dunes.

Many bike paths in the Netherlands are shared with people on horseback.  Although to be honest we spent much more time dodging piles of manure than we did skirting around horses and ponies.

I’ve mentioned the monkeys on the roads in Malaysia in previous posts.  Monkeys feature on this sign at the summit of Genting Peres.  It warns road users that this is an area where wild animals cross the road, and lists what drivers should do when animals are on the road..

IMG_1222

I’ve yet to encounter the other two species on this sign.  It would be quite something to share the road with a tapir.

O Spring, Spring! Wherefore Art Thou Spring? *

My northern latitude friends, quite reasonably, expected warmer weather by the time of the March equinox.  My northern latitude cycling friends perhaps mark the arrival of spring by the running of the first Spring Classic bike race of the year.  Milan – San Remo.  Raced this year on 17th March.

Milan San Remo

Photo courtesy of Graham Watson at grahamwatson.com

Things didn’t improve through the rest of March.  It was only 3° C / 37° F in Den Haag at 10.00am on Saturday 30th March.  It was even worse for the Not Possibles on their morning ride.  Out in the 21 kph / 13 mph wind gusts it felt like -1° C / 30° F.

To the relief of cyclists and non-cyclists alike, spring seems to be finally making its appearance in Europe.  It promises to be 10° C / 50° F this Sunday for Paris – Roubaix, the last of the Cobbled classics.  My Not Possibles friends will be hoping the warming trend continues to the first of the Ardennes classics on 14th April.  The Amstel Gold Race.  They will be joining 12,000 like-minded cyclists for the Tourversion the day before the professional race.

Here in the tropics we think in terms of wet and dry seasons rather than in terms of winter, spring, summer and autumn.  However there is some evidence around of the spring concepts of renewal and rebirth.

Macaque with Baby

Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Sala at tcktcktck.org

We saw lots of mums with new babies during the ride to Genting Sempah last Sunday.

Despite being 35° C / 95° F at the foot of the climb, it was much cooler in the breeze at 639 meters / 2,100 feet.  Almost springlike!

Photo courtesy of They Wei Chon

Photo courtesy of They Wei Chon

* With apologies to William Shakespeare.

Whatever the Weather

My Not Possibles friends in Den Haag rode the Joop Zoetemelk Classic yesterday.  By all accounts it was cold and windy, with a high of 8°C / 46°F.  My West End friends in Houston are just about to start the Tour de Houston.  It is a balmy 17°C / 62°F in downtown Houston now.  It was 34°C / 93°F by the time Chon, Mark, Marvin and I finished our ride in Hulu Langat today.  Houston wins the best biking weather award for this weekend.

We rode from Kampung Batu 18 along Jalan Sungai Lui to the T-junction with the B32 and the B19.  Logically enough Jalan Sungai Lui follows the Lui River along the valley floor.  At the junction the only option is to turn left onto the B32 road.  The B19 is still closed 5km from the T-junction because of the landslide that dropped a section of tarmac into the reservoir.

Genting Peres Route

The B32 takes you to the border between the states of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.  The border is at the top of a 10km climb that rises from 170 meters / 560 feet above sea level to 500 meters / 1,640 feet above sea level.  It was very misty at the start, which meant great views once we got about a third of the way up the climb.

IMG_1191 IMG_1188

Genting Peres isn’t the steepest climb in the area.  Nevertheless we appreciated the stop to take photographs.

Genting Peres Photo Stop

Photo courtesy of They Wei Chon

It was still hard work, especially after we broke through the mist into bright sunshine.  I am sure I leaked the equivalent of a Camelbak Podium Chill bottle by the time I got to the summit.  Mark and Chon are waiting for Marvin, who got extra credit for doing the ride on a 29er mountain bike with knobbly tires.

IMG_1189

I explored a bit, and found these decorative blocks at the base of the “Terima Kasih.  Sila Datang Lagi / Thank You.  Please Come Again” sign behind the guys.  Not bad for a sign that most people whizz past in cars.

IMG_1182

The plan was to go back the way we came to Kampung Batu 18, and then ride on to Sungai Chongkak Recreational Forest for a nasi lemak and teh tarik breakfast.   It was a hot and humid second half of the ride.  The thought of packets of tasty nasi lemak sustained us through the 6km climb to the restaurant.

IMG_1181

“What?”

Our disappointment was palpable.  Our mood was not improved by the very mediocre roti canai we ended up with at Kampung Batu 18.

There was one saving grace for all of us.  The thick undergrowth between where we always park and the river has recently been cleared.  So we could get to some cool water to wash the sweat off our faces and arms.

IMG_1190

There was another plus for me.  ISKY 2 has stopped ticking.

UCI Worlds Cyclosportive 2012

The UCI Road World Championships came to Limburg in the Netherlands in September 2012.  A number of Not Possibles signed up for the Toertocht or Cyclosportive.

UCI Toertocht Graphic

Thomas and some of his riding buddies came all the way from Aberdeen to join Christine, David, Richard, Rogier and I, along with some 7,000 other enthusiasts, at the start in Landgraaf.  We were all looking forward to riding over the Worlds course . .

UCI Toertocht Route

and tackling some of the vaunted climbs like the Bemeleberg and the Cauberg.

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 05

We rolled over the start line at about 8.20am.  We wouldn’t see Thomas and his friends again until the end of the ride.  As for myself, this shot is misleading.

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 082352a

By the time I was 10km into the ride I was not looking so happy.  I was struggling to keep up with the others.  So much so that I began to worry that at the rate I was going, I would not make the time cutoff for the 170km route that we were attempting.  Fortunately whatever it was that was making me feel unwell passed, and I caught up to Christine and the rest of the group at the first rest stop.  No doubt the waffles there helped!

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 03

About halfway into the ride David and I spotted a group of riders sporting the Dutch colours.  We picked up the pace and caught up with them.  We started chatting a learned that they were members of the Dutch junior team.

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 120625a

We were feeling quite pleased with ourselves for keeping pace with riders from the Dutch national junior squad.  That is until they decided it was time to stop dawdling and shot off down the road.

We all made it over the 1,500 meters of climbing, including the iconic Cauberg, which would be the final climb before the finish of the mens’ and womens’ elite races.  Fortunately we didn’t have to ride up the Cauberg ten times like the elite racers would have to in their races.  When we crossed the finish line I was able to strike the pose I had at the start.

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 163334

Rogier and I at the finish with our finisher’s certificates and medals.

UCI World Championship Sportive 2012 01

Lastly here’s the video of this ride in which some of my Not Possibles friends appear.