Monday, October 17, 2011

The hills of the Netherlands

So, if you think Cave Biking is ridiculous... how about riding up and down the highest hills in the Netherlands on a Brompton?

That is what I did on Saturday.

Travelling around the Limburg province looks manageable. It's small on a map, from Maastricht to Vaals and the highest point in the Netherlands (European) is only about 30k. That's an easy distance!

View Larger Map

However, 30k in Limburg is very different than 30k in the rest of the Netherlands.

The first big hill was almost impossible but I stubbornly stayed in the saddle, pedaling in the lowest of my six gears. By the top, I was an overheated heavy breathing mess... but I thought it wouldn't be so bad again. Surely not... once you climb a hill, it will plateau and then you get some nice flat stretches, right? I grew up in Iowa so forgive me.

A steep and narrow path downwards...

The map shows switchbacks and hairpins, but I didn't interpret them correctly until after the second one. Iowa, ok? It was up and down and up and up and up and down. By that third hill, I was no longer riding up, I was walking the bike up, cursing and embarrassed... and then on the steep downhill portions, I was thanking Brompton for the wonderful strong working brakes. I can't imagine what it would be like with heavy touring bags. 

Occasionally, I'd look around.

It was beautiful.
Walnuts sold on the honor system.
Picturesque towns.
Picturesque horses.

Look! 10% grade! Another cyclist with an appropriate bicycle and gear!

(Clue to the cycling situation... every other cyclist was on a racing or mountain bike, fully dressed in spandex advertisements, with a helmet.)

I do love my Brompton bicycle but it appears it isn't going to be good enough for everything.

Obviously... no, it wasn't obvious to me. I had thought it might be good enough for any small day trip, but after spending 3 hours on 28k of those hills (with one Limbergse rijstvlaai stop), I gave up and caught a bus. How do the Path Less Pedalled couple do it?? Am I wrong to blame the bicycle? Uphill felt like molasses, the posture was too upright.

I took the bus the rest of the 8k to Vaals and then cycled and walked the bike another 2k to the highest point in the country.

(Another clue about cycling in the area- no bicycle parking. I had to lock up to the signpost.)

Afterward, I flew down the hill and took a bus back to Maastricht.

Which, I suppose, IS the benefit of a Brompton; I could take the bus. With my other bicycle, I would have had to cycle back. Multi-modal travel is very easy with a Brompton and there is peace of mind in knowing that you can change your plans easily. I love peace of mind. I love cycling. I don't love worrying about lack of options. I don't love struggling up a hill on a bicycle that doesn't feel powerful enough.  Peace of mind, enjoyable ride. I'm not sure how to balance the two but I should be able to figure it out by next spring when we have good weather again.

Or maybe I should start from the highest point and work my way down. :)


  1. Actually the highest point in the Netherlands is Mount Scenery on the Caribbean island of Saba, 877 meters, Saba being more or less a regular Dutch town since October 2010. Nicely hot and clammy, and definitely not Brompton territory. English spoken, so I suppose they also wear helmets.

    You know this little video about the mailman on the Cauberg:

  2. The folks on the Path Less Pedalled have their Bromptons with the optional lower gearing -- do you?

    As for posture, the "P"-type handlebars offer two positions: one is even more upright than the standard "M" bars that you have (and are thus suitable for cycling in town), and the other is lower than the flat "S" bars (for a more aerodynamic position).

    If you want LOTS of advice about all things Brompton, register with


  3. The Caribbean is rather far away, must be nice though!

    My gearing is the standard gearing... so that could make it more pleasant! I will sign up for that group, thanks. :)

  4. The video of the Cauberg postie is excellent.

  5. Yes! A View from the Cycle Path has a great article about that. I had forgotten! I really need to do more research before I rush off somewhere. For that and other Limburg related stories:

    The Cauberg was not on my route, i went south along the border from Maastricht through Noorbeek and Slenaken to Mechelen. I caught the bus just after that.

  6. Re Antilles: as I thought after posting, our own Little Hawaii. Must be a strange idea : "Yes, I'm in Holland at the moment, sitting under a palm tree with a cold daiquiri, watching the jumping dolphins against the sunset". Weird.

  7. Alicia - ". . . a bicycle that doesn't feel powerful enough."

    Bicycles, I'm afraid, are inanimate objects.

    Frits - For a brief moment in time, tiny little Holland was a Great Power in the first world war. Go figure. I myself live in an old Dutch walled city; in the US. Travel all the way across a great ocean, to new continent, and who do you end up sharing a border with? The bloody French! That's who. Up go the walls.

    It's just not right.