Zwolle to Assen by bike (part 2)

So, as promised here is the second and final part of my cycling trip between the Dutch cities of Zwolle and Assen, in July last year – part one here. As already mentioned this was about 45 miles, and done at a steady and relaxed pace on a heavy Dutch bike.

In the ‘first half’ post I’d got as far as the town of Meppel. This is in fact only about one-third of the way to Assen from Zwolle –

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.57.52– but this part of the route contained most of the ‘interest’ of the day’s journey, because (as we shall see) there wasn’t a great deal that was remarkable between Meppel and Assen, given that my plotted route consisted entirely of a beautiful cycleway running parallel to a fast and (mostly very straight) main road.

Meppel was effectively bypassed again on a small main road that skirted the town centre; a road with industrial units that might have been quite unpleasant to cycle on. As it was I had quite an old ’tiled’ style path; definitely not as good as smooth asphalt, but still preferable to the road, especially given the type of traffic on it. (Incidentally the van parked on the cycleway in the photo appears to be a ‘path inspection’ vehicle).

Meppel cycleway tiles

Leaving Meppel I was quickly onto the infrastructure that would carry me all the way to Assen – a cycle path fully separated from the main road that speeds north, the N371. Cycle path Meppel to Assen

As with all Dutch cycle paths alongside main roads, this was essentially designed like a road for cycles; 3m wide (or more), but with no separate pedestrian provision. There aren’t many people walking here, given the rural nature of this area, and any pedestrians simply use this ‘bicycle road’. Where pedestrian numbers are higher, the Dutch will of course provide a separate footway.

As had been the case throughout the day, there were plenty of HGVs on the main roads, and on this one like the others. To give some indication of the level of comfort Dutch infrastructure provides, this situation in the photograph below felt like a ‘close pass’, given the way the HGV seemed almost to be coming towards me as it came around the bend, at 80kph.'Close' HGVThis despite the presence of a reasonable large verge separating me from the vehicle. Most likely in the UK I would have actually been on the road in this situation, or at best on a shared use footway directly adjacent to it.

Typically the separation from the fast main road itself was much greater. In the photograph below, the road is actually on the other side of the canal (which ran in parallel with it all the way to Assen)  you can just about see an HGV directly above the boat. Note here that there is also a service road for properties on the left, entirely separate from the cycle path.

Cycle path separated from main road by canal

While there was obviously priority over private properties and minor roads and tracks, at more major roads the cycleway lost priority. Side road treatment, N371

This didn’t feel like a particular problem to me; I might actually have felt quite exposed venturing out across the road, having to assume drivers would yield, especially on such a straight, fast main road. It was easy enough for me to gauge for myself when it was safest and easiest to cross these few interruptions. (All roundabouts in the north of the Netherlands are treated in this way – with no priority for cycling).

N371 cycle path

Mostly, however, tedium was beginning to set in. This was by no means arduous or hazardous cycling, using such well-designed infrastructure on a beautiful day. But unfortunately this was mile after mile with only the occasional bend or junction to divert my interest – I even found myself counting trees to keep myself occupied, working on the assumption that counting one hundred trees would equate to roughly a kilometre or so, ticking off the tens of kilometres remaining to Assen.

Happily, as planned, I soon met David Hembrow coming the other way to meet me, and we immediately diverted away from the main road, taking a winding scenic route through the countryside before heading into Assen.

We used a variety of types of path, but all of them were wonderful to cycle on. The example below is a new strip of farm access road, complete with tractor tyre marks in the mud to the sides. The strips either side of the brick paving in the middle are (of course) billiard-table-smooth concrete.Farm track near Assen

As on the earlier part of the journey from Zwolle, even tiny recreational paths also have a smooth concrete or tarmac surface. You will occasionally have to ‘single up’ as you meet people coming the other way, but these are not utility routes, so the amount of cycle traffic is very low.

Rural path, Assen

And again, as with earlier in the day, there were plenty of people out cycling in the afternoon, enjoying the Drenthe countryside – mostly elderly couples, and kids.

Recreational cycle route Assen

Kids cycling Drenthe

Another swerving close pass into uncoming traffic for the ‘Dutch driver’ collection…

The connection between these rural areas and Assen itself is painless; both the motorway skirting Assen, and the city’s ring road, were negotiated with underpasses.

Assen ring road underpassAnd in the blink of an eye I was in the centre of Assen.

Bi-directional cycleway Assen

If I had to do this route again I would probably avoid cycling along the N371 for so long; not because it was difficult or hazardous (far from it), but because it did get quite boring. It was certainly the quickest way, but it might be worth venturing cross country, just to make the route a little more lively. That said this second half of the trip was almost entirely free of interactions with drivers, given most of it was on fully separated paths, either alongside the main road, or through forests and fields. It was a lot of fun!

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10 Responses to Zwolle to Assen by bike (part 2)

  1. haayman says:

    “All roundabouts in the north of the Netherlands are treated in this way – with no priority for cycling”
    Not all, probably only the ones outside the city limits/’bebouwde kom’?. The rule of thumb is: inside the city/village the bike has priority, outside not.

    • Basic rule of thumb. You see sharks teeth and a yield sign facing you, you yield/give way. If they don’t point to you, and other traffic does, they yield, if no traffic is facing these, then yield to traffic from the right.

    • user1 says:

      Unfortunately, in cities like Assen cyclists don’t have priority in urban roundabouts as well.

      When I discussed the issue of these roundabouts, I said that the same logic can as well be applied to ordinary junctions. David Hembrow disagreed, but that’s exactly what has been done in this case. Surely we can now find some statistics saying that on unsignalized crossroads where cyclists have to give way there are less collisions than on those where they have the same priority as the parallel carriageway… First roundabouts outside build up areas, then other roundabouts, then major junctions, and what’s next – maybe minor junctions too? After all, on these junctions there is even less traffic, so cyclists would even more rarely have to stop, so “no problem” for them at all…

      But seriously, definitely not a good example to copy in other countries. Sending cyclists on a road for bikes which gives way to side roads where road for cars doesn’t is a recipe for public opposition for separated infrastructure, and it doesn’t matter that in this case “you rarely have to stop”. Instead of treating all road users equally (regardless of what means of transport they’re using), it’s rewarding car drivers for operating more dangerous vehicles. Instead of basic rules from Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, a “law of the jungle” is in use here. It’s like giving HGVs priority over passenger cars on all major junctions and roundabouts (regardless of a direction in which they’re going). HGVs are small proportion of all traffic, so car drivers would relatively rarely have to stop, but imagine what they’d say about such an idea!

      It turns out that some British bike experts apparently have a problem with understanding of what having priority means. It doesn’t mean that you can be fined for not committing a suicide (despite what David Hembrow, among others, seems to think) or that you have to assume obviously false thing (that people behave perfectly and always obey road signs). It simply means that drivers of vehicles on a secondary road are required by the law to yield. That’s it. When you have priority, it’s still legal for you to behave as you think it’s appropriate, including giving way if you wish.

  2. grt says:

    I know the n371 and use it perhaps twice a year. Yes it might be boring, but only when you are a tourist. It simply is the quickest way between Meppel and Assen. If you are doing 100km or more, Zwolle – Groningen, boring can be very nice.

  3. andreengels says:

    You know you’re in the Netherlands when “boring” is an important negative judgement on a cycle route. Oh, and historically speaking it’s the road running parallel to the canal rather than the other way around.

    • Yes, if ‘boring’ is about the worst thing I can say, you know things are good!

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      The Netherlands doesn’t have a monopoly on boring cycling by virtue of its paths 🙂 You surely have to admit that some roads are simply more interesting than others to travel on, whatever the country or infrastructure. From personal experience, the D511 NE of Falaise in N France and CS3 in London must be up there, but the roads on the US-Canada plains probably take some beating.

      Anyway, as grt implies, there isn’t much of a fast alternative for Zwolle-Assen so it’s one where you do have to “grin and bear it” if you need to go the direct route. I nominate the N210 from near Nieuwegein to Krimpen a.d. IJssel as the most boring in the Netherlands (especially if there’s a headwind) ;P

      • andreengels says:

        Undoubtedly there are ‘boring’ cycle routes in the UK and US too, but it would not be the big negative I think. It could even be positive – a trip with many near misses will probably not be judged boring…

  4. Guest says:

    And then they wonder why Dutch cyclists listen to music so often…

  5. flieger85 says:

    interesting article thank you

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