Cycling to a cycling conference

A bike ride to a bicycle congress,  to practice what you preach. Last year from Utrecht to Lisbon, this year in summer from Vienna to Ljubljana and now a trip to Velofinland in Oulu. To get there I had not chosen the simplest way. Just before the pandemic, I had been to Finland by train and ferry, to attend at the Wintercycling Congress in Joensu. The route via Copenhagen and Sweden was known, but as Velofinland is held at the beginning of the fall, it was a good opportunity to cycle partly to the conference. The choice was to avoid the Swedish railways (for obvious reasons, they don’t accept bicycles for long distance trains) and go around the Botnic Golf. Thus cycling in Norway, Sweden and Finland. A wonderful experience, where I have reported via the hashtag #noordwaarts22 (borrowed from Walter Hoogerbeets) via social media. 

Arrived in Oulu. Sign at the border of the municipality, but it is over 30 kilometers to the city centre.

Some take aways from the congress and my own experiences: 

The brave statement by Emil Renvala (Oslo), who postulated the Norwegian bicycle policy had failed. Despite the investments in bicycle infrastructure, both for the moving bicycle, and for bicycle racks at stations and other destinations. In Southern Norway it was quite right, but the objective for 10% bicycle use in the cities is not achieved. Major investments to make Norway a kind of emmenthaler cheese, with tunnels to stretch railways and in particular make even more car infrastructure, make the convenience to use the car still larger. On the other hand Oslo is quite ambitious in lifting  on-street car parking in order to make room for active mobility. Their pragmatic approach to permanent street redevelopment is very inspiring. 

Eliminated car parking creates space for on street cycling, but as always, even in Oslo, paint is not safe infrastructure.

Finland as a cycling holiday destination. The southern archipelago and the lake district in the east are known, but Lapland also lends itself because the tourist infrastructure is already available. Now focused on winter tourism, it can develop into a summer and autumn destination. A development that is also known from the Alpine countries, where winter accommodations in combination with electric bicycles have become popular destinations. The quality of Lapland is based on the space and tranquility. Something I experienced in the the north of Sweden and where the beautiful fall colors even have their own word in Finnish: Ruska. 


The Finnish cities, with a rich pitch of large green structures, so that peaceful green is always close to housing. Perhaps one of the explanatory factor why many Finns have come carefully through the coronacrisis. But also the uniformity of living environments with identical supermarkets, schools and sports facilities within walking distance. In contrast to the stronger urban quality of the Netherlands. Many people on the street, which are en route, and a larger spatial variety, which give the experience of daily bicycle movements much more richness. For me it is the question how we can value these qualities in a way that we can justify specific investments in cycling. 

Urban park in Oulu

Strong development of Tampere and Helsinki around public transport stops. In Tampere around the tram, in Helsinki around the metro, where really is designed from the pedestrian point of view. 

Densification at metro line in Helsinki, with dedicated cycleway next to the metro. Social safety might be an issue, but otherwise urbanism done right.

I return to the Netherlands with a head full impressions to continue working on making the bicycle facilities even better in the Netherlands.

Cycling destination Paris

By cycling in a few from Paris to Bourgogne, the impressions fall into place. First of all, Paris remains a fantastic metropolis, where life goes on forever. The high density of homes and the intensive use of public space are well known. In that respect, the use of the bicycle is of course obvious, but it took a Covid crisis to really boost the infrastructure and the use of bicycles. In the street I could identify three forms of infrastructure.

At the first place, there is the traditional infrastructure, whereby the bicycle paths should not take up too much space. It looks carefully fitted and attention has been paid to trees, parking for cars and loading and unloading. However, the bicycle paths often end in complex places, so that you have to figure it out yourself on the junctions. I call this myself “Shy interventions”.

The second category of infrastructure is the brave, tough infrastructure that was created during the term of Mayor Anna Hildago. Space for car traffic is taken up by cycle paths on the same level, separated by curbs. The physical shielding for car traffic gives confidence, but you have to be careful, because the visibility of the curbs sometimes is a bit poor and should be improved. The network of these new cycle paths is still far from complete, which is why the third category, that of the “Corona pistes” receives so much attention.

The Corona pistes popped up like mushrooms and comes with yellow paint and pylons and has many appearances. From sharrrows to two-way bicycle paths in the middle axis of the street and even a Rue Amsterdam where through traffic for cars was made impossible traffic and the street actually functions as a bicycle street.

In my opinion, the network has become quite complete, and many different types of cyclists can be distinguished. The similarity is that everyone should have a decent degree of traffic insight, because traffic remains hectic and as a cyclist you sometimes have to search for the continuation after crossing the intersection. Later this week I learned from Judith Un from EspacePama that educating people about cycling is not in the first place about traffic regulations, but for a lot of people it goes much deeper, to get the concept of balance in their nerve system

With Jerome Sorrel I visited the place where a 24 year old woman got under the wheels of a truck. The driver couldn’t see her and the infrastructural measures to keep her out of the blind spot were missing. It is emotional every time to visit such a place, but it makes my the urge to change the traffic system stronger every time.

I would like to end on a positive note, having cycled around Longgchamps in the Bois de Boulogne, said to be the most cycled Strava segment in the world. On the Champs-Elysees I met a Dutch family, who had cycled to Paris in two weeks and had experienced all kinds of adventures. They were deeply impressed by the transformation Paris had undergone and could not have imagined this when they cycled through Paris without children 20 years ago. Paris has now truly become a cycling destination!

There we go!

Arrived in Paris last night and received a warm welcome by Jérôme and his family.  Daughter baked cookies with lots of chocolate! Jerome is writer of several books about everyday cycling and cycling subcultures and a popular cycling blog. And of course he likes to ride his racing bike.The ideal host to stay for a few days and explore the city with.

The departure from Driebergen and Utrecht was a bit hectic. Making sure that everything ends up in the right place in the bags, a bit of stress to be on the Domplein on time. Lots of encouragement through social media.  However, the familiar holiday rhythm of breaking up, cycling, eating and finding a place to sleep and set up a tent soon returned. The familiar feeling of freedom. The wind was in my back, the temperature was pleasant and the roads along the canals made it very smooth. 

Cycling along canals is easy to navigate, but a bit boring. You don’t see much of the environment.

The route through Brussels was also easy, a Dutch couple that I spoke to at the campsite in the evening, had a lot more trouble with it. Cycling in the city is always a bit chaotic, because cycling infrastructure is created later. My strategy of keeping a close eye on a local cyclist heading in roughly the same direction still works. Sometimes cycling on the right, sometimes left on the bus lane, and sometimes also in the median strip, I’ve experienced it all again.
Paris has made great strides and that’s quite a difference from the other places I’ve passed through. The EuroVelo route 3 was largely on towpaths and quiet roads, but sometimes a busy road was unavoidable. The man who took my picture warned me about the French drivers. In general I experience them as very respectful and they keep a good distance. Would this be different in the Netherlands because there are often separate bicycle paths and when cycling on the road is seen as an infringement for the motorist? Or because there is so much more cycling in the Netherlands? Or are the Dutch more in a hurry in general? I’m not over it yet.  Let’s take a closer look at the city first

Cycling left in the bus lane, when it works, it works.