RatN – Racing Hints and Tips

As one of the riders of the first Race around the Netherlands (RatN), I’ve been asked by a couple of this year’s riders for some hints/tips about riding RatN.

Here are a few thoughts on cycling RatN, they are primarily aimed at RatN racers, but they are may be useful for those undertaking long distance cycling in the Netherlands in General. This is primarily aimed at non Dutch competitors, but it may be useful for everyone racing.

1) Your credit card is of limited use

The Netherlands primarily uses the Maestro payment system (Pin/pinnen), most places that accept Pin, do not accept visa or MasterCard. Including the Visa debit card issued by most UK banks. Just because you see a card machine or “Pinnen, ja graag” sign, don’t expect to be able to pay with your UK card. Carry some cash as a backup, but be aware many places along the route are going to be Pin only. Touristy places and Hotels are likely to take your UK card, but don’t rely on it.

Cash Points/ATM’s should accept your Visa/Mastercard. You’re likely to get hit with horrible charges (from your bank rather than from the machine), but it should at least work.

2) Gas only

Increasingly Dutch petrol/gas stations are automated, just because you see a gas station on the map, doesn’t mean it will serve anything other than fuel for cars.

3) Stuff tends to shut early.

I find it can be hard to find food after 2100 in much of Rural Netherlands. The Dutch also don’t seem to eat Breakfast out, meaning it can be often hard to find somewhere to get breakfast before 0900, and in Rural villages, you’ve got no chance.

Many hotels will close check-in at 2100, or even earlier, apart from those in big cities, or aimed at business travellers by motorways, don’t expect 24 hour check-in. Just cos Google maps says there’s a Hotel 10k down the road don’t expect to be able to check-in at 0100… Researching hotels along the route with 24 hour check-in is left as an exercise for the rider…

4) Know the weather.

Buienradar app – Showing rain coming in

Brits talk about the weather, but the Dutch Know the weather. Ask a typical Dutch person what the weather is likely to be for the day and you’ll get an answer like “It’ll rain between 3 and 4, wind from the north force 3”. Install the Buienradar app, this gives you live radar as well as predictions for the next 3 hours. You can rely on this for knowing when it’s gonna rain to within a 10 min accuracy most of the time!

Windy!

For an idea of wind conditions, get the windy app, this gives really useful and accurate wind forecasts for the next few days. Coupled with the Buienradar app, the two should really help you keep ahead of the weather.

5) Map of water

Drinking water in Groningen – OSMand

Drinking water taps are pretty common in .NL, but finding them is not always easy. If you install the OSMand app, and turn on the drinking water POI layer, this will show on the map where all the drinking water points are. This is very useful in hot weather.

While on the subject of hydration, most bars, cafes, and restaurants serve drinks in 200ml bottles, there is no large drink size available. I often order 2 or more drinks at the same time, expect the waiter to be confused by this, especially if you’ve ordered one slice if apple pie, and 3 cokes. I’m starting to think the Dutch exist in a perpetual state of dehydration…

6) Beware Muggles

Particularly when on the leg south from Den Helder to Rotterdam, and especially around the Tulip fields. You’ll find a lot of the cycling equivalent of Sunday drivers, give them a wide berth when over taking, and expect them to be wobbly when starting at junctions. In the big cities the locals have a very relaxed attitude towards red lights, they may not be expecting you to stop for a red. I’ve had cyclists ride into the back of me when I stopped for a red light and it took them by surprise.

When you get to Zuid Limburg, you’ll find a lot of e-bikes. Struggling up the Cauberg and being overtaken by Oma and Opa on e-bikes isn’t uncommon.

7) Surface conditions

The weekend before the race is King’s day. Which is a nationwide party. Unfortunately, this tends to result in a lot of broken glass in the cycle paths. There’s not much you can do about it, but it’s worth knowing, and packing enough spare tubes.

The Dutch love their block paving. It’s not quite Roubaix Pavé, but it’s also a long way short of smooth Tarmac. I’m running 32mm tyres, I ran 28mm last year, I’d hate to go narrower.

8) Not all bike shops are equal

Most bikes in the Netherlands are City bikes, and most bike shops cater accordingly. Just because you found a bike shop on Google maps, don’t necessarily expect them to have an inner tube for your 25mm tyres, or a spare Di2 cable. It’s also worth noting that the most common tyre valve on Dutch bikes is what the Brits call ‘Woods’.

9) Ye gods the wind.

Did I mention the Dutch headwinds? Aerobars are your friend. Even the locals have them on their city bikes.

Good luck! See you in Amerongen!

Local bike shops

Recently the Global Cycling Network’s YouTube channel did a segment on should we be fighting for the local bike shop (the Gcn show)This follows on from a recent episode of BBC 5 Lives Bespoke Weekly podcast about the joy of the Local Bike Shop (LBS). Across all of those talking about it, something struck me in their rose tinted analysis of an Aladins cave of cycling wonder that acts as a gateway for many of us. All the voices I heard were male.

I recently knocked my rear wheel out of true. Whilst I do nearly all the maintenance on the bike I built myself, myself, wheel building and truing is an art I have yet to get the hang of. So I cycled 15km across Amsterdam to a bike shop on Ijburg to have it sorted. I sat in the comfy chair in the corner of the shop while Stephen worked his magic. While he tweaked the spokes one by one we chatted.

“So you live on Ijburg?”

“No. I’m in neuiw West.”

“Wha?”

“Yeah, but you’re my local bike shop”

“Um, there are closer bike shops to you than here”

“Yes, but you’re the first bike shop in Amsterdam that treated me like a human, not someone that got lost and wandered into the wrong shop”

“What?!”

It was like there was an audible click of realisation.

For many male cyclists you never experience the inherent sexism in the cycle industry. But for a woman entering a bike shop it is often not a pleasant experience. If you’re lucky enough not to be hit on by the staff, you’re unlikely to get treated as a fully valued customer. If you can get them to realise you’re not lost, and you really are a cyclist, you then have to hope that the guy you’re dealing with doesn’t think you’re a moron and tries to sell you either the wrong thing, something you don’t need, or over charge you for work you “need” done on the bike because they think you don’t know better. This is often a similar experience for women taking a car to the garage.

But even if you’re lucky enough to get passed all of that. You then find that the ladies jerseys are all in pink and they only have mediums or smalls… that the ladies specific bikes they have for you to try are a token gesture at best, and that’s before you get into the inherent female-unfriendly nature of bike sizing. (I’m 1.7m tall. This puts me 50mm below average height for men, and 100mm above average height for women. The bike I built has a size small Genesis Vagabond frame, the smallest they do. If someone who’s taller than average has to use a size small, what on earth do average height or shorter women do? But that’s a whole different rant).

We hear a lot about the allure of cheaper components and gear from online retailers like wiggle, or bike24.de, but what is overlooked here is that I can order a 11-34 cassette and a 40-28 chainset without some guy who thought I was lost when I first came in, looking down his nose, questioning, and judging me. Don’t get me wrong. We need local bike shops. They are an incredible resource we should support and cherish. But only if they value, support and cherish their customers. And that means all of their customers. Including those from minorities (if you don’t think women are a minority in cycling, I’m signed up for a sportive ride where only 8/308 riders are non male!). The relationship a rider has with their LBS is an important one, and like all relationships, it works both ways.

A bag full of fear.

It’s Christmas eve, and the night before I head off on a big bike packing adventure. I’ve let off a kit grenade in the living room and am methodically rearrange kit into piles for each of the bags on the bike, one for the front, one for the frame bag, and another for the saddle bag. 

Each pile grows far bigger than the volume of the bag it’s intended to go on, and one by one I pick up each item and ask myself “Can I do without this?”. It’s now the second time I’ve gone through the piles of kit, each pass being more ruthless than the last until I’m happy I can get everything in the bike bags. I carry 3 crates of stuff down to the bike and humming the Tetris theme in my head, have a 3d game of tetris with the stuff I’m taking. Trying to work out a balance between making everything fit, and having stuff accessible in the order I’ll need it. As I close the final zip, sealing in the food, clothing and shelter for 5 days of winter bike packing, something said on a podcast enters my brain and I can’t shed it. “When packing for a trip. You end up carrying your fears”. I can’t remember now which podcast it’s from, either the Paul Kirtley podcast or the Tough Girl podcast, but as it sit there looking at my bike I say it out loud. “You end up carrying your fears”.

In this light I go over my packing list in my mind once again. What fears am I carrying? Getting lost isn’t one of them, other than my phone and the bike gps I don’t have any mapping. Not fearing dirty, smelly clothes. I’ve got just one set beyond the one I’m wearing. So what is taking up the bulk of my bags?

Food, water, sleeping bag. The later fills a 13l dry bag on the front handlebars in its own right. 990g of down filled goodness, light, but bulky. There’s also a 5l dry bag on the fork dedicated to my Paramo Torres insulated jacket. I’ve had hypothermia in the past, it’s not fun, and both consciously and unconsciously I’ve definitely packed to prevent it.

On my Brompton trip in Luxembourg a few years back I had really bad dehydration and heat exhaustion that resulted in aborting the trip at the halfway point. I’ve got 2.6L of bottles and a further 900ml in a water bladder. It’s bulky, it’s heavy. Maybe I can get away with less, but do I want to risk it? 
So food? My adventure starts on Boxing day (26th December) and the plan for the first day involves cycling across the Ardennes, day 2 I enter Luxembourg, in theory it’s a normal business day, but experience tells me that shops in the Grand Duchy are few and far between. So I carry more gorp, a Christmas cake, extra mars bars. Even now doing the maths I know I don’t have enough calories for the amount of effort I’m expecting to need. 100km a day adds 2500+ to the recommended 2000 calories baseline for an adult woman. 4500 calories is about 18 mars bars. I have six, one per day, and one as emergency anti bonk rations. I’m gonna have to rely on my ample internal resources to have enough energy to make this work. But still my frame bag is just food. There’s a 3l bag on the handlebars with food, cookset and eating implements. The food is second to the water in terms of weight. My fears are heavy. My fears are hungry. 

So I sit here, looking at my bike, loaded with everything I think I’ll need, everything I fear I’ll need. And hope it will be enough. You carry your fears. Fear is heavy. 

Hello world!

This is my new blog, my second attempt under b.42q. Hopefully I can keep it going with a mix of cycling, hiking, beer, and the occasional bit about politics.

Content will start to appear in due course, so check back soon.