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.
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!
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 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!
I posted a link to this article on the yacf cycle forum, and a local posted the below comments, that may be useful for racers:
“There are a couple of big stores not too far from the route who carry everything you could potentially need for your bike. In particular, I’m thinking about Mantel in Arnhem (mantel.com), Belga Fietsen in Groningen (belgafietsen.nl, on weekdays open until 9pm) and Math Salden in Limbricht.
And don’t forget that on May 4 we remember the (European) victims of the Second World War (and the soldiers who died in UN Peacekeeping missions; the Asian victims of WW2 have their own remembrance day in August). There is a nationwide two minute silence at 8pm and almost all shops close at 7pm.”