Cycling the River Rhine from Basel to the North Sea by Neil Forsyth by Neil Forsyth - Read Online

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Cycling the River Rhine from Basel to the North Sea - Neil Forsyth

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Introduction

It is now some years since we completed our second guide to the Rhine, which followed the river from Basel in Switzerland to the delta region in the Netherlands, downstream of Rotterdam. Cycling routes have been improved since then and even more people are taking breaks by bike. It was time for a new edition. In fact, since we wrote the book we have developed a new approach in that we describe little of the route when it is well signposted. This was a major undertaking so we began in 2012 with a series of tours and hope to complete them in 2014. The accommodation information mainly dates from spring 2014.

As ever our intention is to take the pain out of planning and to help in discovering a huge network of routes that may be unknown. Even with the Internet and powerful search engines it can take considerable effort to find route descriptions and fill the gaps about where to stay. We assume that most people know about the major guide books and we do not intend to compete with them. However they rarely give much away about landscape and scenery close up, or the relatively small settlements cyclists encounter. We base our information on personal experience, gathered rapidly underway and then researched later. For large cities like Rotterdam or Köln (Cologne) you can check up to date information in English using the Web, and pick out what interests you.

The bike routes are designed for people who enjoy cycling but may not have used their bikes to travel much away from home. We are not particularly interested in speed or miles per day. We like to be independent. We assume that our readers have similar interests and want to savour the places en route rather than just seeing the rear wheel of their companion. We try to give some idea of culture, customs and landscape of the river environs. The information included was checked and corrected in 2013 and 2014, but prices and timetables do change, so do check things out before you start. Many of the opinions are our own, coloured by struggles with headwinds or sudden fantastic sunsets. Your experiences of the same section may be quite different.

When the route is clearly signposted we have written little about the route. When we felt the signposting is sufficient we just list the names of the towns and villages. If signposting is poor we describe the route in detail. Distances are given in kilometres, because this is what you will read on signposts. If you wish to know how far you still need to pedal in miles, double the kilometre value and divide by three. Accommodation lists are shown in Appendix 1. Appendix 2 suggests some campsites. Appendix 3 offers a partial list of bicycle shops. Appendix 4 gives information about bicycle hire in case the reader does not want to bring his or her own steed. Appendix 5 lists the majority of the swimming possibilities close to the Rhine between Basel and Hoek van Holland. Links to websites on pages where the number of links would make touch screen usage difficult are given in Appendix 6: Links. Appendix 7 describes the castles between Bingen and Koblenz. Appendix 8 discusses food and drink. The information given in the Accommodation appendix was sent to us by Tourist Offices or downloaded directly from websites. To avoid introducing errors we have not attempted to fit this information into a house style, so we left it largely as it was. We are very grateful to the staff of all the Tourist Information Offices between Basel and Hoek van Holland for their help and assistance, without which this book could not have been written. Thanks are also due to the ADFC (German Cycling Club) Bett und Bike staff, the Rhineland Palatinate section of the ADFC and the Rhineland Palatinate cycle route planning department.

Why the Rhine Route?

It is one of the natural transport routes across a large chunk of Europe as well as along one of its biggest rivers. You leave Switzerland to reach Germany, cross the Rhine on a cyclist/pedestrian bridge to reach France and head north in Alsace, i.e. in France with a lot of Germanic names on well signposted routes, before visiting Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Worms, Mainz, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf. After Emmerich you cross into the Netherlands. The LF and Knooppunt signposting systems make navigation in the Netherlands very easy. The country is crisscrossed by 20 long distance cycling routes (LF) and then in addition a network of numbered nodes and directional signposts have been set up across the country. Each node has directions to other nodes. This makes navigation in the Netherlands child’s play. The facilities for folks on bikes are truly amazing at the end of the route with dedicated cycleways through Europoort and lifts and tunnels underneath the major rivers of the delta. Both in the Netherlands and Germany cycle touring is very much a national pastime, with old and young underway throughout the summer, so whatever your age or status you will meet similar people en route. You can stick to the signposted Rhine Route from Basel right through France, Germany and the Netherlands, passing close by at least six cathedrals, historic town centres and too many castles to count. There really are many thousands of signposted cycleways allowing access to areas away from tourist high-spots and good cycling even through cities like Strasbourg, Cologne or Dordrecht.

You will be cycling through four countries, if you include your half hour or so in Switzerland:

France: Where the bicycle is a road bike, a means of staying fit. The riders carry at most a credit card, a mobile phone and a set of keys. You will see few French cycling tourists. Most of the cycling tourists in Alsace are German. However the greeting is bon jour. You do greet fellow cyclists, don't you, or are you a roadie on carbon fibre lightweight frame and above speaking with the plebs? Bikes are known as vélos.

Germany is where road men and women zip past in a blur of shiny neon coloured Lycra, but there are also many tourists underway. The bicycle is a touring bike. The greeting is Hallo. Bikes are known as Fahrrad, but also as Velos in the south.

In the Netherlands sporting types abound. There are many tourists. Bicycles are also seen as beasts of burden. We don’t normally greet other cyclists here, there are too many. Bikes are known as fiets.

It is worthwhile, but dangerous for the wallet or credit card to go into bike shops in each country to check out the differences. The Dutch especially buy cargo bikes and have lots of accessories to help the cyclist carry stuff or children.

We hope that high fuel prices may persuade people to dust off their bikes and enjoy living at a slower pace. Recent developments in pedelecs, bicycles with electrical assistance or e-bikes do mean that one need not be super fit to cycle. However, because there are very few hills unless you look for them, most folks don’t need an e-bike. If you cycle from Basel to the Hook by the end of the trip you will have dropped 250 m (800 ft) in the 1100 km (700 miles). Eleven hundred kilometres may seem a lot, but it is easily covered in two weeks. Neither of us are fast cyclists. We can still cycle about eighty kilometres a day without problems, because we don’t take long morning coffee, lunch or tea breaks as do many of our faster cycling friends. With or without built in batteries, modern bicycles plus the odd bit of ‘technical clothing‘ such as padded shorts, comfortable accommodation and eating well in the evening make this way of travelling a very good experience.

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Chapter 1: Essential Equipment: Bike, Maps and GPS

Our suggestions for packing lists can be found in our Cycling in Europe guide 99 US cents from the same source as you used to download this guide.

The Bike

You can cycle this route on almost any sensible bike, i.e a bike with mudguards/fenders, a baggage rack and tyres that are not narrow. A mountain bike with knobbly tractor type tyres is not necessary.

Mudguards because it rains from time to time in the Rhine Valley and tyres throw up mucky water.

A baggage rack because wearing a rucksack puts your centre of gravity higher and means you yourself have to carry a load that could be borne by the bike. As the saying goes: Why schlepp?.

Wider tyres because almost but not all French and German cycling paths are tarmac. Some are unsealed.

In our opinion road bikes are not suitable for this route. If you must ride a road bike then be prepared to do some map reading or invest in a GPS device.

Maps

The maps we show in this guide are sketch maps designed to give the reader a quick impression of where they are going. The problem with strip maps of this type is that any communities more than a few km away from the route are not shown. For eastern Alsace and Germany we recommend the ADFC 1:150,000 touring maps of Germany published by BVA, Bielefeld which cover a much wider area:

Basel to Drusenheim (F) north of Strasbourg: Map 24: Schwarzwald Oberrhein

Drusenheim (F) to Bingerbrück, near Bingen: Map 20: Rhein Neckar

Bingerbrück to Dormagen: Map 15: Rheinland Eifel

Dormagen to Emmerich: Map 10: Münsterland Niederrhein

These maps can be purchased from Stanfords or other good map shops in the UK or from Omnimaps.Com in the USA, but they are cheaper in Germany - about €6.80. Buying the first map in Basel could be difficult and slightly more expensive, but the other maps are easy to find in most German towns and cities from bookshops and railway stations, at least the one for the local area. The supermarket by the border crossing in Weil am Rhein should sell the maps.

The knooppunt linked nodes system in the Netherlands means that navigation is easy. The system starts in Emmerich on the promenade. You probably do not need a map to find your way to the Hook of Holland, because you can use the knooppunt nodes we suggest later and the major nodes offer maps. At the same time I would not feel happy without a map in case of need. Any VVV - Dutch tourist office or ANWB Dutch car club shop will have a selection of maps. We used a Falk Nederland Fietsatlas (ISBN 978-90-287-2527-0, 1st Ed.). It is compact, but quite heavy and its small size meant stopping frequently to turn over pages. There are knooppunt apps available for both iPhones and Android.

GPS

We do not use GPS ourselves. Judith as a former geography teacher is worried by seeing a generation of schoolchildren that cannot use maps. Neil cannot justify spending three hundred Euros on a device that is very useful in cities, but less so out in the fields and vineyards in Germany where cycle signposting is excellent especially once you are out of the towns and cities.

However we checked the Internet and wish to suggest the follow sources of GPS tracks:

Basel - Breisach, Breisach - Strasbourg, Strasbourg - Lauterbourg: Alsace: http://www.naviki.org, www.cyclinginalsace.com

Lauterbourg - Speyer, Worms - Oppenheim, Oppenheim - St Goar, St Goar - Remagen: Rheinland Pfalz: http://www.radwanderland.de/

Remagen - Zons, Zons - Rheinberg, Rheinberg - Emmerich: Nordrhein-Westfalen: http://www.radroutenplaner.nrw.de/RRP_home_02_en.html

Arnhem - Hook of Holland: http://www.nederlandfietsland.nl/fietsrouteplanner, but whether you need GPS is debatable. The knooppunt system is so easy to follow.

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Chapter 2: Getting to the Start

Mark Smith's Seat61.com website and our pages on the A to B Magazine website (http://www.atob.org.uk/bike-rail/bikeeurope/) are a good place to look for up to date information on travelling on public transport with a bike in Europe. There are three ways of getting to Basel from Britain with a bicycle by public or private transport:

Ship and Train

SE England to Basel via the Netherlands

If we had to travel to Basel from London and had the time then I would book a daytime sailing from Harwich to Hook of Holland using dutchflyer with Greater Anglia Railways, Stena Line and NS the Dutch railway operator and then take the CityNightLine train from Utrecht to Basel. The major snag is getting up to catch the 06:38 train from Liverpool Street Station to Harwich International. There again, I am a romantic when it comes to train travel. The vision of rolling gently up the Rhine and waking up with the sun rising over the Black Forest is very appealing.

The other slightly less romantic way is to take the Stena Line ferry overnight and then travel from Hook of Holland changing in Rotterdam, Venlo, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart to Basel in about twelve hours. One arrives in Basel Bad Station at 22:00 and so booking a hotel or hostel is necessary.

SE England to Basel via Paris

Getting to Paris in time to catch the train to Basel

Eurostar

Take Eurostar to Paris. The big problem is getting your bike on Eurostar or more exactly getting you and your bike on the same Eurostar. Our feeling is that the Eurostar Fat Controller is not a cyclist and does not understand cyclists. He is not that that bothered whether he carries bikes