From Brussels to Frankfurt: Races, repairs… and hills in the Lowlands!

12/09/2018 Laura Eylen’s tour diary

6 September – Re-entering the Netherlands

We spent the day cycling from Brussels to Maastricht. We did around 140km and spent more than 9 hours in the saddle! That might sound boring to some, but for the first time we experienced some elevation on the journey, as we passed through the hills of Limburg… the lowlands are not all so low after all. Therefore, today’s route was a bit harder compared with previous days. Though that was partially forgotten due to the special accommodation we had for the night. For some of us it was the first time sleeping on a boat! Otherwise known as… a botel!

7 September – Start of the Ladies Bike Festival in Sittard

Today we had a recovery day… which was needed after the epic ride yesterday! We went to Sittard, which is 25km southwest of Maastricht, to attend the Ladies Bike Festival. We met with two Turkish ladies, Nurten and Güzin, who - having won their tickets during their active participation in the Ortaca Ladies Bike Festival – came all the way from Turkey to see the festival. A nice surprise for us was that they had brought some Turkish baklava with them… which we all enjoyed together. It was a great day, especially having the opportunity to see the opening day of the festival.

We also had the chance to see the race track at Watersley Sports Park, which includes two hills. One with a steep incline of 20%, and the other with a cobble surface. This track is new, and was built just a year ago. The Ladies had to cycle round more than ten times in the race, since one clap is approximately 3km long they covered around 35km at high speed! As soon as the race started four riders separated themselves from the pack and created a large gap to those chasing. This group was made up of two cyclists from the UK and two from the Netherlands, they were the leaders throughout the competition and also shared the podium at the end of the race, with Britain at the top and the Netherlands second.

After the race we had a dinner with our Turkish guests and Jan Oelers, Organiser of the Ladies Bike Festival, to share our impressions and experiences of the day.

8 September – Our first kilometres in Germany

Today we crossed over the border into the next country on the tour route, Germany. The first city we visited in “Deutschland” was Cologne. Before leaving Sittard we met again with Jan Oelers and the Ladies Bike Festival organisers for breakfast. The traditional cakes from the region we ate thanks to our kind hosts fuelled our bodies with enough energy to complete the 100km journey from the Netherlands into Germany!

Once we reached Cologne we spent the evening with Ute Symanski and Harald Schuster, Initiators of the people’s initiative “Aufbruch Fahrrad”, which aims at improving and simplifying the lives of cyclists through better and safer infrastructure, as well as providing more political weight towards cycling-friendly policies. They are also active in the area of nature protection, promoting the bicycle as a means of reducing air pollution. Ute also works with organizations such as Hambibleibt and Radkomm. Their kindness was shown by the fact that the entire #BikeForEurope North Team was invited to a dinner at their house! We had a fantastic time together, especially spending so much time sharing opinions and approaches on how to get more people in the saddle.
A big thank you to them from the entire team!!!

9 September – Joining the gang, the Farad Gang!

Before leaving Cologne we had breakfast with Johannes Gillert, who also works for the people’s initiative “Aufbruch Fahrrad”. Later we met a member from Farad Gang e. V., who showed us an amazing place called NeuLand in Cologne, which emerged from an initiative of Farad Gang e. V., and the voluntary work of numerous others.

The area is used for fixing bicycles and as a meeting point for various events. All the wooden houses, plants, gardens, greenhouses, fruits and vegetables were made by volunteers over the space of six years. People are encouraged to donate bikes and bike parts they don't need so that there are working bikes that – once fixed – are donated to refugees. These bicycles make the refugees more mobile, and ensure they have a greater ability to participate more in everyday society.

After this fantastic visit we took off towards Koblenz, cycling along the banks River Rhine. It was one of the most beautiful cycling paths, with some of the most amazing scenery, I have ever seen! It turned out though that our place for the night was on the top of a hill! It was so steep that we had to get off the bikes and push them. As a result it took us more than one hour to cycle just 12km, pushing them for large parts of the journey in the darkness down forest roads! It was a physically and mentally demanding experience, but it showed once again how physical activity can help you to overcome fears, and bond even more with your team mates...

10 September – Sunshine along the Rhine is very fine!

We left Koblenz and went to Frankfurt today, in order to attend a meeting with the initiators of “Radentscheid Frankfurt” to hear more opinions on how to improve conditions for cyclists.

We continued to follow the River Rhine with its beautiful views, before stopping for lunch at Rüdesheim, a popular wine area. Over more than nine hours we managed to cycle 138km, but the stunning scenery made it seem like less work that it was, as we rode through vineyards and could enjoy the beautiful provinces of Rheinland-Palatinate and Hesse from the amazing, immersive viewpoint that a bicycle gives you!