Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Netherland excursion 

This is a slightly edited version of my article from A Tutto Gas 309

Despite Tony Kersbergen having invited MRC members to the Netherlands’ club meeting many months previously, I didn’t commit to the journey until a month beforehand. The decision as to whether to camp was taken by Paul and Chris who informed me that they had already booked into a hotel close to the event; I booked the last room assuming that this would bless the campers with fine weather.

On all my European trips I try to do a little green-laning and have found that this leads me into exploring less-popular routes in the most picturesque areas. Through an online forum I gained information on riding unsurfaced roads in the Netherlands and was told that Achterhoek (the ‘back corner’) surrounding the site of the meeting was the best area to be. Stanfords delivered 2 ANWB 1:50 000 maps that revealed a vast network of tracks. I would only know which were legal to ride as I explored.

On Thursday, after a morning at work, I rode the short motorway journey to Hull and boarded the ferry. It had been over a decade since using the Hull-Rotterdam ferry and although the crossing is now done by P&O the only way supplied by the company to retain motorcycles is with bits of greasy nylon rope. Luckily I had brought a ratchet tie-down ‘just in case’. Whilst struggling to knot a few lengths of supplementary rope, Paul arrived on his 9½ with James as pillion.  Once the bikes were secure or, even if not, cushioned by chromed Harleys we settled into the crossing.

Friday morning revealed that our ropework skills had been adequate and we made our way off the ferry. It was oven hot in the car deck so I agreed to meet Paul outside. From a small car park beyond border control I could see Paul and James in the queue. After 15 minutes they hadn’t reached me and I wondered if they had been arrested for attempting to import T-shirts in poor taste or another heinous crime. Eventually they reached the car park and told me that they had been adjusting their luggage in the shade of the border control and were not international criminals.

Paul’s satnav led us onto the motorway and into a traffic jam. As we lane-split forwards it became obvious that we were held up by a lifting bridge. On an urban motorway! Lorries on the motorway appeared to be limited to a speed just below the cruising speed of my Kanguro which meant that to overtake I had to go a little faster than the machine feels comfortable. Not that it ever complained, it just starts to sound like a bag of spanners in a washing machine. I had planned to turn onto minor roads west of Arnhem and I waved goodbye to Paul and turned off the motorway. That left him the option of approaching the 120kph speed limit for the final 90km. 

Once in the countryside it was clear that most of the mapped unsurfaced roads are clearly signed as closed to motor vehicles. Even so I found a few open to ride and arrived at Doetinchem with the Kanguro neatly splattered with designer mud.

For such a small town Doetinchem had many restaurants and the search for reasonable prices and vegetarian-friendly fare took us to an Italian. Fine, we’re celebrating Italian motorbikes; there was even a table for six reserved! Before retiring we had a few small beers in a rather retro bar with an excellent selection of 60s and 70s records. It was an excellent soundtrack for us but wasn’t there a European music industry before Ibiza? Perhaps not.

The local anniversary events weren’t scheduled to start until Saturday afternoon thus providing me an excellent opportunity to explore. I worked out a route from the hotel towards the campsite where the club were based. I found some lovely roads between the polders.

Technically they were easy-going being straight, level and well-graded but the loose sand top surface caused me to be a little cautious. Nonetheless they could have been easily ridden on a traditional roadster. A greater proportion of the tracks on the map were open in this area than those to the west, presumably as this isn’t a national park. One of the longer tracks was marked with a portable barrier but I followed a pickup past it. Within a hundred metres I was trackside to a motorcycle road race. Hengelo is home to a racetrack which, in traditional European fashion, utilises public roads for the circuit. From my vantage point I could see the bikes decellerating from a long straight into a sharp left hander. The rear wheel of every bike could be seen to shiver as the brakes were applied and the weight shifted forwards. Then the left knee of every rider shot out and the bikes tipped to an almost horizontal attitude for the corner. For safety the signs had been taken down and the tress coated with haybales. I doubt that they would have helped much at the speeds the modern bikes were going, but at least the organisers had shown willing. After watching a dozen or so racers rush by I had to head on to the campsite.

On arrival I was greeted by the MRC members and Tony who were making their way to the camp canteen for a coffee. That gave the opportunity for introductions all round between the Netherlands club members, those of us from the MRC, German club members who had ridden the short distance across the border and Søren who had ridden 700km from Denmark.

The rideout took a while to get started due to the usual problem in getting 20 or so riders onto 20 running machines. However, within half an hour the group was split up and despite there being a local rider within our contingent we made little progress.  Just as some of were crying ‘enough!’ we stopped at a cafe where we were joined by the other group. Whether this was a pre-arranged meeting-point or good luck I’m not sure, but it was a very welcome break for refreshments. We had travelled for an hour but were only 10km from base! The return to the campsite was direct as everyone remembered the offer of a barbeque.Once everyone was fed (including an excellent range of vegetarian fare) many people started making their apologies and set off for home. A core of riders were camping a few more days and intended to see the classic racing on Sunday but it was time for us to return to town. There was just enough time to revisit yesterday’s bar and we were welcomed most heartily.

On Sunday I had intended to ride to Zeebrugge by a scenic route, covering some unsurfaced roads where possible. Examination of the map showed that I had to cover 350km and much of the route was built-up especially to the west and so it seemed unwise to dawdle in the southeast of the Netherlands. I couldn’t afford to miss the ferry, especially as ‘The Icelandic Ash’ was stopping flights once again. With the route changes taped to the handlebars I submitted myself to the main roads. To break the tedium I included links between motorways through potentially scenic areas. In the first Belgian town on such a stretch I experienced a rather near miss with a local’s car; fortunately no harm was done and it encouraged me to be especially watchful. By the time I reached the west coast I had a little spare time and so I detoured into the Netherlands for a sea view and a snack of frites.

The remainder of the journey home via the ferry was unremarkable except for a loose battery connection that was repaired in 5 minutes at Doncaster. Indeed I was pleasantly surprised how well the Kanguro managed with a round trip of 960km, of which around 750km was on motorways.

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