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So far we have practiced cycling in France of course, but also in six other European countries.
This has led us to note the enormous differences in the integration of bicycles, and of cycle tourism in particular, depending on the country. Some are paradises, others are far from it. Here is a short summary.
Germans are historically nature lovers. Ecology (real, lived ecology, not political ecology as in France) is well established in Germany.
They are accustomed to physical activities that are fun "Outdoor". Since the 19th century they have been practising the weekend "Volksmarsch" (popular walks) on a massive scale.
With the revival of the bicycle in the 80-90s, they took over the 2-wheeler. Cycling is generalized whatever the age group, social class… etc…
In short, cycling is in the German culture. Therefore, as everyone is a practising cyclist… everyone :
All this is obvious when hiking in Germany (formerly West Germany):
Contrary to France with its badly educated dogs running around, the dogs are calm and very well trained. When approaching a bicycle, the master only has to say a word calmly, the dog immediately goes to bed and lets the bicycle pass quietly… impressive, always and everywhere !!!
Well, let's stop here the dithyrambe and move on to the other countries.
Switzerland is multilingual and multicultural.
Fortunately, German culture permeates the whole country, even the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
As a result, Switzerland has almost all the qualities described above for Germany.
The railway network is remarkably dense with a high frequency of service. Bicycles are accepted on almost all trains. However, beware of prices which are quite high.
Fantastic bicycle service… even in the event of breakdowns or work on the trains, bicycles are accepted in the replacement buses. Example in 2014, very heavily loaded (with trailer for camping), we are accepted in a bus… Inconceivable with the SNCF!
Contrary to what one might think, the TCS (Touring-Club-Switzerland) campsites are absolutely not a reference. They are often less well-equipped and more expensive than others, and some of them are badly frequented (Gypsies in Luzern).
There are many national cycle paths in Denmark, fewer in Sweden (except Malmö and Stockholm) and very few in Finland (except Helsinki).
The Scandinavians are cautious in their cars and generally respect cyclists. However, there is a small downside for the Swedes and a big one for the Danes. In these 2 countries cars overtake at a good distance when the road is very wide. On the other hand, too often, the cars brush past when they have to pass a car. Therefore, in these 2 countries, we use one of our favourite tactics: when we see (in the rear-view mirror) that a car is likely to pass another one while overtaking us, then, and before the rear car catches up with us, we zigzag to make it look like we are not in control of our trajectory. It's infallible, before this risk drivers brake and wait wisely behind us before overtaking us. In Finland drivers wait wisely behind without needing to do so.
Campsites are of VERY different quality depending on the country:
Very tempted by Norway, we studied the routes and accommodation. It is a VERY relief country. Even along the North Sea, the cumulative positive difference in altitude is HUGE. The bearable physical limit of this daily total forces us to drastically reduce the daily mileage. And there this constraint leads to another limit, accommodation. Hard standing accommodation is unaffordable, the only reasonable solution is camping. But these are not very numerous, and above all it is impossible to find them at distances compatible with the daily mileage limit. So we gave up this superb destination. Only those who hike in a light and Spartan way; and/or who have a big wallet; and/or who are wilderness campers (allowed as long as they camp more than 150 metres from a house, cottage, or other inhabited property).
Although little known and underestimated by cyclo-hikers, the Czech Republic is a great destination.
The country is superb.
The Česká Kanada, (www.ceska-kanada.cz) in the south of the country, is wonderful.
The people are very pleasant, very fond of cycling. The drivers are very respectful
On the other hand not to hope to cycle in the center of Prague, mission impossible !!! No tracks, everywhere big cobblestones, tiny pavements. The hell of the bike !
In the part we know, Budapest and the west of the country, Hungary is excellent for us cyclists.
In Budapest the tracks are relatively numerous. Bicycles are well respected everywhere.
The people are calm, the dogs are well trained, it is a great pleasure to ride in this country.
In former East Germany there are many bicycle paths. However, roads, streets and pavements are still very (too) often paved. This is very unpleasant, even with our very suspended bikes.
However, more than 20 years after reunification, the native behaviour is still very different from that of the former "West Germany". It's better than in France, but much worse than in the former FRG. It can be estimated with a ladle that in France there are 60% of dangerous drivers and 40% of correct drivers. In the former GDR, the opposite is true: 40% dangerous and 60% correct.
Even on the tracks dedicated to cyclists, we have been subjected to cars (making the width of the track) trying to impose themselves by arriving in front of us as if we didn't exist. Not being of a nature to let us do so, contrary to their hopes, we stayed in the middle of the track, forcing them to stop or move aside on the side of the road (as ALL cars on the west side do WILLINGLY and naturally). Drivers were furious to have to respect their obligations!!!
As for dogs, it is like in West Germany in the streets and paths; hyper well trained dogs, not dangerous for cyclists. The only anecdotal difference is that, unlike in the West, we often find very aggressive dogs behind fences… there the dogs (and therefore the masters!) are as stupid as in France!
So the mixed results are less enthusiastic than in ex-western Germany.
We were unpleasantly surprised by Holland. We were going there with enthusiasm. All attracted by its reputation as the "Land of the bike".
It's true that technically Holland beats all other countries on a level:
But paradoxically, cyclists are poorly supported and respected. In fact it's a variable geometry respect:
There is no minimum distance for cars to follow when overtaking a bicycle. AND THEY ROLL YOU BY, in the city and on the road, so no matter how fast they go!!!
If you bother a car that much, you get burned or even insulted.
Just like in Germany, mopeds are allowed on certain bicycle paths, except that in Holland they have no speed limit to respect in this context. This means that mopeds can pass you at high speed on even narrow cycle paths.
Amazing, but all things considered, not surprising. Even on a bike the Dutch aren't cool. They always seem to be in a hurry. Nothing, nothing at all to do with German casualness.
The only time you see the cool Dutch is on Saturday night. That's when it all stops, the bikes, the cars. Everyone is sitting down, in cafés or on the pavements to sip, in the streets for dinner, on barges equipped with sofas to crash on… But that very evening, when they return home with their bikes, we see them riding around like excited people again.
In addition, there are a large number of bicycle paths, but they are essentially utilitarian. There are relatively few for cycle tourism unlike in Germany. While the country allows it and deserves it.
Beware of safety, because for some connections there are only small roads… and cars are then the masters of the terrain. And, like everywhere else in Holland, they are the masters of the terrain. And, like everywhere else in Holland, they are the masters of the terrain, and they will be in control by skimming at full speed and honking their horns if you dare to bother them a bit.
Four years after our Dutch cycle tour in 2009, we read in the news that accidents with and between bikes are claiming more and more victims in Holland…
It's ALAS logical, and confirms our observation !!!
Our country is very well endowed by nature and history. We have a generous and very diverse nature, many canals and old disused railways. All of which makes us a reference in terms of cycle tourism. Alas it is quite the opposite, France is still a counter-reference in this matter.
This is certainly cultural and starts in everyday life. In Germany, Switzerland, Holland everyone goes by bike. Young people, old people, for leisure, to go shopping, to go to work, to cycle…
In France, there is no salvation outside the sacrosanct car. On Sunday mornings, the fans of asphalt and competition between guys, are pulling the stuffing between excited about racing bikes or mountain biking. At best, on Sunday afternoon if the weather is nice, we'll go for a few laps around the area with wife and kids. That's all we do.
Due to the lack of interest of our compatriots for this type of leisure, our policies do very little for the construction of the related infrastructures… Hence the very limited number and mileage of bicycle paths and soft lanes.
A few rare regional elected representatives have understood all the economic and tourist interest they can get from cycle tourism. Burgundy (especially the Côte-d'Or) began to rush into it. For example, the Châlon-sur-Saône - Mâcon greenway passing through the old Givry-Cluny railway line is a considerable tourist success which offers an excellent return on investment to the Departmental and Regional Authority's capital outlay.
Fortunately, Europe is also pushing, biting, pulling France, in short, finally making her evolve willingly or unwillingly. In any case, our beautiful country has fallen considerably behind on its commitments in Brussels and we are the missing link in the great European cycle routes. As on all other fronts, France is resistant to advances, changes and improvements.
You can see that on the map of the Bicycle routes and Greenways of France :
In terms of safety, cycle tourism in France is generally very average due to the behaviour of motorists who rarely respect safety distances, and are quick to force dangerous overtaking so as not to have to wait behind the cyclists.
Moreover, dogs are not educated, run around, do not obey the owner (they are not masters!) and are often aggressive with cyclists.
On the few tracks that exist, children on bicycles wander around under the tender (stupid?) gaze of their parents. In Germany and the Czech Republic, children (no matter how young they are!) are used to squeezing their right hand as soon as they get on a bike.
Austria is a mix of what we have just been talking about:
So average score.
Note that the capital WIEN (Vienna) is fantastic for cycling. The city is studded with REAL bike paths.
From the countries where we have cycled to date it is obvious that Germany (formerly West Germany) and Switzerland are "THE REAL COUNTRIES OF BIKE". They are tied on the first step of the podium.
In both countries the behaviour of motorists is remarkable.
Germany is rich in river cycle paths. With its "Bicycle-Friendly" accommodation facilities Germany is truly "number one". This is our BICYCLE FUN PARADISE.
On the other steps of the podium are the Czech Republic and Hungary.
The other countries are more mediocre, and you have to be very careful about your safety to ride there.