Amsterdam is the cycling big time, a wall-to-wall free-for-all on the busy thoroughfares and blind corners testing reaction times on even the quietest of side streets so throw in a steady drizzle making the cobblestones slick and it was enough to persuade me to stay on foot and live to cycle another day. After all, discretion is the better part of valour. My sunny day in the saddle would come however a few days later in Utrecht, an ancient university city a short train ride south of Amsterdam that is consistently ranked as one of the three most bike-friendly cities in the world in an annual ranking.

The religious center of the Netherlands for twelve centuries Utrecht is also home to the nation’s largest university and so has a hip, young vibe that’s in contrast to its storied history. Seemingly everyone rides bikes but the pace felt far less frenetic than in Amsterdam.

Bikes rentals are available at a number of central locations including the VVV Utrecht Tourism office at the base of the symbol of the city, the Domtoren or Dom Tower but my day-long EUR 12 bike rental is a unisex cruiser courtesy of my suburban hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Utrecht – Papendorp.

While far from stylish with big white hotel stickers looks matter little compared to practicality so in that respect the bike rental delivered.

With dedicated bike lanes throughout the city and into the suburbs it’s easy to navigate Utrecht and the city’s tourism board has some support with suggested bike routes. I rode a variation of the ‘Typically Dutch bike tour’ that starts in the historic heart of the city and rides a long loop out into the green spaces and countryside that surround it.

Along the quiet canals there are fine examples of Dutch drawbridges from more traditional white ones to the modern Roode Brug or ‘Red Bridge’ over the Vecht River whose colour is either carrying on the tradition of an earlier structure or a hint to the neighborhood’s racy reputation depending upon whom you believe.

photo by author

photo by author

My sunny morning ride was interrupted briefly by a rain shower which gave way to a beautiful rainbow.

 video by author

A highlight of the day is the twin windmills, or ‘Molen’ in Dutch, just outside the sleepy town of Oud-Zuilen about 4 KM north of Utrecht in an area called the Vechtstreek.

 video by author

The Westbroek Molen dates back to 1753 while its neighbor the smaller, red Buitenweg Molen is by comparison a relative newbie built in 1830. Sadly neither windmill is open to the public.

Scattered around Utrecht are a number of forts including Fort Rijnawen which is hidden away in the forests between Utrecht-area towns Zeist and De Bilt. Work started on this fort in 1868 and it would become the largest in the ‘New Dutch Waterline’, a series of water-based fortifications  designed to protect the Netherlands from the south and west.

 photo by author

Today the Dutch Waterline has become a popular national cycling route.

During my day-long ride I often heard a unique clinking sound while riding over paving stones and came upon this section of road under repair and found the sound is made by friction as the stones aren’t cemented in place but rather are held together with sand. This is a practical approach to road repairs is seen around Europe and makes road repairs cheaper and faster than laying asphalt as in North America. Luckily the bike lanes on either side of the center section under repair were kept open as this is the Netherlands after all.

 photo by author

Common-sense care needs to be taken while cycling in the Netherlands including pointing the direction you intend to take at uncontrolled intersections, avoiding sudden bike lane changes and always checking over your shoulder to see if you are about to be overtaken. A bell is also user-friendly to warn pedestrians of your approach as in many places in Utrecht’s city center bike lanes and sidewalks are in very close proximity. An excellent outline of all the cycling rules may be found here.

I’m always happiest when on a bike and so enjoyed the self-guided Utrecht and area bike tour immensely. The ‘Typically Dutch’ title the Utrecht tourism board gave this route very aptly describes the urban & suburban landscape and sights so I felt like a local for a day soaking in this corner of the Netherlands. Ride on!