In December the Dutch Cyclists' Union presented a new 'grit route planner' for cyclists. Here cyclists can see which streets have been cleared from snow and ice, so they can plan the safest route to their destination. Yesterday was our first chance to see whether the grit route planner really saves you from falling off your bike.
Not all cycle paths in Holland are kept clear of snow and ice. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
The Dutch cycle all the year round. Even when there's snow and ice, you'll see people out on their bike heading to work, school or the shops. Unfortunately, slippery roads mean more people fall off their bikes and end up in hospital with injuries. So to reduce the number of accidents in bad winter weather, the Dutch Cyclists' Union has added a grit route planner (strooirouteplanner) to their online cycle route planner. Here you can find out which streets are usually cleared of snow and ice and plan the safest route to your destination.
Improving the safety of cyclists, who could possibly object? But still I couldn't help having this nagging feeling the grit route planner might not have that much to offer. When it's bad weather most people only go out on their bike on familiar roads close to home. Usually they've already got a pretty good idea which roads will have been cleared or not. Wanting to be proven wrong, I checked out the grit route planner before I set off to a friend yesterday and - no surprise here - it choose the same route I would have chosen.
Not far from home I soon noticed that although the road had been cleared of snow and ice, it was still treacherous in places. It was a bit scary, but I didn't have to get off my bike and walk. At least not until I came to a part of the recommended route where only the road had been cleared, but not the cycle path next to it. Surely a grit route planner for cyclists should have warned me about this and steered me away from this route?
False sense of security
As there was no way I could have continued my route along that cycle path, I ended up cycling on the road, which fortunately wasn't too busy. The road had been gritted, but I still managed to slip on a patch of black ice and fall off my bike. I was not badly hurt, just a few bruises and a sore thumb. If I hadn't consulted the grit route planner, I wouldn't have given this incident much thought - it's just part of winter cycling in Holland. But having checked out a 'safe' route for cyclists, I somehow feel cheated.
So does this mean thumbs down to the grit route planner? No, the grit route planner is a good idea. Obviously it should give the right information for cyclists, which on my test route it didn't: one of the cycle paths which should have been cleared, wasn't. There's clearly some room for improvement here! Still, the grit route planner can be a useful tool to plan your route when the roads are bad. By choosing the route which is least likely to be covered in snow and ice, you've got the best chance of reaching your destination without falling and injuring yourself.
But don't let the grit route planner give you a false sense of security: cycling in snowy and icy conditions will always be dangerous - even if you plan your route carefully.