Tandem tour 2013: introduction

Elberadweg_logoThis year’s tour was really two contrasting rides. The first section Dresden to Hamburg along the banks of the Elbe. For this tour we followed the Elberadweg (paths on both banks) guided by the publication from Bikeline (http://www.esterbauer.com/db_rtb_detail.php?buecher_code=ELBE1). We complemented this with our Garmin Navigation device (see entry: 14 June 2013 https://weiterzugehen.net/category/cycling/). We selected the banks on the basis of places to stay (campsites) and places of interest (Luterstadt Wittenberge, Dessau, etc.). There are not so many bridges across the river; though there are many ferries – some are for passengers and bicycles only, others carry cars and small commercial vehicles. Some use a sophisticated cabling system to cross the river, others use conventional diesel motors.

The second part of the tour involved a coastal tour along the north coast of Holland starting in Groningen and ending at Europoort. This took in DSCF0358the amazing 30km-long Afsluitdijk separating the North Sea and the Ijsselmeer. This route was of our own making; but those readers who have cycled in the Netherlands will be aware that the Dutch make cycling and navigation particularly easy. The cycle tracks are superb (though one has to beware of mopeds) – and usually separated from the road. In addition, cycle signs make navigation relatively simple with a numbering system that is intuitive. We used a national cycle map purchased from the Tourist Information Centre in Groningen. The map comes as a spiral bound book which, on the whole, works; though some of the numbers do not come out at the edge of each page. The Garmin navigation device, however, helped overcome this as the numbers are incorporated into the maps.

DSCF0259Tandems are quite difficult to get on and off trains. In Germany it is not possible to use the Intercity routes. One is restricted to Regional Services involving quite a few changes but are relatively inexpensive. We travelled from Munich to Dresden (arrival pictured left) with the tandem for under 50 Euros. The journey took over 7 hours: Munich to Nürnberg;  Nürnberg to Saalfeld; Saalfeld to Leipzig; Leipzig to Dresden. We travelled on a Sunday. With hindsight, this was a mistake. The competition for bicycle spaces on regional services at the weekend is high. By contrast, travelling between Hamburg and Groningen on a Wednesday was uncomplicated (Hamburg to Bremen; Bremen to Leer: Leer to Groningen).

Railway stations are not optimised for bicycles, let alone tandems. Some, including Bremen, have no escalators. Changing platforms requires unloading bags and carrying the tandem down and up stairs. Some stations do have lifts, but these are too small to accommodate a tandem. Trains are also subject to platform change at late notice.

The Elberadweg is challenging. Riders encounter many surfaces. One of the least frienDSCF0266dly is cobblestone. In dry conditions cobblestones are manageable at slow speed (picture right). In the wet they will be very slippery.

Cobbles are encountered in most villages and towns through which one passes (for example, Lauenburg an der Elbe). Equally, in the countryside (pictured right) and in damp forested areas with gradients (the approach to Lauenburg an der Elbe on the north bank was particularly gruelling).

Other surfaces include asphalt, concrete and shingle (again, fine when dry but no so easy in the wet). Good puncture-proof tyres are advised.

The Elberadweg is peppered with campsites, small hotels, pensions and available rooms.  We took with us a 25 year-old Vango 2-person tent, microlite sleeping bags, inflatable mats and pillows. We did not carry any means of heating or cooking food. We used either cafés onsite or in nearby villages. Bakery shops are also good sources of breakfasts. We did our best to eat a substantial meal in the mid-late afternoon. As vegetarians, we encountered some very interesting menus; but with some flexibility (especially where eggs are concerned), eating was not a problem.

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