When cycling around Europe this summer I started thinking what makes a perfect cycling road? I guess everyone will have their favourite route or road to cycle on but why do you like it so much? I found myself taking pictures of roads…not the coolest thing, I know. However I wanted to look back at the photos and remember what it was like cycling on that section of the route and why I enjoyed/hated it.
This brought me on to the subject of which out of the 8 countries we cycled through was the best. One of the most popular questions I was asked when I got back was “Which was your favourite part?” I found this hard to answer at first because I had such highs and lows on everyday, this combined with the fact that it was such a long trip, Where to begin? It is like being asked ‘which was your favourite moment last year?’ There will be many, how do you decipher the good from life changingly brilliant? However on reflection the best country I have cycled in is The Netherlands…Big surprise. I really enjoyed every day cycling there and can’t wait to go back again. I think it is something to do with the cycling culture they have, everyone and I mean everyone cycles. What a healthy nation. If our government were to take a leaf out of someone’s book I hope it would be the Dutch. Clean calm roads, patient drivers and happy people what more do you want?
What came as a surprise was the stark contrast of Belgium its neighbour. Yet another country where many people cycle however the experience couldn’t have been more different. I have never cycled in a country with worse roads, even England would appear as a Mecca for smooth asphalt compared to Belgium. Slabs of concrete made up the majority of roads here, bump, bump, bump, smash. Pothole after pothole, yes there were quite a few cycle lanes however these were just as badly kept and often had lots of glass smashed in them. If you think of the worst roads you have cycled on then times by 100 then you may be getting somewhere close to the quality of roads in Belgium. Also we found that drivers had the least patience for cyclists out of everywhere we cycled in Europe. This was something we were surprised at because we expected the Belgians to be quite a relaxed nation, not irate drivers.
When it comes to the best road though I think the Mountains are where you have to look, great climbs and fast descents often on smooth asphalt makes for some fun riding. Both the Pyrenees and the Alps were highlights of the trip –although not necessarily being fun at the time. However I think that is what you are looking for with a ‘perfect’ cycling road, something you conquer and can look back at how well you did, doing something you didn’t know you were capable of doing. So along with the physical quality of the road I think I would add that the road has to push you, or at least be a road you can look back on as a place you are glad you cycled.
Although I am a sucker for long straight roads when it comes to taking photographs –as you can probably see. I think they offer a sense of the never ending beauty to the cycling. A perfect road should take you to interesting places, through interesting landscapes, in interesting ways. Whether that is winding its way up a mountain in the Alps or along a river in the Netherlands. Scenery and landscape are key, they add to the atmosphere of cycling and give you great mental images to reminisce about. On the whole although I prefer photographing endless straight roads I find the windy ones up mountains more memorable.
It has this which has led me to christen the ‘Col du Mont Cenis’/D1006/SS25 the perfect cycling road. Smooth asphalt, which they were resurfacing when we climbed up it, this made for some sticky hard miles. Tough winding ascents taking you from 100m to over 2100m elevation in around 10km. Stunning scenery of the Alps and le Lac du Mont Cenis. There is very little traffic, so riding is stress-free and enjoyable. Over 100km of descent from the top, well if you take the route we did! Unfortunately we battled into a strong head wind so it didn’t feel that down hill. All in all, a perfect road which makes for picturesque, hard but memorable riding. A road which I recommend you to ride on!