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Assen and Groningen Cycling Study Tours

Since 2006, many hundreds of transport planners, campaigners, cycling co-ordinators, politicians and interested individuals have learnt about cycling and infrastructure for cycling in the Netherlands on our cycling Study Tours.

We are native English speakers and our tours are in the English language. They take place in two Northern Dutch cities, Assen and Groningen. These locations boast some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world.

Assen is the capital of the "Cycling Province" of the Netherlands, Drenthe. Though this city does not have a university to boost cycling numbers, more journeys are made by bicycle here than by any other single mode of transport: 41% of the total. A few kilometres further North in Groningen it is claimed that nearly 60% of all journeys are made by bicycle in the centre of the city.

In three days of Study Tour you benefit from years of our experience. In this short time we take you to the right places to see a wide range of different aspects of design. We spend time in both Assen and Groningen and demonstrate many different aspects of good cycling infrastructure as well as showing what does not work and why.

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Open tours are capped at a maximum of twelve participants but we can work with both smaller and larger groups on appointment. If you wish to book a private tour for any group size or have other requirements, please ask for details.

The object

Figures from "Cycling in the Netherlands", an article from the
Fietsberaad (downloadable from our cycling articles page)

Our tour really is a tour. A short presentation explains some aspects of what we look at and offers a chance to present questions in a more formal setting. However, because presentations, videos, photographs and looking at Google Streetview can only only give a vague and sometimes misleading impression, most of our time is spent on bicycles. This "hands on" approach means that you get to experience for yourself what it is that makes the Netherlands a far more attractive place to cycle than other countries. Aspects of infrastructure design and use are pointed out and explained during the tour.

You will see cyclists young and old, male and female, of all races and religions confidently going about their daily business by bike. Everyone cycles here and they do so in amazing numbers.

Assen's residents each make an average of 8 bicycle journeys per week. This city provides a good example of how consistent favourable policy has fostered a high modal share for cycling. Investment in first class cycling infrastructure has resulted in a high number of cycle journeys being made even by people who live in new suburban areas far from the centre of the city. Groningen is a university city and the many young people living there boost the cycling modal share to nearly 60% of journeys in the centre: 180000 people in Groningen use their bikes for over 250000 journeys every day. At Groningen's main railway station there is parking for more than 10000 bicycles.

Virtually all children here cycle to school. Some make journeys as long as 20 km in each direction. This is possible only because cycling conditions are such that parents can be confident that their children will be safe.

On the Study Tour you will see all these things with your own eyes and take part as if you're a local resident, but with us to guide you and explain how and why this is possible. We also show where the weak points are and explain how these pitfalls are to be avoided

Why is cycling important ?

It goes without saying that there are many health benefits from such a level of physical activity. The environment also benefits because many journeys which would be made by car in other nations are made by bicycle in the Netherlands.

There is much debate in English speaking countries about the best way of providing for cyclists. This debate doesn't happen here. The Dutch have achieved the highest rates of cycling in the world by providing high quality specific infrastructure for cycling. Where cyclists are not on separate cycle paths, they ride on roads which emphasize cycling over driving. Bicycle routes are unravelled from driving routes, removing the conflict which could otherwise occur.

The Dutch approach works. Because cycling is both attractive and convenient, everyone cycles more than they would in any other nation. Dutch cyclists are also the safest in the world.

To understand the infrastructure properly it is necessary to use it for a period of time in the same way as the local people use it and to have explanations on tap. This is what our study tours are about. The tours have a standard duration of three days so that participants can become immersed in the Dutch cycling culture and cycle as the Dutch cycle. This is enough time to see a wide range of different things. As well as learning from the best things that the Dutch have done for cycling it is also important to learn what not to do so a problems which arise from where the design is not so good are demonstrated to participants as well as showing the highlights.

Three Day Study Tour Schedule

A varied programme includes many different types of
cycling provision, for example in industrial areas

You will travel on a Monday, arriving in the evening before the tour at pre-arranged accomodation. The tour itself starts on Tuesday morning at 9 am and runs through to the end of Thursday. Your accommodation is booked until Friday morning, allowing for a return home before the weekend.

It is also possible to add extra days of holiday to the tour. Ask us for further details.

Flexibility is built into the plans to allow participants to take photos or otherwise take note of what is happening at different places. We do not have a fixed distance which must be covered each day by bike, so there is no need to rush anywhere. We will have planned cafe stops for lunchtime and we will return to the city centre in good time for an evening meal. Assen is a small city but has a large number of cafes and restaurants reachable by foot or by bike.

The distances ridden each day are not long and the speeds ridden are not fast. Time has to be allowed for discussion and asking of questions. However we split the group for part of the last day in order to allow those interested in cycling further or faster to have this experience.

Please note that the description of the tour below is intended to be illustrative but not an exact itinerary. This depends on the size of the group, events in the city and specific interests of participants:


School / residential areas

Introductions and a short discussion are followed by taking to our bikes and for our first quick look around the city centre. We will take time to watch how interactions between cyclists and motorists take place, and how "Sustainable Safety" principles including segregation of modes allows for cyclists to make more direct and efficient journeys than are possible by car.

Our journey takes us out of the city, using commuting and school run routes and to a brand new housing estate which is built around an efficient cycle path network. We see the extent of cycle parking at a secondary school and also have a chance to watch how primary school children get to school by bike (video here).

We return to the centre using a "bicycle road" which gives priority to cyclists and there is an optional additional ride on very scenic recreational paths outside of the city. If the aim is to encourage all types of cycling and creative a real cycling culture then all types of cycling have to be catered for here, not just the practical.


Experience for yourself the importance of subjective safety

On Wednesday we visit residential areas. These include woonerven (living streets or home zones) built in the 1980s, more modern residential areas which are not so extreme but influenced by that work. We will also visit older areas dating from the 1950s and before which though they were designed before cycling was a part of design, now prioritize cycling and don't allow through motor traffic.

We will also see cycle facilities in an industrial estate and an outlying village from which there is a lot of commuting by bike.

It is easier to encourage people to make short journeys by bike and more difficult to encourage them to make longer journeys. However, cycle infrastructure does not stop at the city boundary. Those who wish to make longer journeys are supported in this choice and this results in a higher percentage of "long" journeys by bike in the Netherlands than in other countries.

In the evening we present photos and videos. This gives a chance for questions and answers, open discussion and sharing of ideas.


Take part in discussions

In the morning we ride directly to Groningen, an inter-city journey of 30 km. This gives a chance to experience a longer journey than most people would make on a daily basis. We have two guides so that faster cyclists can experience the efficiency of the direct cycle paths at higher speed for a part of the distance. On the way to Groningen we pass through an area of "Shared Space".

In Groningen we will see the exceptional provision for cycle parking at the railway station and experience the busy car-free centre of the city. After lunch we take a tour of the city, through industrial, recreational and residential areas, showing how these are linked to the centre.

Exceptional measures have been taken in Groningen, such as providing a bypass to a bridge on a busy cycling route so that cyclists can continue to cross a canal even when the bridge opens for passing ships.

The evening meal is taken together in Groningen (at a restaurant which includes options for vegetarians/vegans/coeliacs). After the meal we provide the choice of cycling back to Assen by a different route or returning by train. Usually the group splits at this point and meets at a cafe in Assen so that notes can be compared about the rural routes and the service on the trains.


Ride the same type of bicycle as the Dutch
(this is one example - exact details will vary)

The easy availability of practical bicycles is one of the things that defines the Dutch cycling experience.

Dutch people typically own more than one bicycle. However, for everyday usage most people ride similarly designed practical machines as shown in this photo. These bikes are efficient and reliable machines for utility journeys. They come factory fitted with mudguards and racks, have comfortable saddles and are entirely suitable for this tour.

The Study Tour price includes bicycle hire for the three days of the tour.

You may also bring your own bicycle. Please make sure in advance that it is in good working order and has working lights.

About us

Judith and David Hembrow are experienced British campaigners with a keen interest in how infrastructure changes behaviour. We began to organize Study Tours in 2006, bringing British campaigners and council cycling officers to see how the Dutch had made cycling so pleasant and straightforward that nearly everyone cycles for at least some of their journeys.

Since moving here in 2007, our experience and knowledge has grown each year and the Study Tours cover more ground each year.

We have lived in and cycled in both the UK and the Netherlands. This brings us a unique formed by cycling many tens of thousands of kilometres in both countries and experiencing the differences for ourselves. We have commuted on, toured with and raced bicycles. We have ridden extensively with children, in groups of adults and alone.

Feedback / Background information

click here for feedback.

Ride the same routes as are used by Dutch children
to travel to school.

September: Open Study Tour with participants from Australia and the United Kingdom.

August: An open tour with participants from Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States.

July: Two individual tours for American cycling experts.

June: Two tours in June, a group of Americans and a group of international students from Southampton University.

May: A group of ten participants visited from the local council and roads department of Trondheim in Norway. Read the resulting blog post.

September: A group of six participants from the UK. Read the summarising blog post and see our photo album from this tour.

May: A mixed group with participants from Brazil, France, Ireland, the UK and the USA. Read our blog post about the tour or Claire Prospert's blog post about the tour which includes many photos and videos.

March: A group from Norway including high-school students came for a tour with special emphasis on how Dutch children and teenagers have an extraordinary amount of freedom due to the safe design of infrastructure.

This group will report to the Norwegian government on what is required for Norwegian youngsters to benefit from the same degrees of freedom and safety as the Dutch already have (link to blog post about this tour, second post with updated video).

October: A group of officials from Vilnius in Lithuania visited for a Study Tour in Assen. Read a blog post which follows up a discussion during the tour about public transport usage vs. wealth of countries.

September: A group of campaigners from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the Cycling Advocates Network of New Zealand came on a Study Tour. Read their feedback, and ours, and especially read a review posted a few weeks later.

May: The Cycling Dutch Style group from Australia, including both campaigners and politicians, took a Study Tour in Assen as part of their larger tour.

As well as reading our own report on this tour, you can also watch the video made by their film-maker and see a set of photos from another participant.

We also organised several smaller tours in 2011 including a small group of Australians in February, an individual from the UK in March and two Germans in August. It is possible to organise tours for any size of group.

This year we had small groups of campaigners from the UK.

Several small groups of campaigners from the UK. Two from the USA.

Two large Study Tours. Participants from campaign groups and council cycling officers from Bristol, Bromley, Cambridge, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton.

Articles about the May 2008 tours:

A cyclist's paradise on earth. Short summary of the tour.
Co-ordinator's comment. Cambridge cycling campaign co-ordinator comment about the tour.

tour with the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Summary of the 2006 Study Tour
Participant's views of the 2006 Study Tour
Cambridge Cycling Campaign Co-ordinator's comment on the 2006 Study Tour
Photos taken on the 2006 Study Tour

You may also be interested in a set of Dutch Articles about cycling written in English and photos of Dutch cycling infrastructure.

How to book

Click here for booking details.

Do you want to ride further ? Do you want a holiday rather than a Study Tour ? Would you be interested on a different date ? Click for information on our other tours...

Modern cycling facilitiesRoad which gives way to cycle pathWide cycle path alongside very large busy roadCycle path next to canal