Getting on your bike and pedaling to the supermarket or into the city center for dinner and drinks is a key part of the Dutch experience. As an expat, one of the first things you will do is become familiar with the cycle routes to your favorite neighborhood destinations and start zipping around the city, furiously ringing your bell like a local. When you are ready to get out and do some exploring beyond your normal cycle routes, you’ll want to learn to navigate the landscape of the different Dutch cycle route signs. Take it from a late bloomer, the Fietsroute Knooppunt cycle route system is the best!
I am not a la-la biker
First, I have to start with the caveat that I am one of those people who skews the famous statistic that states there are more bicycles than inhabitants here in The Netherlands. I own four bikes, each with a specific use and purpose: a grocery-getter / town beater bike, a long distance touring bike, a hybrid sport bike and a mountain bike. A fifth bike is also in the works. This is no small point of contention with my wife, but she has learned to pick her battles and after 30 years she knows that this is one she will not win.
Needless to say, I enjoy biking and have been exploring the Netherlands on 2-wheels for the last 18 years. I love the bicycle infrastructure here and quickly became familiar with the directional signs that flawlessly led me to my destination, near or far. Whether the signs are on metal posts along the roads, on wooden boards in the forest, or low to the ground on the quintessential Dutch ‘mushrooms,’ a clear indication of where you are going and how far you have to pedal is never far on the horizon. The biggest plus with these signs is that I never had to get off my bike to figure it out. Just slow down a bit and read the sign. Simple. Besides, if all else failed, I could always pull up my location on my handlebar mounted GPS and find my own way in a pinch.
Of course I used to see other ‘strange’ signs along the bike paths. Small green arrows and circles with numbers in them that seemed to correspond with ‘strange’ markings on large signs posted at major intersections. However, the numbers were constantly changing and the accompanying arrows were always going in apparently random directions. It just didn’t make any logical sense to me. To top it off, there always seemed to be large groups of gray-haired bikers gathered around these signs, consulting the maps and holding very boisterous conversations about the inner workings of the circles, numbers and arrows. So I never stopped. Never looked. Never tried to figure it out. After all, the infrastructure I was used to (signs with city names and distance) was great and it was working well for me. Besides, when I moved here 18 years ago I wasn’t some old biker dude who was just out for a la-la ride, enjoying arguments with friends about which little circle and number and arrow would lead to the closest pancake house.
Then came Covid-19. You remember that, right? Well, maybe you also remember that the summer of 2020 had some of the finest weather ever experienced here in The Netherlands. I badly needed to get outside. Not only for the fresh air, but with all of the lockdowns and stress, I needed some serious additional mental stimulation so that my brain wouldn’t turn to mush. So as soon as the hotels were open I decided to pack up my panniers and take the touring bike out for a leisurely three day ride from Haarlem to Apeldoorn. There would be no planning. There would be no particular route. I would just point the bike in the general direction of east and start pedaling. A proper adventure! The only thing that I wanted to accomplish as I headed toward Apeldoorn was to try and finally figure out the strange system of green circles and numbers and arrows and corresponding signs known as the Fietsroute Knooppunten system. It would get me there, right? I mean, if the gray-hairs could use it, how hard could it be?
Holy mother of everything great about this little country! The Fietsroute Knooppunt system rocks! Not only did I make it to Apeldoorn with ease, but I was able to zigzag my way around and explore without a care in the world. In all fairness, I did download an app for my phone which also contains the Fietsroute Knooppunt system and overlays it with standard GPS. It was 2020 after all and I wasn’t about to go on a trip without my technology. However, even with that as backup, I barely used my phone. The system is so simple, so elegant, so intuitive and so efficient that I finally understand the concept of ‘la-la’ biking your way across the Dutch countryside. You really don’t have to care about where you are. It’s nearly impossible to get lost, and you can quickly evaluate alternative routes to your next knooppunt with a short stop at one of the many information signs.
How it works
Knooppunt translates to junction, which of course is the heart of the system. Each junction corresponds to a number and the system takes you from junction to junction. When you see one of the large information signs with a map on it, you can guarantee that you are at a knooppunt. The knooppunt number will be clearly marked at the top left-hand side of the sign. Your current location will also be marked on the map with a small red circle. Now all you have to do is decide some general direction to go a few junctions out. For example, in the photo I’ve included, I am at knooppunt 21 in Overveen. Let’s say I want to get to Zandvoort. Looking on the map, I can see that knooppunt 79 is in the heart of the beachside village. So depending upon what kind of mood I am in, I can choose to follow different Fietsroute Knooppunt paths. Fastest: 36-37-79. A detour through oh-so-posh Ardenhout to see the cherry blossoms in April: 36-83-77-79. A longer route with a stopover in Elswout: 35-82-83-79. Or the longest la-la route along the coast: 1-20-19-18-79.
At every possible intersection you will see green signs with circled numbers and arrows telling you which way to follow toward your next desired knooppunt. It’s a brilliant system! You are no longer beholden to the overhead signs which generally take you on the most direct route, scenery or cherry blossoms be damned! And with the GPS in the app, you can also just venture off on your own. See an interesting side street or bike path? Take it! Not all bike paths are on the system, but that doesn’t matter. Get out there and explore! When you want to get back on a knooppunt route, just pull up the app and find the closest route to get you back to your next junction. Makkie!
So, the next time that you want to leisurely bike your way through the Dutch countryside, download the Fietsknoop App and follow the Fietsroute Knooppunt system. You’ll have the la-la time of your life. I have only one request:
When you see a group of old gray-hairs arguing around the sign at one of your junctions, please stop and say ‘Hi’. We could really use a recommendation for a good pancake house.