Rethinking how we move - to the max!

24 April 2024

Rethinking how we move - to the max!

Author: Laurens Hitman, SportUtrecht

The mission of the cycling team of SportUtrecht (REALLOCATE partner) is to practice what we preach and do all, or most of our travelling and commuting by bicycle. The mission statement that goes with the EU Reallocate project is 'rethinking how we move'. I took it as a personal challenge to reach the location of our second consortium meeting in Lyon combining the two mission mentioned above. And here is what happened...

The combination train & bike is a fine one. I personally believe this combination gets you to more places than you would think of. I planned my trip to Lyon as follows; take the train from bicycle capital of the world Utrecht to Maastricht and cycle from there on. It should take four stages of around 180 kilometres following meanly country roads and long distance (gravel) trails.

Maastricht-Chiny – 170 kilometres

After an early rise and a smooth train ride from Utrecht to Maastricht I met my dear friend Bas at the station there for a coffee. After hearing the amount of kilometres on the menu he said: “Better make it an espresso then!”.

Cycling in the Netherlands is very comfortable when it comes to infrastructure. The first hour to the Belgium’s city of Liege was easy following bike lanes and a bike path into the city. I'd used Komoot to build my routes and experience this as a very user friendly app. It helps you finding the best ways of riding through busy cities for example. Riding along the river Meuse I came across a large building site and it struck me that even before building houses or appartements they already arranged bike parking facilities: ‘fietsnietjes’ (bicycle staples). A clear sign that there is attention for the most sustainable means of transportation not only in Belgium cities like Ghent and Leuven but also in the in some ways left behind city of Liege.

I followed a route through the city especially laid out for cyclists. You would not come across it in The Netherlands, but here the route exists of one way streets with an exception for cyclists. So you have cyclists in two directions, cars in one and a row of parked bikes on the right. Scooters parked criss-cross and a great number of crossings didn't give me a very safe feeling to be honest.

I left the city behind by climbing Sart Tilman, a well-known climb among cyclists. Thankfully there was a paved bike lane next to the famous but very slippery cobble stones.

Because of heavy rainfall in the period before my trip the gravel routes I'd planned were challenging. I even slipped and fell. After a classic chain-suck I started to doubt my ambitious plans but then: trail magic! In a tiny village I ran into a group of my Utrecht cycling club Ledig Erf. They’d just arrived for their annual bike trip in the Ardennes. After some chit chat I went off again, feeling much better! I changed the route form gravel to asphalt and was in good spirits again. With a steep headwind of 5 Beaufort I progressed slowly but steady through the rolling hills of the Ardennes and arrived at the hotel just before it got dark. The last hour it had been raining. I arrived tired, dirty and hungry. The welcome was warm and friendly. They fed me well and sleep soon followed.

Chiny–Fionville – 185 kilometres

In a crisp morning the second leg of my journey commenced. I crossed the French border and rolled into an area with hills, small towns and valleys. This area is known because of its desertification. I crossed at least 25 small towns but there was none with a café or grocery store. The little people who still live here, mostly elderly, are completely car dependant. The combination of an attractive area landscape-wise and the ran down, ghostly towns struck me. There must be a way to revitalise an area such as this?

Under a warm sun but still with a sturdy headwind I cycled on and on through beautiful valleys and sweet smelling forests. In Clermont-en-Argone I could finally stock up on water and food at a large supermarket. This was an example of a town with a regional function where people go for groceries and other shopping needs. By car. In the 15 minutes I was standing outside to drink a coke and eat some fruit I literally only saw people with overweight walking past, adults and children as well.

In the Verdun region the shadows of the Great War are still visible. Numerous graveyards and monuments remembering this dark period in Europe. On a sign next to an impressive monument in Montfaucon-d’Argonne I read that in one of the battles 26.000 American lives were lost in just 47 days. For the last 20 kilometres or so I followed a nice bike lane along the Marne canal. Today I saw lots of streams and rivers where the water level was very high. Here even the canal was flooding. With the soaring river Marne on my right and the canal on my left and with still an ongoing frontal southern wind I pushed on and finally reached Fionville where I found the key to my room in a key box. It was late and the staff had left for the night. With some food from the grocery store I made myself a meal and that was it for day two.

Fionville-Dole – 195 kilometres

ore miles and stay low along a river or canal instead of cutting across via roads (and thus hills). This was also my strategy for today. Yesterday evening I'd slightly alternated the route, adding some 10 kilometres but making it smoother on the other hand. This third day was one with a recognisable pattern. I would slowly but certainly climb following the canal along the river Marne until Langres. From there on it was downstream along the rivers Vingeanne and Saone, again along a canal using a Vélo Vert bike trail. Talking about long distance cycling infrastructure! I do hope the trail is better used ‘in season’ as I didn’t come across many soulmates.

The water architecture at some points was impressive. I came across a couple of aqueducts where the canal was laid over the actual river Marne. There even was a tunnel for the canal to pass straight through a hill. What an inspiration for bicycle infrastructure this was. With the canal being over 170 years old it’s shows nothing was impossible back then.

Right in the middle of today’s route I passed through the beautiful old city of Langres. A short but very steep climb got me in the fortified centre. For the first time I got a holiday feeling being here, enjoying the narrow roads, old buildings and squares with terraces.

During a short break, round 5 o’ clock, I followed the finale of one of the ‘monumental’ bike races: Paris-Roubaix. Fellow Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel won the race with a three minute advance on the rest. He even took the time to cheer for his teammate going for second place on the famous oval in Roubaix. But hey, they had a tailwind all the way from the start…
Today’s idea I would meet my colleague Nander some 30 kilometres before the finish line in Dole evaporated unfortunately. He'd missed his train to Dyon due to a sporting event in Paris that messed up his connection. Looking back those 30 kilometres were the worst of the trip. It was Sunday evening and there was a lot of traffic on the busy D-roads I had to follow for the last stretch. I tried not to think too much of the alcohol level in some drivers blood...and reached the hotel on top of the Mont Roland safely.

Dole-Lyon – 190 kilometres

Queen stage! My colleague Nander arrived at the hotel yesterday evening. So…instead of visualising my own front wheel I could now focus on his rear wheel. Felt so nice for a change. After being alone for three days it was great to catch up with Nander and to enjoy my last stage together.

After a short and chilly downhill we soon warmed up cycling through a couple of towns that were in a better state than the ones I passed through earlier. The area we were passing through now was doing much better economically one could tell by how the houses, cars and people looked. We even saw some people running and cycling.

Before we knew it we were on a rails-to-trails bike lane that took us some 15 kilometres south. No cars, trees and bushes left and right to give some protection against the wind (still there) and old railway bridges to cross rivers.

In Louhans (founded by Lou and Hans?) we ran into a Monday morning market in the old city centre. Lots and lots of white vans passed the hour after we had coffee there. Packed up after the market ended and on the next one. I could not think of a solution rethinking how they could move differently…

Rolling hills, country side, small towns (even a town named ‘Relevant’, now Nander’s profile picture…see below). This was the decor for the next hours. On the look out for a spot to have a lunch break we couldn’t find one for miles. The pitfall for cyclist is to continue for just too long and suffer a ‘fringale’, a sudden feeling you’re starving of hunger. Just before that happened we steered into a small forest and had a well deserved lunch. An old farmer harvesting wood greeted us friendly and was very happy when I handed him a pocket knife I’d just found which was definitely his.

Our last stop was in Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne where we noticed some Tour the France legacy: logo’s printed on the pavement showing the Tour the France was here in 2023. On July 14th, the French national holiday, Michal Kwiatkovski won the stage that started here and finished some 140 kilometres east on the monster climb Col du Grand Colombier.

Approaching a large city such as Lyon during rush hour is always a challenge. For todays last 20 kilometres to the city’s boundary I hadn’t found a suitable trial or path to avoid busy roads. So…we were fighting traffic and a headwind. Nander was in front of me most of the time as my energy was low after some 700 kilometres already. A last minute change I did make was a good one however. After a first drop into the valley of the mighty river Rhône we found a gravel rails-to-trails, la Voie de la Dombes.
Suddenly the cars vanished and we were surrounded by people walking, running and cycling. Many commuters in yellow vests. Reaching the centre of Lyon the stream of cyclist grew and after a final drop reaching the river we were both amazed by the wide bike lanes. I’d read Lyon was making steps, some what in the shadow of Paris, but I had no idea things were going as fast as we could see right now. Before we reached our hotel we came across multiple sights where bike lanes were being realised.
In the following days, during the Reallocate consortium meeting we would learn much more about Lyon and Lyon Métropole and their master plan to change the city, school streets and the area around Lyon into a more sustainable yet safe and accessible place to live and work in. With an increase of 25% cyclist every year the progress is impressive. On two occasions we took the chance to explore the surroundings to see with our own eyes the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is not limited to the city itself. It already stretches way north where we rode some ‘cycling highways’. And for road racing the Monts d'Or are very suitable I found. It was a great ride form The Netherlands to Lyon and such a nice and educational experience.

So…as the next consortium meeting is in Barcelona they idea of continuing cycling from Lyon to Barcelona has arised… We’ll see! Un grand Merci a Lyon, Lyon Métropole and the REALLOCATE partners!

Image: Laurens Hitman

All news
European Union

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme under grant agreement No. 101103924. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Mission Cities

REALLOCATE is a project under the CIVITAS Initiative, an EU-funded programme working to make sustainable and smart mobility a reality for all, and contributes to the goals of the EU Mission Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities.