Some thoughts on Cycling In The Time of Corona
Once you’re used to it, getting up very early isn’t a big deal. In winter, or when the weather is less than optimal, it’s not always that great. But these days, straddling your bike just before dawn is a real treat. In the wee hours of a springtime morning, less than an hour before sunrise you will witness no less than two magnificent experiences. The first one is called the ‘dawn chorus’. It is that time just before dawn when all the birds compete which each other trying to sing and chirp the loudest or the most melodious. Every single bush and tree is a cacophony of birdsong. For some reason, there are hardly any birds flying around. They all must be all sitting on branches to treat each other to the nicest possible concert they can manage. As the sun rises, their songs slowly subside and the fluttering of wings becomes more prominent. Their song finished, they will probably be looking for food or materials to build their nests. The sun rises faster and faster and you will have to keep observing the skies in order not to miss any of the magnificent reds, goldens, yellows, blues and indescribable hues. As you are travelling towards your goal, you will be travelling into the day. My cycling commute takes me more or less into the path of the rising sun. Even if I think I have seen the nicest possible of sunrises, I am often surprised by the huge red orb rising between two freshly green branches, a few buildings, or a weird looking cloud. This is a time to meditate, daydream, or shall we say ‘dawndream‘, to find inner peace, connect with yourself or to simply let go and passively cherish simple moments, just before the start of another ordinary, or not so ordinary, day.
We are privileged in that we are still allowed to cycle; be it in Luxembourg or Belgium. I am privileged in that I am in good health and still allowed to commute to work. As a frontalier I cross the border twice day and have not been stopped doing so. For obvious reasons I shall not elaborate on, my preferred means of transport is cycling. True, it is quite a distance and it can get into your ‘bones’ and gets harder and harder every day of the working week. On the other hand, it definitely keeps you fit and I do hope that this fitness gives me that little extra protection against the virus that threatens us all. I convince myself that being able to commute by bicycle, that it would be extremely unlikely that I am infected. How else would I be able to make the effort? So am I a danger to others? Probably not, but I cannot be 100% sure. Likewise, the joggers I encounter on my trip, they ought to be in good shape, right? Nevertheless, prudence and precautionary principle dictates distance. I am absolutely convinced that the famous metre and a half is NOT insufficient. Especially a slow moving person of a certain age walking her/his dog seems to me to be a vulnerable and suspicious (…) person. So minimum 5 metres it is. Fortunately, as the car traffic has been reduced to trickle, most of the time there is nobody stopping me from riding in the opposite lane; unless there’s another person (on foot or bike) on that side. When that happens, I get the shivers and the obsessive compulsive person surfaces.
So, during my early morning commute, a cyclist or two, a few joggers and dog-walkers is all I have to deal with. There is some car traffic though. Mostly they are the same cars I see every morning. Some are ‘normal’ drivers, and others are their usual self: i.e. they speed and/or close pass as if nothing has changed. The speeding has notably increased. As if speeding in itself isn’t sufficient, the speeding has become excessive. I’m pretty sure, double the allowed speed is not unusual.
As I enter the suburbs, there are empty buses everywhere. [Side note: Seeing this idling ‘Zieha’ (double bus) really annoys me every single morning. Why? Especially now that it isn’t that cold any there is no excuse to keep the engine running for heating the bus. I haven’t found the nerve yet to address the driver(s) about this though].
Clearly, these days, free public transport isn’t enough of an incentive to take it. I myself wouldn’t want to, touching surfaces touched, sneezed or coughed upon by who knows who. Especially now that there are no queues and traffic jams it is so much more tempting and convenient to take your own car, if you have one, that is – but this is Luxembourg after all.
In a way, I suppose the bus drivers must be quite relieved that they are driving mostly empty buses around town. It is laudable that despite the apparent uselessness of driving around empty buses, the authorities have decided to keep the public transport running. Be it at a lower frequency, which is a sensible thing to do.
Given that it is so much quieter on the road, I have the impression that bus drivers are a more relaxed. More than once I had eye contact, or a friendly nod from a bus driver waiting at his stop or for a traffic light. The bus driver who stays behind my at less than 30kmh for several hundred metres, waiting for an opportunity to safely overtake me on a road where in principle I shouldn’t be riding my bicycle (not that’s not true – I am allowed). In my experience, this is something new. Let’s hope this new spirit is there to stay.
In the afternoon, when it is time to commute back home, it is another story. I have really come to loath certain areas of my commute. Even worse so than when there were still too many cars around.
Of course people want to go outside with the perfect weather we are having these days. And there would be nothing wrong with it, if only people respected the distancing etiquette.
A family strolling on the whole width of the bicycle path or sidewalk. A stroller, a few kids zigzagging on their bicycles, the dog, as if they own the place. These are probably the people who also own the roads when they are driving their cars. They will see (or hear) you coming but do not count on them to make available even half a metre to you. They don’t even realise or care that you would come within 1 and a half metres of their breathing space. Very ironic and contradictory.
Two joggers, jogging in the middle of the road, 2 metres apart. Of course they don’t have a choice because of the two couples chatting on the sidewalk. While keeping the recommended metre and a half distance they do not realise they don’t have to do this along the width of the sidewalk. They will not budge or think about standing on the side of the sidewalk. No, it has to be across. They are ‘space owners’.
The elderly couple on their e-bikes. Normally they never ever cycle, but with less traffic, they have decided to ride side by side. Even though they live in the same household, they will keep their shaky three metres of distance. Now, how am I going to overtake them?
It appears to me that the majority of the people are completely oblivious to what they are doing and what goes on around them. They feel they respect the rules but don’t know they are doing that to the exclusion of others. Or maybe they know but just don’t care. It just goes to show what society we live in.
These are the reasons I’d rather put myself in danger from cars and drive on the Route d’Arlon where drivers are speeding but where there are less chances of too close encounters with pedestrians. However, did I mention yet the cabriolet cars or cars with open side windows, passing close by? These are the same people who were previously chatting along the width of the sidewalk on their owned space. So nothing ever changes when it comes to egocentric and motorised behaviours.
In the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of The Solitary Cyclist the protagonist, Miss Violet Smith, finds herself riding her bike every Saturday morning to the railway station, from her mysterious new employment, for a weekend visit to her mother. There is a long and lonely section of road and the young woman is alarmed to see an unknown figure following her by bike, maintaining a constant distance. Rather than being a threat, however, it transpires that this individual is riding at a distance for Miss Smith’s protection.
This brings us to mind, of course, with our current Coronavirus lockdown, where we must, for all our protection, ride at a safe distance from one another, and certainly not in groups.
We have, therefore, suspended for the time being our spring and summer social rides, which we had planned right across the country, which were designed to see all points of the compass, gently build stamina, and, of course, to create new friendships whilst travelling by bike and by train. Hopefully these will be able to resume again soon, but maybe the ultimate goal of working up to a 100km ride will need to be moved over to the 2021 programme.
Individual, solitary, rides are continuing, however, both for transport and fitness; the all important ‘fresh air’ we need when cooped up in this enforced, but necessary, confinement. There are problems, however, with this. Workplaces closed, the sun newly shining as Spring has sprung, and the foot and cycle paths are full of people, families enjoying this time together. It can be very hard to maintain the recommended minimum of two metres distance. This is especially true of the city where, we believe, roads should be closed to motor traffic temporarily, to allow pedestrians (and those on two wheels) to ensure this essential gap is maintained.
Along with Luxembourgize, we also believe that a debate needs to be held very soon, regarding mobility, clean air and a City where people come before cars. Coming out of lockdown, whenever that might be, gives us a unique opportunity to reposition the Human at the centre of our Capital, as we believe it should be.
Join us this Sunday (8th March 2020) on our first ride of the year! As always our social rides are free and easy, with no registration required. We just meet up and have a fun and easy ride, with plenty of chances to chat, meet and see a new side of the City.
We plan a series of rides through the year, gently getting longer each time. But for our first one we will have a nice 20km around Luxembourg City, using lots of the infrastructure here, such as lifts and the funicular. We hope it will be fun, but may also acquaint you with some new paths for your own rides around Luxembourg.
We will, of course, finish the ride with a visit to a café for cake. Obviously.
We meet at 2pm
Our customary meeting point at the iconic Gëlle Fra (Golden Lady) on Place de la Constitution
This will be an easy 20km, we always ride to the speed slowest member. This is a social ride, not a race or training session
Wait! I don’t have a bike!
No problem, stop off at Velo en Ville in the Grund (opposite Oscar’s) to rent one, or use the Vel’oh City bikes. N.B. until Easter Velo en Ville does not open at weekends, therefore you will need to take a weekend hire on Friday.
Alternatively the big annual Second-Hand Bike sale starts Friday 6th March at Belle Etoile. Maybe you can pick up a good bargain there! Details here
Cost and Registration
There is no cost, and no registration for this ride. Just turn up and ride! Individuals are responsible for their own cake. Eat Cake Responsibly.
Happy riding! See you Sunday!
Is there an upside to being landlocked ? Everybody loves the sea, right? Gazing at its enormity, being in or on it; it is where we originate, after all, even us in here Luxembourg. In his manifesto for bringing adventure close to home Alastair Humphreys suggests starting at the highest local point and descending to the sea, by foot or by bike (or by raft!).
Here is one advantage of being landlocked; we have two clearly defined points to make an arbitrary adventure:- the highest to the lowest points in the country. And thus I set out to cycle this long gradual downhill.
Conveniently the highest point is situated, unsurprisingly, in the far north of the country. This adventure therefore started with a lovely hour-long trip by train, the countryside becoming ever more beautiful as we passed Miersch (Mersch) and head deep into Éislek, the northern half of the country.
Alighting at the final station in the Grand Duchy the air was clean and fresh and off I set, immediately hitting a typical Ardennes hard short climb. This took me over a tunnel housing the railway as it snakes away towards Belgium, eventually reaching Léck, better known by its French name Liège, maybe. Round and round over some little bridges, in and out, and the route finally joins a lovely old train path the Vennbahn. I ride only a few kilometres of this, but it is a wonderful 125km long track which is highly recommended.
Sadly I must soon leave it at the Buurgplaatz, erroneously considered the high point of Luxembourg. In fact a nearby location is a full 1 metre higher; this is The Kneiff. I prepare myself for the climb. In fact it’s a miserable three or four hundred metres on the National Route 7, clearly news of the 1.5 metre passing law still hasn’t reached this far north yet, cars so close I could touch them all. This is really the only uncomfortable road of this entire ride, and it is really very short. Finally I turn onto the unmarked farm track while a few spots of rain patterned the muddy path and as I achieve the ‘summit’, and think I should don my rain jacket.
As far as peaks are concerned this is definitely more at the Imperceptible Crest of a Hill end of things rather than the Sweeping Majesty, but I enjoyed the initial freewheel away as the rain picked up. Heading due south on cycle ways and minor roads as thunder rumbled and threatened all around.
Up and down over this beautiful rolling countryside I found myself following a signed bicycle route named “Panorama”, and if the little section I followed was typical then this too was worth another trip. There are several nice little routes up here; I later found myself on another, called “Jardins”.
The weather had cleared as I was heading towards the river near Vianden, it was all so glorious here, well worth the effort, and I certainly did not mind the odd wrong turn I took, some of the signposting far from perfect. After Vianden you join the Three Rivers Cycle route, the first shortish section is not ideal, being on a main road, but soon afterwards, and for miles upon miles it is just fabulous.
The Our and Sauer (Sure) Rivers are beautiful and full of bird life. I saw also many campers happily playing on inflatables in the river and eventually steamed into Waasserbëlleg whilst the summer’s evening was deeply golden. I paused at Op de Spatz and unlike the understated white stone at the Kneiff, here there is a sign proudly displaying the altitude of just 132 metres above sea level. I dipped my hands in the exact point the Sauer meets the Musel (Moselle) and my 100km long, 423 metre descent was complete.
I can fully recommend this ride, and you can of course choose your own route, maybe Cycle Travel can help you plan. Also use the CFL website to find trains to and from Troisverges and Wasserbilllig. Bikes have always been free on these, and soon people will be too.
Do you have any ideas for arbitrary points to join by bike in the Grand Duchy? What ‘adventures’ have you found along the way? Why not share them with us below?