International Tandem Rally 2016
Saturday 28th. May. - Saturday 4th.June
RCN de Flaasbloem
The event was held at the Campsite “de Flaasbloem”, about 3 km. from the village of Chaam (Pronounced Kaam).which had a number of supermarkets, restaurants, a bakery and lots more for us to explore. A nice camp site in the beautiful area in the south of the province of Noord-Brabant, near the border of Belgium. Close by is the city of Breda.
350 people came from 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel and the USA, riding at least 36 different makes of tandem, making this one of the largest rallies for some time. Apart from one very wet day when a month's average rain fell in 24 hours, the weather was fine and the whole event went with a swing. The event was expertly organised by Anja and Jan Slagt, Jeroen Stoopman and Anne-Marie Hendrikx who get a big thank you from us all.
The Dutch cycle route network uses a numbered node system. Points/nodes (called "knoop punts") along the route are numbered and clearly marked by signs and directions, so in theory all you have to do is to navigate from node to node. Maps are displayed at most nodes. Easy!
Our routes for the week took us out in all directions, including via Zundert where Vincent van Gogh was born and south into Belgium via a bewildering pattern of small enclaves of Belgium-within-Netherlands, and vice versa. The borders between these enclaves in some places run right through the towns, so it's quite possible to park your tandem in Belgium and sit a few metres away sipping your coffee in the Netherlands. All goes back to who owned what bits of land in 1198.
At the Saturday reception at the start Anne-Marie gave a welcome speech in 4 languages using a tandem as a lectern and the local brass band played for us. A useful touch was having pictures up in the big marquee of most couples and families, to make it easy to identify people. Other special features of the week were the popular spin drier provided by Jan and kept under Tony and Janet's awning, the warm welcome we received at the cafe stops (with apple tart of course), the bar (with free beer on some evenings) and the well-attended evening events. We were entertained by: a folk dance group called Tschaveska; a demonstration of clog making by hand; a young designer who spoke on "how to build your own tandem"; a talented caricature artist doing commissions of tandem couples; and, not least, a show by several Dutch manufacturers of their ranges of racing and touring tandems. Tandem building in the Netherlands is alive and well it seems.
As usual one evening was given over to tandem games. There was the new sport of tandem jousting - surely something we will see repeated at future rallies - and some superb demonstrations by skilled parent-and-child crews of how to control a tandem (and a triplet) while going very slowly in an ever-shrinking circle.
On the rest day we had an outing to Willemstad, a beautiful old fortified town and harbour in the shape of a seven-pointed star, dating from 1583 and taking its name from the founder William the Silent. Guides showed us around the octagonal church (1607), the first Protestant church in the Netherlands, and the substantial walls and defences.
The final evening for the farewell barbecue was blessed with sunshine. A wandering troubadour sang in Dutch (I think) and English while we ate and reflected on a very pleasant week in the company of old and new friends.
This part of the southern Netherlands is largely given over to farming and horticulture, but we were surprised by the amount of woodland, heath and empty countryside that we rode through in what is one of Europe's most densely populated countries. The church towers, often topped with onion dome spires, are the only real landmarks besides the traditional windmills. One thing that unnerved us when we were cycling slowly in some places was the sight of an elderly Dutch lady in the mirror coming up fast behind. What was the secret of her superior speed over us on something as fast as a tandem? Ah yes, the electric motor. Electric bikes are popular in Holland. On the way back home Jen and I even met a petrol-powered tandem in Vlissingen, fitted with a Sachs 2-stroke engine of about 30cc built into the back wheel.
Generally cycling in the Netherlands is so good, with universal separation of cars and bicycles, clear signposting and priorities at junctions that touring by bike couldn't be easier.
It was a wonderful week in Chaam. Many thanks to everyone who helped make this Rally a great success and one to remember.
On the last night there was the traditional party with entertainment from Troubador Rob singing many old country and western favourites.
If you missed the rally but would like to use the routes they can all be found here.
Location of RCN de Flaasbloem