The blue line on the map here shows, more or less, the route I rode from Copenhagen to Amsterdam. It also describes, more or less, the total amount of route planning I put into this ride.
The knowledge that you can ride safely wherever you want, without having to do careful planning, is one of the luxuries of cycling in countries with extensive bicycle infrastructure. This realization didn’t really occur to me until I was about halfway through this tour, when I found myself finally relaxing about the road and concentrating more on the scenery. Imagine planning a ride from, say, Los Angeles to San Francisco: you’ll spend a good percentage of your time selecting bicycle-friendly roads, talking with others who have done the route, and worrying about whether you’ll have fewer big-rigs on this route versus another. And then, even after all your efforts, you’ll always have to think about traffic. It just wasn’t the case on my ride: I hardly thought about cars and trucks at all. To be sure, there were a few times when I found myself on “off-off” roads, where there were no separate facilities, and I did have to interact with other traffic, but I estimate that these instances formed only about ten-percent of my total riding.
Here are a couple of typical paths in Germany:
These paths are not located on special roads designed for bicycle traffic. They run alongside normal roads, like the vast majority of the roads I saw, and were almost everywhere, even out in the middle of the countryside, like these lanes. They seemed to be just part of the infrastructure mindset; in other words, if you build a road, you automatically make provisions for pedestrians and cyclists, even if that road happens to be so far away from anything that it will likely see few of either.
I don’t know how to relate this sort of infrastructure to California. The sort of thinking that goes into creating separated paths of this quality requires a sea change in politics, road building codes, and public acceptance. One might argue that in big cities there’s no room for such paths, but even in the California countryside, where I grew up, I don’t recall any instances of infrastructure like this (and I did a lot of cycling in my teens). Of course, cities have different requirements for paths, and I’ll be getting to examples of those later. In the meantime, it’s still a wonder to me how simple it was to plan a bicycle trip through northern Europe — just pick a route, any route, and go.