Overview of cycling in countries across Europe
And
The best tips we've had for space saving, packing, kit, food, places to visit and anything else we think of..

An overview of cycling in Denmark:

DENMARK IS A COUNTRY DESIGNED FOR EASY CYCLING!
Immediately from leaving the ferry we felt in safe hands, with routes clearly guiding you across junctions, wide dominant lanes, coloured blue when extra prominence is required.
The attitude of drivers is notibly different, enough space is given when required, they always, without fail look right before turning across a cycle path, this took some getting used to, my automatic response continued to make a grab for the brakes.

So we have experienced a few different cycling terraines.

The national routes - there are routes that take you up, down and across Denmark, they are signed at each junction change with signage not dissimilar to our NCN (in fact I think we copied them) blue sign with a red number, frequently with destination and distance information included. They are metal signs and only present at a change in direction, so you have to keep faith you are still on the right path as you can go a long way without seeing one.
They certainly don't take you the most direct route, but the quietest and most scenic. We followed route 6 from Esbjerg to Frediricia weaving along very quiet country lanes and then on a segregated path when alongside the highway. We could have continued along it to Copenhagen however we chose to detour. It can save a lot of navigation time just knowing you get on the route and just keep following the signs.

Cycling on majorish roads- we chose to follow a few major roads along the way for directness. Here you find there is always a meter wide space on the side of the road that is enough to keep you feeling safe. The roads are wide and open. Frequently a completely segregated section of route is provided alongside major highways, in fact it felt more often than not that whatever road we were on cyclists were catered for.

Round abouts - you just can't go wrong on a round about you are guided on, into your lane and then escorted around to your exit, quite seperate to the traffic flow. Motorists give you priority. Similarly at major traffic light junctions the lanes guide you across.

Cycling in Copenhagen- the city is alive with cyclists all bustling along at their own speeds. There are some rules of etiquette, putting hand up to notify when stopping, tinging the bell to pass on by and not turning right past a red light even if it so temptingly clear (frequent fines issued for this one ).
Bikes are parked up everywhere and left outside houses at night. Apparently every now and again someone comes along in a van and steels a load, but people tend to just ride a rubbish bike expecting this from time to time.

An overview of cycling in Sweden

In Sweden like Denmark we were guided from the ferry onto a cycle path. There is a marked difference in priority given to cyclists and round abouts don't care for you in the same manner. However there is fantastic provision for cyclists with segregated paths following major roads wherever we have travelled along the Swedish west coast line. Where these are provided there are signs on the main road to state cyclists are not allowed on the road. There are some signed paths to major towns/cities including distance and destination, however there don't appear to be any national routes signed.

Where segregated paths are provided they are frequrntly one path for two way cycle traffic and like in Denmark these are also shared with mopeds. On quiet roads this segration is marked by bollards not an entirely segregated path.

In the towns cyclists have their own traffic lights and crossings alongside pedestrian crossings.
Using Denmark as a benchmark Sweden isn't quite up there, but it certainly comes close and having spoken to people in the country it seems to have come a long way quite recently with new paths being built out along main roads where it was previously hard to even walk, and intends to improve more in the future.

An Overview of cycling in Norway

For the majority of our trip here we have followed route 1(north sea cycle route) around the south coast of Norway from Sandefjord to Stavanger. The route is very well signed with brown signs and green square numbers, frequently providing destination information. It hugs the coast line so is certainly by no means the most direct route, in fact it probably adds 10's of km to the journey. However you know to a certain extent you can trust it, it ensures you don't end up on main roads that don't allow cyclists and most importantly you avoid routes through tunnels which cyclists can't pass through. It takes you along quiet and scenic coastal roads and when on main roads and passing through towns and cities you have a segregated path.

Things to watch out for.
The route does have some big climbs especially along the route from Flekifjord to Ogna. On one day we climb 4, 300 meter high climb hair pin bend roads in a row.
Also there are a couple of stretchs along gravel tracks which really aren't ideal for touring cyclists, more mountain bike terrain. You are forced to get off and push as the tracks are steep and the gravel deep so your wheels skid out and with the weight of your bike, its like pushing up a sand dune!

Planning is essential as there are long impassable for cyclists tunnels on many roads. Also if your route depends on ferries it's good to know times in advance as you might have a long wait.

All towns and cities provide a segregated route into them. Cyclists and pedestrians often have prority at junctions with a zebra crossing, but you are supposed to get off and walk across. They are raised white lines so it's a bumpy ride if you don't.

In general the etiquette towards cyclists is brilliant in Norway, drivers wait for a safe opportunity when passing, they never seem to get aggrevated and when they pass, they get totally onto the other side of the road, always at more of a danger of hitting the oncoming car than the cyclist.
When we accidently found ourselves on a major major road, none of the drivers beeped at us, they simply gave us the space and time we needed to get along it, and off.


An overview of cycling in the Baltics

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania each have their own national numbered cycle routes (Estonia is a red numbered square and Lat and Lith a blue number), information about where these go can be picked up from the major tourist info centres in each country.

There is also a signed international eurovelo route that passes through them.
The major difference we found between each of the countries was the quality of the road surface, which can have a major impact on the journey especially where hard going gravel paths or trucks are involved.

There are many fantastic places to camp for free especially along the coast. It is ok to wild camp in general in the Baltics, but in addition there are free established camping grounds, which provide picnic benches and shelters and often a fire pit or oven and drop pit toilet.
If you want further amenities like a shower, pay for campsites can be found along the coast, however these were few and far between inland in rural areas.

The terrain is very flat, often with long straight roads spanning for miles. Many miles can be covered quickly here. However the scenary can at times become monotonous as views can be blocked by the surrounding endless forests.

In general cars take care of you on the road giving space when overtaking.
We were told in Estonia that on the shared used paths the rule is you must have a bell and use it.

Estonia- we followed their national route1 (which is also eurovelo route 10) this took us along the coast heading west from Tallin.

City cycling- Tallin has a great traffic free cycle path that takes you from 8km east of the city along the water with views over to the city, then navigates you along the north of the city and out to the east. This is also the case when the route takes you through the city of Pãrnu.

Island hopping- The route gives you the option of heading over to the islands of Hjumma and Saaramma. Don't underestimate the size of these islands which can easily add a good few days to your journey, if not a week if you follow the route all around the island. The ferries run regularly every hour, apart from the ferry that connects the two islands which is only 4 times a day.
The islands are incredibly popular with cycle tourers, we saw more tourers here than combined over the whole of our trip.

The route- was very well signed, the roads were quiet that it led us along and on the whole when it did run along more major roads there was a good width at the side to feel safe cycling down. The exception to this being a main road section between Pãrnu and 30km south, you need to be a confident cyclist with traffic to attempt this stretch. It is busy and although you have a good width at the side of the road, this is the main route for trucks and lorries, so not an enjoyable experience.

Latvia - We began when entering the country to pick up Eurovelo route 13 and we were excited to find it signed, however we soon realised that it took us back onto the busy main truck road we had departed in Estonia.

Road quality- There is a notable difference in road surface quality as soon as you enter the country. Big sunken sections, pot holes, no tarmaced edge in sections that can offer the cyclist an informal path.
When we explored taking less major roads to cut away from the signed, but dangerous eurovelo route we realised all roads if not major are gravel tracks. These are really dusty in the heat, cars passing throw up a cloud that covers you and your vision until it settles. The gravel is really thick in places which results in skidding and hard work peddaling.
We found the P roads, although major offered us the best compromise and so we added kms to our journey in order to stick to these.

In the city - Riga has a lot of cyclists in it, however it does not yet cater for the cyclist. The roads are busy and have electric bus lanes passing through. It seems the done thing that everyone cycles on the pavement weaving between pedestrians and needing to stop at every junction for lights. There are no easy routes into or out of the city it was the case to just hold your breath and pedal along the major roads out before finding a less busy P road.

Lithuania - we travelled right through the centre of Lithuania, very rural and remote. The main roads (but not major) were quiet enough to feel comfortable cycling along. In the south west there are many lakes, great for swimming and camping by.

Cycling in the city- We visited Kaunus the old capital, cycling is popular here and there is provision of a cycle route through the old town and around the city. Entering and leaving the city were busy and less safe roads.


OVERVIEW OF CYCLING POLAND
We had heard only negative reviews about the roads and cycling in Poland, so much so we had contemplated skipping across the whole country for our own safety. Luckily we decided to give it a chance and we're pleasently surprised; we might have missed some of the greatest cycling moments of our trip.

The bad bits- It isn't without dangerous sections or poor and riddled pot holed surfaces however this can on the whole be planned around.
The main roads are to be avoided where possible. They are narrow and are the main through fare for trucks and speedy traffic.
Overtaking vehicles seems to be one of the greatest dangers, there are many risky drivers wanting to skip by the lorries and willing to take chances with oncoming vehicles, which on occasions was us, at least we have the option of jumping quickly to the safety of the verge.
Some road surfaces are completly rutted up by pot holes and don't offer the touring cyclist a comfortable journey.
Never expect traffic to let you go over a crossing, green man/cyclist or not, they will still plough through. We were told "you have to look to be crossing with intent".

The good bits - The minor roads are of good quality, not like the baltics where they were always gravel or sand. They wind you through beautiful countryside, fruit farms, fields and villages and Poland is relatively flat until you hit the south, so a few extra miles on these traffic calm and character full roads is well worth it.

Cycling in the city. Warsaw has excellent segregated cycle paths, we took a route all the way from the centre 10km to the south and we were on a smooth, clear cycle route the whole way with good crossings.

Most towns and cities have made some attempt to provide cycle routes, whether a shared pavement or seperate path.

National routes- there are mapped up and signed out routes for cyclists, however they aren't designed for touring, more mountain biking or road biking to take in big climbs. We weren't able to find enough information about these to know when it would be appropriate to follow one or where they went, but we would find ourselves on themfromtime to time.

It is definitely worth considering that in some areas campsites are very much few and far between (up to 80 miles between) and with wild camping prohibited you really need to plan your journey around knowing where these are. It's also worth doing a little research first slso to check they are open.

 Overview to cycling to cycling in Slovakia

Generally cycling in Slovakia was a dream, if you choose your own network of quiet/none major roads you will find traffic calm, smooth well surfaced good width roads. These will roll, wind and guide you through beautiful country villages, open field, wide sky and mountain landscapes. Motorists are on the whole careful and considerate to cyclists. The only thing missing is a signed network for cyclists.

National routes- We didn't follow any national routes or eurovelo in Slovakia, apart from that along the Danube route. However there is a eurovelo route to the east and there appeared to be some national routes signed similar to what we had seen in Poland, but like in Poland these appeared to be either for testing endurance on steep climbs for the road cyclist or rough mountain bike trails.

Cycling in the city- attempts have been made in the cities and towns to provide cycling infrastructure, but it is disjointed and doesn't proritise the cyclist. In one city you had pedestrian crossing across the cycle path every 30 meters, making it frustrating to keep stopping and starting.

The capital Bratislava has a fantastic route into the city from the east and out to the west and Vienna along the famous Danube cycleway.

Overview to cycling in Austria

General cycling: Austria could be one of Europes finest cycling destinations. Road quality is superb in Austria, so most roads provide you with a smooth surface.

National routes- There is a whole array of nationally signed routes spanning the country. The signing we experienced on these was seemless, destinations and distances were included really aiding navigation. They keep you on quiet or traffic free routes and take you to beautiful hidden off the beaten track locations. Their are miles upon miles of tarmaced traffic free sections. In some areas these are hard gravel but this is usually of good quality, however when it rains can become a bit puddle filled.

Eurovelo 6 along the Danube is at its finest through Austria, with seemless signing and diverse countryside landscapes to pass through.

In the city- Vienna provides alot of cycle lanes and lights for cyclists at crossing. However there is some prority confusion at cross road sections, which can leave the cyclist vulnerable. Also you need to have a knowledge of where the cycle lanes are and where they end to navigate safely around the city, we ended up on a tram line a couple of times....which should be avoided.



TOP TIPS:

1. Packing.. Kerry O gave us one of the best tips we've had to date. When cycle touring, economic packing is essential. Having smaller waterproof bags to put your kit in means finding things is faster easier and everything is protected. Along side this are compression sacks, essential if you need to save space...

2. Put your spare spokes in your seat post.. genius!
Dont forget to tape over the bottom before you lose it all inside your bike 

3. Get a good saddle... We have brooks Saddle's.. Dont be put off by the fact these saddles look less comfortable than the crossbar.. this solid leather beauty is in the process of molding itself to the unique shape of my very own gluteus maximus.. it is the essence of the push bikes armchair... having said that dont forget your padded shorts!

 4. If your filling your panniers at the back, put something on the front of your bike, just enough to stop your front lifting off the floor when going up hill! This doesn't need to be too much. I'm taking a handle bar pannier and Katie's simply taking a front rack with the role mats tied to each side.

5. Beds for cyclists.. for cycle friendly accommodation in the uk, check this site out.
http://www.bedsforcyclists.co.uk 

6. Warm Showers, this site is all about cycle tourers offering fellow cycle tourers beds, showers, washing facilities or simply garden space to camp in. We have found that this not only provides a place to stay and wash, it opens the door to meeting the people who live in the countries you visit, giving a greater insight and understanding of the area your in. http://cyclingeurope.org/tag/warmshowers  

7.  Zip lock bags, simple but effective.

8. Smart phone/ tablet. We set of with the idea that we would just use paper maps to help us to navigate, however quickly discovered that although the map is great for planning the route if you get lost it's not so great for locating where you are. We have a Samsung tablet with us and although we do not have internet access on the road we have found that if we pre load Google maps into the device whilst we have Wi-Fi then we are able to use the GPS on the road to determine exactly where we are, it has been a complete savior!