This is a translation of the original Dutch blog
Cycling in Poland – Why?
Why does anybody get the crazy idea to cycle in Poland? In my case, it is easy to explain. I had cycled many times in England and Scotland already. It is virtually impossible to take your bicycle in a train to France. Germany is a bit boring and other countries are often too hot. Poland is easy to reach by train. My only doubt was about the quality and the safety of cycle routes. After doing some internet research, I became convinced that there are plenty of good cycle routes and that safety should not be an issue as long as you do not take the big roads, in Poland the roads with single and double digit numbers.
Poland is blessed with a number of interesting long distance cycle routes, such as:
• R1 from Boulogne-sur-Mer in France via The Hague, Münster and Berlin through Poland to Kaliningrad en St. Petersburg (3250 km)
• Eas0st-Europe-route EV11 from North Cape tot Athens, in Poland from the border with Lithuania via Kraków to the Slowakian border.
• EV2, Capitals Route, from Galway in Ireland via England to The Hague, Berlin, continuing through Poland (Poznań, Warszawa and further East) to Minsk and Moscow (5500 km). The Polish part is still being developed.
• EV4, Central Europe Route, from Brittany to Ukraine. In Poland passing through Kraków and Rzeszów.
• EV9, Baltic-Adriatic, from Gdańsk via Poznań and Wrocław to Vienna and continuing to Pula.
• EV10, Baltic Sea Route, around the Baltic Sea in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad and Poland.
This year, I cycled parts of R1.
The East Poland Route: Green Velo. A € 50 million investment with European money
In addition to these international routes, there are a number of interesting Polish long distance tracks, such as the cycle routes on both sides of the river Wisła (Nadwiślański szlak rowerowy) and the recently developed Eastern route: Wschodni Szlak rowerowy or Green Velo, een track of more than 2000 km passing through Poland’s Eastern provinces. My route after Elbląg mainly followed this Green Velo. It is a very beautiful route, mainly through little villages, farm land and forests. The route has been established in the framework of the East Poland Development Pland 2007-2013, heavily subsidised with EU money. The EU has spent some 50 million Euro on it: for adapting 80 bridges, building 8 new bridges, and many other traffic measures.
Empty cycle paths – empty roads
I had the pleasure to see the interesting result of these investments, such as the construction of safe cycle paths in villages, where they run parallel to existing roads. The paths are almost of Dutch quality, but there is an important difference. The roads are empty and so are the cycle paths. It was the end of May. There may be a bit more cycle traffic during high holiday season, but even during the weekends, despite the gorgeous weather, the cycle path remained empty. During a top day, I saw a total of three cyclists coming from the opposite direction during my 8 hours trip.
This is hardly surprising. It only shows that, by creating a cycle route you do not necessarily attract cyclists. There is hardly any tourism infrastructure in this part of Poland. If you are not in one of the larger towns, you won’t find any place to drink a cup of coffee or a glass of coke. There are almost no camping places or hotels close to the cycle route. Of course, with some effort you will be able to find an Agroturystyka here and there, but often 10 to 20 km from the Green Velo route.
Miejsce Obsługi Rowerzysty
Some of the technical measures taken to create the cycle path look a bit exaggerated. Is it really necessary to place yellow fences where the path happens to be on a dike that is less than 2 meters high?
Every 10 km you will find a so-called MOR – Miejsce Obsługi Rowerzysty (bicycle service place) – of which one in three is equipped with a toilet.
They include picknick tables where you can eat your own sandwich and enjoy your own drinks. If have seen tens of these MORs, but only once I saw a cyclist sitting at one of the picknick tables.
The availability of toilets is a great idea, but I have never managed to synchronise my sanitary rhythm with the 30 km distance between the special MORs.
Impossible cycle paths in the forest
Some parts of the cycle route have been equipped with all sorts of things that nobody really needs. However there are many parts that are difficult – or even impossible – to cycle. I was cycling in a very dry season (it had not been raining for many consecutive weeks) and especially the sandy cycle paths through the forest were difficult. Sometimes the top layer was just 15 cm of loose sand. Sometimes I cycled through the forest, parallel to the path. Sometimes I just gave up and looked for alternative routes, avoiding the forest.
You may like it or not, but the modern (senior) recreational cyclist has an electric bike. Personally I was glad that this target group had not yet found their way to rural Poland, but if you want to develop cycle tourism, you will have to provide power points for the racing power grannies.
An absurd experience
It was an absurd experience to be able to ride on the result of this 50 million Euro investment: all this completely unnecessary fences, all those abandoned MORs on the one hand and those inaccessible forest paths on the other hand. Not so long ago, there was a socialist regime in Poland that unscrupulously built factories for products for which there was no demand, which than rotted or rusted away in shops that could not sell them. Today Polish and European bureaucrats build cycle routes for which there is no real demand. In 15 years, the beautiful yellow fences will stand rusted in the Polish countryside. The MORs will gradually delapidate, unless there will be a development towards real tourism in this part of Poland.