CAMmag logo

Raleighs in the Netherlands

by Jay Ball

In early 1974, two house-sharing friends (whom I shall refer to as D and M) and I, then a poor college student, hit on the idea of a moped/camping summer holiday in Holland.  At the time, only D had a full driving licence, which you needed to ride a 'ped abroad, and none of us had a machine.  M passed her driving test, and one by one we bought our 'peds, so that left only my driving test as the last hurdle.  Luckily, I passed too (first time!)

I paid £25 for my F-reg. Raleigh Wisp, with 12 months' tax and MoT, and a helmet.  After our trip, and short of cash, I sold it for £25, with no tax, MoT, or helmet, so that wasn't bad!  The other two were bigger Raleighs: D's was C-reg (an RM8 that had been my grandfather's) and M's was H-reg. None of us knew anything about moped maintenance, except to clean the spark plug!

On July 1st, all loaded up with camping gear, panniers, etc, we set off from west London for Dover.  We hadn't even got to the end of our road before realising that we were loaded up wrongly, with heavy stuff tied onto the handlebars; we quickly discovered we couldn't steer properly like that.  A bit of re-arranging, and off we set again.  The H-reg broke down in Brixton, but we got it going again.

That was undoubtedly the worst leg of the whole trip, but we eventually arrived at Dover, very saddle-sore, with streaming red eyes, and got the ferry to Zeebrugge.  The trip lasted a month, and after the London to Dover experience, we learnt that it wasn't a good idea to go too far in a day.  The route we took was as follows: Zeebrugge, Vlissingen, Kreuningen, Zundert, cycle route to Chaam, cycle route to Alphen, Westerhoven, Roermond, RAF Bruggen in Germany (our destination goal, where we stayed for a few days with my mum), Wellerloon, Mook, Oosterhout, Nijmegan, Doorn, Leersum, Gouda, Delft, Nootdorp, Herkingen across dykes, Kreuningen, Zeebrugge.

Holland was ideal for that type of holiday, being so flat, and with designated cycle-paths, which mopeds could also use, with their own traffic lights, etc.  Sometimes these cycle-paths ran parallel with, but well protected from, main roads.  Other times, they would veer away from roads, the cycle routes referred to above.  We were gob-smacked the first time a huge juggernaut shuddered to a halt to give way to us at a crossing, but four-or-more-wheelers gave way to us so often, it seemed to be a legal requirement that 2-wheelers had the right of way.  Either that, or Dutch drivers were exceedingly polite!

They must have had a different definition of "moped", as the Dutch ones were generally well over 50cc, much faster than ours, and the pedals were often just used to kick-start, then folded down into foot-rests.  We attracted a crowd at each campsite we stayed at; I'd like to say "an admiring crowd", but they were more amazed that a trio of such old and "Mickey Mouse" mopeds could have made it so far, especially all loaded up with tents, etc.  I think Raleighs were quite unusual there too.  Dutch campsites then were quite luxurious compared to English ones at the time.

I can't now recall the exact statistics, but I could fill up my 5/8 of a gallon tank from a ready-mixed 2-stroke pump (none of that messing about adding bottled 2-stroke) for about 1 Guilder, and that took me very many miles.  The 2-stroke petrol had diminutive petrol names, like Shellina.

Hardly a day went by without one or more of the 'peds having some kind of breakdown, mostly just punctures (lots!), but some more serious.  However, the Dutch were brought up on mopeds, and willingly helped us out.  We only had to be standing by the 'peds, looking puzzled, spark plug in hand, and people would stop and offer help.  The H-reg needed a new fly-wheel at one point, on a Sunday, and someone drove all round town until he found a mechanic, at home, who was prepared to open his garage and find the part for us, then the guy who drove us there fitted it free of charge.

All we had in the way of motorbike gear were thin yellow plastic ponchos for wet weather, with hoods and elastic loops to put over the ends of the handlebars.  My diary shows that it rained quite a bit, interspersed with some very hot spells.  Inevitably, as we rode along in the rain, a pool of water would collect in the "lap" of the ponchos.  It was quite an art, getting off the 'peds without spilling that pool all down our legs.  We spent a few hours sheltering under flyovers when it rained too hard.

We arrived at one place, desperately in need of provisions, and it was totally deserted, with no shops or anything opened and not a soul in sight.  We later found out that there was a big footie match on; it may have been Holland v Germany - maybe football buffs might know.

I didn't know much about military security, and we hadn't been able to let my mum know exactly when we'd be arriving at RAF Bruggen (no mobile phones in those days).  When we rolled up at the gates, the guards on duty took one look at us, came out, guns at the ready, and got us to remove our helmets, which was reasonable.  They then ushered us into the guard room for interrogation.  I suppose they didn't get many guests arriving like that, and we were pretty scruffy by then.  It didn't go down too well that my stepfather had to be called out of his office to vouch for us before they'd let us in.  Nor that we took photos of a row of missiles, pointing east, which looked incongruous, standing as they did on a strip of land in the middle of agricultural land, some distance from the air base.  Nor that I went for a ride along tracks in a forest, got back to the road, only to find that somewhere in the forest I'd inadvertently crossed the border back into Holland, and I didn't have my passport with me.  Still, we weren't arrested, and escaped unscathed.

The long dykes were exposed to the full force of very strong winds, and had a minimum speed limit of, I think, 40kph.  Our mopeds could barely do that on a good day with the wind behind, and there was no chance against it.  The H-reg had to be pushed across in the end, illegally, as pedestrians weren't allowed on the dyke road.  We later found out that the crank shaft on that 'ped was cracked, conveniently near a scrap-yard, where we finally dumped it, the youngest and always most unreliable of the three.  We had to put the camping gear it had been carrying onto the other two, already well-loaded, 'peds, and M got a bus back to the ferry port.

After the experience with the dyke, we decided it'd be better if we took ferries between the north coast islands.  This is where the only accident of the trip occurred, in the ferry queue.  I was going as slowly as you possibly could (too slow, probably), on wet cobbles, and fell off.  Scores of concerned Dutch people in the queue rushed to my assistance, which was really embarrassing.  Neither the Wisp nor I were hurt though, only my pride.

At Dover, cars were let off the ferry before bikes, which were just our two, and a large BMW with ignition start.  He started, and the engine purred away.  We started ours, and the noise echoing around the empty car deck was deafening.

After our somewhat painful outward journey to Dover, we found out that it only cost 50p to take a moped on a train, which is how we got back to London.

It was a brilliant, and very cheap, holiday, thanks largely to the friendliness of the Dutch people.  My Wisp was also ideal for running around London traffic, carrying shopping, and my large college books.  I did think of writing to Raleigh at the time about our moped travels, but didn't, hence this account instead.

This article appeared in the April 2008 Iceni CAM Magazine.
[© 2008 J Ball.]

| CAMmag Home Page | List of articles |