The Netherlands is one of the most bicycle-friendly countries in the world. About 15 million inhabitants own bikes, and there are about 12,400 miles of cycling paths that lead through historic towns, parks, woods, and past beaches, picturesque fishing villages, windmills and castles.
Budget travelers can rent bikes at many local rail stations and search out low-cost accommodations in any of the more than 50 youth hostels throughout the country.
However, if you want more help, several companies offer independent travelers interesting economical packages for exploring the country by bike.
Since 1979, Future Line Travel, which was founded by NJHC (Dutch for Youth Hostel Assn. of the Netherlands), has been offering foreign visitors do-it-yourself tour packages that include a bike that you get to keep and vouchers for youth hostel accommodations. New for 1995 are similar packages for those who like to camp. Travelers get to keep both the bikes and the tents.
Both types of packages include a bike with pedal break, a road map of the Netherlands, a double pannier bag and a tire repair kit. The hostel version includes seven vouchers for overnight dormitory accommodations with breakfast for $358.
Travelers don't have to start in city traffic; the bikes can be collected at the youth hostel in Heemskerk (a medieval castle about 18 miles northwest of Amsterdam).
Instead of vouchers for hostel accommodations, the new cycling/camping packages include a two-person tent, information on camping facilities and first night's accommodation in a double room at a three-star hotel in Amsterdam. The price is $350.
Either package can be started any day between March 15 and Oct. 1.
For further information on these and other cycling tours using hostels, guest houses or hotels (some packages include luggage transportation), contact Future Line Travel, Tulpplein 4, NL-1018 GX Amsterdam, telephone 011-31-20- 622-2859.
One of the other most distinctive features of the Netherlands is its canals. At one time these were the main transportation routes through the country and most areas can still be reached by waterway.
During the 1980s, Cycletours decided to take advantage of this scenic system and purchased some river vessels to convert into passenger vessels that could meet and accommodate cyclists at different destinations each evening.
The company now has 11 vessels providing this service. Each has a dining area plus lodging facilities for 24 to 38 people in simple two, three and four-berth cabins.
This year, in addition to its regular one-week programs, Cycletours is offering economical four-day, three-night tours that include accommodations, a rental bike, guide services (you don't have to ride with the guide if you don't want to), route information, breakfasts, dinners and packed lunches.
These short packages are available between April 1 and June 17, and Aug. 26 to Oct. 24. The cost to share a four-berth cabin is $249, a two-berth cabin is $277.
For further information on all Cycletours packages, contact them at Keizersgracht 181, 1016 Amsterdam, Netherlands.
For more general information on cycling in the Netherlands, contact Netherlands Board of Tourism, 225 N. Michigan Ave., No. 326, Chicago, Ill. 60601; tel. (312) 819-0300.