Market Garden by bike
Cycling the Market Garden route
"Hell's Highway is probably the most site-packed-historical-war-remembrance-route accessible to cyclists of all levels."
The aim of this website is to provide inspiration to cycle the Operation Market Garden ground route, also known as Hell's Highway. Anyone from history buffs, cyclists that want something more than just another loop with great views, or folks that had family take part in this historical event can find information, tips, and route suggestions.
A 'best route' is based on personal preference for certain points of interest and the stamina of the rider to be able and willing to ride the distance of the chosen route. However, it is also possible to break up a ride into a 2 or 3 day event.
Leopoldsburg to Arnhem
The starting point for all the routes on this website is Leopoldsburg (or Bourg-Léopold as it was once known) in Belgium. Formally, one could argue that Hell's Highway starts at the crossing of the Bocholt-Herentals Canal or the Dutch border. However, all the routes on this site start in Leopoldsburg as this was where the main ground troops had gathered in the days before the offensive. Leopoldsburg's Splendid cinema was also the setting where Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, on the morning of September 16, told his sub-commanders about operation Market Garden; A well known scene from the movie 'A Bridge Too Far' in which he is quoted as saying "This is a story you will tell your grandchildren; and mightily bored they’ll be."
Even though Operation Market Garden had the intention to reach the waters of the Zuyderzee (and thus isolating parts of the occupying force in the west of Holland), the final destination of all routes is the Dutch city of Arnhem. And even though the ground troops never reached Arnhem as intended, the city was the theatre of one of the most famous battles for liberation in that period and over the years become the embodiment of the airborne side of the operation.
The shortest route from A to B is a straight line
It is commonly known that the shortest trajectory from point A to B is a straight line. If it were possible to go from Leopoldsburg to Arnhem in a straight line, it would be exactly 105 km (65 miles).
From the border town of Lommel to Arnhem, the allied corridor (via Valkenswaard, Eindhoven, Son, Veghel, Uden, Zeeland, Grave, and Nijmegen) was 103 km (64 miles). Leopoldsburg is a little more south and according to Google, and based on the current road infrastructure, the Leopoldsbug-Arnhem route is 121 km (75 miles) by motorised vehicle. On a bicycle, it is slightly shorter coming in at 114 km (70 miles). This probably makes the Hell's Highway the most site-packed-one-day-historical-war-remembrance-route for cyclists of all levels.
Planning your ride
If you live in Holland or Belgium, it is fairly easy to plan a day or two to get on your bike and cycle Market Garden. But if you live overseas -mainly from a country whose armed forces were involved at Market Garden- it might well be the case that your trip is a once in a lifetime experience and requires good planning.
The information and routes offered on this website will offer a head start on for planning this adventure.
Cycling through history
A simple check on TracesOf War will make it clear that the WWII events -and corresponding historical sites- are numerous between Leopoldsburg and Arnhem. The sheer numbers of personnel and material used for Market Garden is absolutely mondblowing and the operation has gone down in history as the largest ever military operation in the Netherlands. A search on this very resourceful website results in 1.780 hits in English and over 2.600 hits in Dutch! Enough to see! Maybe even more than you can chew. That is also why one needs to be a little 'selective' as to POI's.
Even when following the most direct route (the HH 135 - please note this is the only route that does not offer historical route cues!) the memorial sites and points of interest directly along the chosen path, are too many to visit and take in on a single day. All these sites tell an engaging combination of daring, heroic, and sad stories. But combined, they bring the Market Garden campaign to life.
So... is there a best route?
There is not really one route that can be recommended over others. The shortest ride on this site is HH 135 (please note this is the only route that does not offer historical route cues!), and you should expect to be in the saddle for 6 to 8 hours when cycling at a leisurely pace and making regular stops. The longest ride is HH 220 which will also deviate slightly into an area that was not formally part of Market Garden, but ticks some other important liberation events. The HH 195 also crosses the border into Germany.
The routes are different because the Garden (land) operation also did not advance in a straight line over the planned road. Local conditions, resistance, and failing bridges, ensured XXX Corps had to (sometimes) find alternative routes parallel to 'highway 69'. Also note that the drop zones of the Market (air) part of the operation, missed their intended target by quite some distance, also adding POI's and deviations to the offered routes.
However, be assured that all the routes offered on this site are an amazing ride through history! It is the many historical spots and corresponding stories along the routes that make the rides come to live. Thanks to the good folks at the LRE Foundation, the Liberation Route Europe site has published many war time audio stories that ensure the happenings of those times are felt. These have been included in the route cues.
If you are the FOMO type, rest assured that it is not necessary -and impossible- to add every single Market Garden site to the points of interest in a one day ride.
Cycling infrastructure & trains
The Netherlands is a cycling country. Cycling is safe and in most cases there are dedicated cycle lanes separate from car traffic. If there is ever an issue, a bike shop is always nearby. Rest assured this will ensure you can be safe on the roads. Moreover, there is always a train station nearby in case of emergencies.
It is allowed to bring your bicycle on the train, but there are some things you should know:
From Monday to Friday you can take your bicycle with you before 06:30 (am), between 09:00 - 16:00 and between 18:30 - 06:30. On weekends, public holidays and in July and August, you can take your bicycle with you all day
You need to buy a ticket at the station for the train in combination with a ticket for yourself.
For more information, see: https://www.ns.nl/producten/en/onbeperkt-reizen/p/fietskaart-dal
The terrain is mostly flat and at many times open. 'Flat' is good, it makes for easy pedalling. However, there are some short steep climbs in the area before Nijmegen (Berg en Dal) and after Nijmegen, (Mook). In most cases you will encounter these at after the 130-150 km mark for the HH 180 and HH 195 routes. Not to worry, these are not the Alps and so any mid-level cyclist should have no problem.
The HH 210 and HH 220 are a longer ride, but do not have present much elevation gain as they take a more easterly/westerly route.
In September 1944 -during the Allied operation Market Garden-the gun was captured from the enemy.
Wind... Friend or foe?
Holland is known for its many windmills, and therefore you can be assured of wind during your ride.
Due to Holland's sea climate, a south-westerly is the most prevailing wind direction in most months of the year. Especially in winter and autumn months. During these months, the wind blows from the southwest about 30% of time. In spring, north-easterly winds are almost as frequent as south-west winds.
The winds are -generally- in your favour! The map shows that winter and autumn provide the best wind directions at the best speeds to ride Hell's Highway. However, from personal experience this is no guarantee!
How to get to Leopoldsburg
Leopoldsburg is located in Belgium, close to the Dutch border. The city can be reached by train in combination with a short bike ride (also from Schiphol airport, Amsterdam). If travelling in/out through Schiphol, the best advise is:
Check into a hotel in Amsterdam after arrival. Build up your bike. Enjoy the city. Ask the hotel if you can store the bike bag while on the route (do this at booking).
Take the train from Central or Zuid Station to Weert (takes about 2 hours). From Weert it is a short 40 km ride to Leopoldsburg (see route options). A train from Weert to Leopoldsburg is a very inconvenient route.
Spend the night in Leopoldsburg and set off the next day towards Arnhem. From Arnhem, you can easily take the train back to Amsterdam (in about an hour and a half).
In 2023, a great new museum that will well be worth a visit will open its doors in Leopoldsburg: LIBERATION GARDEN (website not yet available in English).
Lodging in Leopoldsburg
Leopoldsburg does not offer many choices for lodging. Highly recommended is the Au Prince Royal (dead in the centre of town). They have some rooms above their brasserie, but also some newly refurbished and spacious rooms behind the hotel. They also have a closed off garage to park your bikes safely.
Tips for the ride
Make sure your bike is in good working order. Each little village you come through will have one or two bike shops, so easy to top off on air pressure or buy some spare inner tubes. However, repairs will most probably not be made on the spot as bike shops are busy with the local clientele. Also, if you are running tubeless, I can assure you there will not be a bike shop happy (or able) to help you.
As for food and water, same applies: all towns will have a supermarket or a 'cafetaria' where you can replenish on fuel. Furthermore:
The general Audax tips for long distance riding apply:
Bring spare tubes, and the needed tools for common repairs.
Ensure you eat and drink regularly to avoid bonking. Being low on nutrition and not well hydrated will cause you not the enjoy the last part of the ride coming into Arnhem.
Bring lights. Delays along the way will occur (rain, head wind, a long lunch, or staying at a site for too long)... it may come in handy. Especially if you ride on September 17 and 18, you will encounter parades, reenactment camps, and more that will have your attention.
Ensure you have a good working GPS bike computer. Maybe carry an extra battery pack.
Uphold the traffic laws.
Most of the sections are on bike lanes and low traffic roads. The busier sections of the route (not many) have bike lanes. Use them! Many parts, especially right at the start in Leopoldsburg, are through thick wooded area (on paved surface). Make sure you dress warmer in the early hours as the woods can be humid at that time of the day.
Bring your earphones to listen to the many short audio files along the way! Ensure you have Internet connection.
Do stop for lunch.
For the HH 180 and HH 195, Zeeland is a good option. In both cases at 100.5 km into the route. It is noted on the cue sheet.
If feeling strong on the HH 195, push on to Cuijk at 123 km for lunch on the Maasboulevard.
For HH 210, you can opt for Veghel (@ 113 km into the ride), or if you are still feeling good, push on to Grave at 147 km.