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This visual novel takes you on a lovely little cycling tour

Aran's Bike Trip explores the Dutch countryside through 360° photos

While the Tour De France Femmes ended on Sunday and the Tour Hommes the week before, I'll not be rushed on my own Tour De Jeux. I can't keep pace with professionals so it's fine if I run long, and today I want to take my time and enjoy the journey. I'm playing Aran's Bike Trip, a visual novel/interactive diary/thingamy where Dutch indie dev Aran Koning (the designer of Stacklands) documents a two-day bike tour with 360° photos. It's a lovely little adventure, taking in sights including an art deco radio station and the tallest waterfall in the Netherlands. The waterfall is... about what you might expect in a notoriously flat country.

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Aran's Bike Trip invites us to join Koning on a two-day tour from his home in Utrecht, out through countryside, woodlands, and farmland on a big loop of 177 kilometres (110 miles) with an overnight camping stop. It's told through 100-ish scenes which are low-fi 360° photos you can spin about. Some scenes have tasks to accomplish (click objects in the right order to brew coffee, click on objects to double-check your kit, and such), while most are just snaps of his journey, often with a little chat.

I really enjoyed joining Aran on this trip, seeing sights he wanted to point out, taking in his favourite types of rides, hearing little jokes and thoughts, checking out travel snacks, learning how to play the travel game Cow Horse, and yes, checking out the tallest waterfall in the Netherlands. I've done a few short rides like this as tour leader with friends, and am delighted that it's fun for me as the guest even in video game form. What a pleasant little half-hour this game was.

Indie game developer Aran Koning is bored with Dutch cycle paths in an Aran's Bike Trip screenshot.
How awful!

I laughed a little when Aran was disappointed to end up on plain old boring Dutch cycle paths where wide flat concrete stretches in a straight line to the horizon, separated from cars by trees and grassy verges. I prefer more adventurous routes too, but ache for paths like this. I envy the cycling culture of the Netherlands, where bikes are perfectly mundane transport and infrastructure is built to accomodate them. It's probably no coincidence that Dutch riders won all four jersey-wearing categories in the Tour De France Femmes: time (yellow jersey), points (green), mountains (polka dot, though this one is a little unexpected), and youth (white).

In Edinburgh, the new cycle paths installed alongside Leith Walk's new tram tracks are so bad that I'd rather ride on the road. The narrow route zig-zags and forks all over the busy shopping street with no separation from pedestrians. Flower boxes overlap with the path in places, and it's even had lamp posts right in the middle of it. And yep, delivery vehicles park right across it. We do have some nice mixed-used paths along former railway lines but the heart of the city is a nightmare, and to make that worse for a vanity project (we already have great buses!) is galling.

Indie game developer Aran Koning looks upset with a sandy track in an Aran's Bike Trip screenshot.
Okay this bit genuinely is awful on a bike like that

I do sympathise with the times Aran's planned route sends him down sand paths or to closed gates. I've often suffered this when drawing out new distant routes with tools like Komoot (which uses OpenStreetMap data). I once trustingly followed a route deep into a country estate, only to find a locked gate and a lady concerned about my presence jangling her dog's nerves. I apologised profusely, so she let me climb over to the road on the other side because I was nicer than many other cyclists. I don't think either of us was happy about any of that.

Aran's Bike Trip was originally created for Sokpop's Patreon, where each month the Dutch indie boyband release one main game and one bonus game. Earlier on our Tour De Jeux, we took a look at a game made by fellow Sokpop member Tom van de Boogaart (back before Sokpop formed), the weird desert bicycle walking sim Bird Snapper. Of course Dutch devs are making games about cycling, the lucky dogs.

I have wanted to go bikepacking when I can afford a tent and sleeping bag and such, though that time seems never to come. After playing this game, I want that even more. Today I ache to cycle out up into some big trees, camp on a wooded shore, and swim in the cold water when I wake up. Up round Pitlochry or the River Tummel for a few days would be magic.

Maybe I can find kit cheap in end-of-summer clearouts, pick up bits I need in September when the weather is still nice but shops are replacing summer displays with Christmas. Or if I miss that window, I can avoid a need for shelter by overcharging my body with so much Christmas sugar that rain turns to steam before it touches me. Cram my jersey pockets full of Quality Street, remove my handlebar caps and stuff them with Wether's Originals (brake hard to dislodge one), fill my bidons with mulled Irn-Bru, replace my tool kit with a selection box, and tape giant Toblerone along my chainstays, then just ride off into the hills, visibly vibrating.

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