Rixensart (Picture by Philippe Clabots)

 

I have had quite busy week-ends lately, taken up by work and/or by spending time with family, being on vacation, etc. So no longer rides since the Ronde Cyclo. But since we are doing the Tilff-Bastogne-Tilff with a friend on 12 June, I still have to train. So I go to spinning classes during lunch time, to get some interval work down and keep up my fitness. And I have been going out for 90 minute rides outside, early in the morning on Sundays.

The problem is that it takes some time to get out to my preferred riding area in Flanders, the Pajottenland, and then back. To get to Ruisbroek to the West of Brussels, it takes me about 20 minutes. So 40 minutes of not so pleasant riding time and just 50 minutes of riding in the country-side.

But recently, I have come across the GPS track for a ride to the South-East of Brussels published by the Brussels Big Brackets cycling club, going through the hills of Brabant.

I still have not had the time to ride it, but it inspired my shorter rides.

I first start in the Bois de La Cambre. Early in the morning, the park is still waking up and you can just zoom through. You then get to the Drève de Lorraine, with its cycling path going through the woods, straight as an arrow.

On the left goes the Avenue Dubois, still in the forest of Soignes. It is sort-of downhill, but actually feels almost flat. I always feel frustrated: I’m expecting to go super fast, like on a normal descent. But you have to go hard to get to 50 km/h and you sometimes get cars behind you, which I find stressful.

Anyway, once at the end of Dubois, you go across a big crossing. You can either use the cycling bridge and then the gravel road, or go right, up the steep road. Once you get to the petrol station, you turn into a small road on the left and pass underneath the Groenendaal train station. A nice and long descent later, you are in Hoeilaart. You just follow the road and at the end of the lake, you go right, up a nice steep hill.

From there, I just follow the Waversesteenweg, which becomes more rural as it waves along, with only very few cars.

I usually turn around once I get to Maleizen or even Rixensart. Last week-end, it was particularly frustrating, as I was crossing all the cyclists going to the Route du Muguet, an Audax organised by the Guidons La Hulpois cycling club.

The whole route is really nice, and mixes forests, small towns, countryside, all while going up and down. It provides a good work-out.

But I really have to find the time to do the whole of the “Bosses brabançonnes!”

 

On Monday, I had taken a day off and decided to go shopping for new pedals. I did not have access to a car, and was forced to rethink my route to Aalst. I decided to combine my two favourite modes of transportation and take my bike on the train.

It is actually quite easy to do so, here in Belgium. You just have to buy a ticket for your bike (on top of your normal train ticket). Of course, this being Belgium, you cannot buy the bike ticket at the machine, but have to wait in line at the counter. It costs 5 euros for a one-way ticket, 8 euros for a return ticket.

You have to go to the ticket inspector when the train arrives at the station (they normally get out of the train). I experienced a conscientious flemish lady which locked up my bike in the dedicated compartment and let me stay in the 1st class section next to it (“It’s nicer to be close to the bike”). I also experienced a careless flemish guy who just told me to put it  just outside the 1st class compartment, and let me sit on the floor.

You can use this system to go out biking further away from Brussels (or wherever you are in Belgium). This gives you a lot of freedom over using a car: you don’t have to do a loop and if you plan your trip well, you can stop at any train station and get back home. The fietsnet, combined with the website of the national train company (SNCB), should be all you need.

On Monday, my plan was to get to Aalst by train and cycle back to Brussels. In the end, the guy from Van Eyck Sport who sold me the pedals and was supposed to mount them for me was also selling a 7500 euro Look 695 at the same time. Guess who got priority… In the end, it took me too much time and I had to rush back to Brussels. So I rode only the 10 km to the Denderleuuw train station, along the Dender river. The weather was perfect and the landscape very nice. I will probably try this again some time, but this time all the way to Brussels!

Update: The explanations for the use of the Fietsnet system can be found in one of my first posts here.

The temperature has gone up again (around 5-7°C) and we had a beautiful week-end, especially on Sunday. I also had also taken Monday off, and took the opportunity to ride on a second nice day in a row.

On the first day, I went to my usual starting point in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw (point 68 on fietsnet), and went up north, all the way to Dilbeek/Groot Bijgaarden. It is a nice ride, with just a tricky part around Gronenberg (between points 18 and 21, in orange on the map bellow), where the road turns into a muddy trail, impossible to ride with a road bike. But you quickly spot the trail when you get there, and it is easy to avoid by continuing on Lenniksebaan and making a right at the next crossing or the one thereafter. There is also a long paved areas, but these are clean pavés and the gutter is super wide and easy to ride. And finally, they are working on railroad trakcs near Dilbeek, which means you have to walk for a few meters through a very muddy patch.

Anyway, a pleasant and easy going parcours (marked in yellow on the fietsnet map bellow).

From a touristic point of view, you pass by two of the Lambic producing breweries (the Girardin Brewery in Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle and the Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek), and very close to the Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek. It’s always surprising to see these tiny artisanal breweries (more info on the Lambic breweries here).

 

 

On Monday, I went off in the afternoon and had less time. I went for a shorter ride I had wanted to try out for a while: South on the Canal de Charleroi, and then West at Lembeek. This brings you into very rural Pajottenland, as you will see in the pictures bellow. It is a nice ride, with some muddy parts and some pavé sections. But nothing particularly problematic to ride with a road bike, it just adds a bit of spice. The sights are really pleasant, I was pretty much alone out there. No cars, no cyclists, no tractors. I hope the pictures bellow convey a bit of that.

 

Forges de Clabecq

The ironworks of Clabecq

This old ironworks is located about 15 km south of Brussels, in Wallonia, along the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. Some nice pics can be found here.

The canal is one of my favourite flat and car-less routes. The towpath can be a bit rough and uneven, but it is still pleasant to ride.

You can start at the Ruisbroek train station (not very far from Drogenbos, on the other side of the Ring), where you can park your car on the train station car park. Or at Paepsem in Anderlecht, not very far from Gare du Midi, where you can park your car on the left bank of the canal, Biestebroekkaai, almost under Paastemlaan.

One of the coolest website out there when it comes to cycling around Brussels isFietsnet.

Flanders has its entire territory mapped out for bike routes. I have not figured out exactly how the routes are selected, but in my experience the roads are mostly small country roads with little traffic. You also have to use the occasional bike path on larger roads or ride through neighbourhood streets. Each intersection of bike routes is marked by a “node” on the map (the little red numbered dots):

The idea is that when planning your ride, you will write down the various nodes you will have to go through to reach your destination. When riding, you simply follow the shields along the road, which indicate which way to go to reach your node.

Once you reach your node, the same principle applies: you will have to choose the next node to go to.

To make this work though, you need to plan your trip in advance. You can either get a map. La Maison des Cyclistes near Place de Londres sells them. You will need a few to cover the area around Brussels, as they are relatively detailed. But you can also use the above-mentionned Fietsnet. The advantage of the latter is that you can click on the nodes to choose your route and Fietsnet calculates the distance for you.

A few tips:

  • All roads part of the network are cyclable, but some of them are gravel roads. Which are a real pain in the arse to ride with 700C road bike tires. Most of these patches of gravel roads are marked on Fietsnet, in orange (“Oranje trajecten zijn onverhard of ongeschikt voor de racefiets”). Some of them are not. Which is why it can be useful to have a map with you to find your way around those gravel roads. Otherwise, just ride through them and hope you don’t get a puncture (which is what I do…).
  • The shields along the road are easy to spot, when riding a city/hybrid bike at a confy pace. When riding your road bike, you are usually zipping by and are focused on the road. You might miss the shields, especially until you get used to spotting them. They are usually attached to the side of the road before intersections, but sometimes only attached at the intersection itself. If you can’t see a shield for a few intersections, that means you are off track. Which makes a map useful to find your way back. But I usually just go back on my track and have never gotten really lost.
  • Write the nodes down on a piece of paper (business cards work well), and tape it to your handle bar. Some also tape it to their water bottle. That way you don’t have to get out a paper out of the jersey pocket each time you forget which node you are aiming. They also make special cards and card holders for the network:Knoopunt. I guess it can be useful.
  • Nodes are often non-sequential. In other words, you will often have a route which will look something like: 68-12-11-45-71-56. Hence the importance of writing down your route.

Walonia also has a system, RAVeL (Réseau Autonome de Voies Lentes). It follows a different concept, to which I will revert some other time.