Adventure Local; Adventure Cycling in Flanders, Belgium
For the latest installment of our Adventure Local series, we discover more about the adventure cycling scene in Flanders, Belgium.
“I’m Jeff Lockwood, from Ritchey bikes., and although I’m not Belgian, I currently live in Antwerp, and as such, getting to know the Belgian adventure cycling scene more and more each day. The first time I used an Apidura product was when a friend lent me an Apidura Frame Pack – and the bike it was attached to – when we rode the inaugural Dirty Reiver in 2016. The rest, as they say, is history.”
What’s the best thing about being a cyclist in Belgium?
I find that cycling as a part of everyday culture is not only accepted in Belgium, but actually expected in a lot of ways. There’s a cycling infrastructure for people to commute, run errands and generally get around by bicycle. This infrastructure exists both in the cities and out in the country, with dedicated bike paths and signage everywhere. On another level, which is maybe more visible to people outside the country, is how pro cycling enjoys a near-religious status in Belgium, and I love being able to ride the roads and cobblestones that enjoy so much fame in that world.
What sort of riding can you do?
Belgium offers all manner of riding opportunities. I’m a mountain biker at heart, but since moving to Belgium nine years ago, I’ve mostly ridden road – and cyclo-cross too, of course. Every single ride I do includes tarmac, dirt sections, cobbled paths, gravel, some semi-decent roads and other horrible surfaces; you can find all sorts. There is some good mountain biking to be found in the southern and eastern parts of the country as well, and for overnighters you’d better head to the Ardennes. Some of the campsites there are amazing.
Where is your favourite riding to be found locally?
One of my favourite local rides starts in the center of Antwerp, goes along the Albertkanal, turns onto the Antitankkanal, and deposits you at the Westmalle Abbey and Brewery. I love to have a fresh Westmalle Dubbel at the Trapisten Café across the street from the abbey, then turn around and just improvise the ride back to the city.
Away from Antwerp, my go-to favourite ride starts at the Tour of Flanders Museum in Oudenaarde, about an hour’s drive from Antwerp. I have a 45km loop that I call the Unholy Trinity of Flanders Climbs. Aside from following many of the roads found on the Tour of Flanders, this route takes in the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, and Koppenberg. Hitting those cobbled climbs every few weeks keeps me honest.
Is it easy to get off the beaten path? Where can you find adventure on the roads less trodden?
I live in the center of the second largest city in Belgium, which is a cycling-crazy country, as you know. A such, it’s a little difficult to really find anything completely new or un-travelled, but its not impossible. If you’re willing to take some turns off the roads and bike paths, you can find some interesting stuff.
One of my favourite rides parallels the Antitankkanal east of Antwerp, on a little gravel track. Along the path are at least a dozen small concrete bunkers that were used during the World Wars, and one massive concrete fortress that was destroyed or scuttled. They’re amazing to explore – on any kind of bike.
Is there much of a local cycling culture – or bikepacking culture?
Riding a bike is just part of everyday culture in Belgium, but there is definitely an emerging bikepacking culture within that, and a growing list of organized events that cater to the bikepacking scene.
Are there many local cycling-orientated businesses or attractions that would be useful for somebody travelling by bike?
Just about every town or village has some sort of bike shop that can help out in times of need. Opening hours can be dodgy, but you shouldn’t have to go too far to the next shop.
Antwerp has a really great bike shop in Velodome. The mechanics are great, and it’s attached to a very nice brasserie that serves fresh De Koninck beer, which is brewed a just couple of meters away, across the street. Café Mombassa in the Borgerhout area of Antwerp is a another cycling cafe, evidenced in the everything from the motif, to the races they show on a pull-down screen every week.
Further a field, you have The Chainstay in Oudenaarde, which is a business that houses aspiring amateur and privateer professional racers in a hostel-like facility, but also offers lodging for cycle tourists.
I could continue to list other cycling hotspots around the country, but that could take a while. Find a local, wherever you are, and ask them what’s close and interesting.
Are there any events in the region that adventure cyclists would be interested in?
You can probably find an amazing bike event somewhere in Belgium pretty much every weekend of the year. Rides like Fleche-Belgie and the Duo Diagonal are rides that criss-cross the entire country, running several hundred kilometres. Then there’s the Dirty Boar gravel ride, and I’m starting to hear talk of some true overnight events on the horizon. As well as all of this, obviously the legendary Transcontinental Race starts in Geraardsbergen every year, as well.
What advice would you give to someone looking to explore your area by bike?
You can ride anywhere and everywhere in Flanders. If you’re the adventurous type, just walk outside, clip in and go. If you want a route to follow, check out www.fietsnet.be, where you can plot a route of near-infinite distance and terrain using a network of signposts on roadsides around the country. Just plan it online, print out the route numbers, tape them to your top tube and start following the signs. It’s absolutely amazing – and free. Also, make sure to bring €20 with you for waffles, beer, coffee and apples on your ride.