Cycling through Belgium

I liked cycling. I liked Belgium (from what I knew of it). I figured I’d like cycling through Belgium. And I did. With a friend’s wedding scheduled in the low countries, it seemed like the perfect excuse to do some exploring by bicycle. We say exploring, but due to Schengen Visa requirements, exploring was relegated to the brief time spent each day getting from our planned start to our planned end.

Many people cycle around Europe every day. Some of them even do it for fun. Belgium makes this even easier, regardless of cycling proficiency, by being pretty flat, and having all its towns very close together. This is not necessarily specific to Belgium, but that’s where our friends were getting married, so it was convenient.

Belgium has windmills too

There are a number of companies which offer various packages for doing cycle tours throughout Europe. Some can be in groups, others can be self-guided. There’s also great variety of choice in the location, distance, support and accommodation packages on offer. And one day I’d love to try some of them, however we were limited.

We didn’t have a lot of time. We wanted to do 3 or 4 days of cycling max. My wife and I also wanted to do this trip by ourselves. We also wanted to start in Brussels and end somewhere else. Ultimately we were too picky. While there are lots of one-way routes on offer, they were generally longer. So we were left to our own devices.

If you’re hiring bicycles, not from a tour group, you’re required to return your bike to the start location. With train systems as they are in Europe this isn’t a major issue, as you can schedule your last day to be a train trip back to where you started, and just chuck your bike on the train. This also allows you to leave baggage at a hotel, in case you have something, like a suit, that you don’t want to cram into your panniers.

Avenues all to ourselves

Because of our time restriction, and for simplicity’s sake, we eventually decided to do a short 3 day tour. Starting and ending in Brussels, our first day we cycled to Ghent, second day on to Antwerp, and on day three returned to Brussels. We used Cyclo, a Brussels based cycling organisation with several locations, to obtain a bike, and were overall happy with the experience.

The three cities we chose were all roughly 50km apart in a nice triangular formation, which for regular cyclists is not a terribly long distance. In fact it’s a pretty comfortable distance. It’s far enough to convince you’ve done some work and deserve that delicious Belgian beer and waffle, while also getting you to a completely different place in the country, and also not taking the entire day to do it. So what did we do.

The Bike

You may notice the term ‘the bike’ and not ‘bikes’. This is because we decided to save a bit of money and hire a single tandem, as opposed to two bicycles. I also cycle more than my wife, and figured the trip would be more enjoyable for both of us if we shared a tandem, instead of having individual bicycles.

Sometimes we only got a path to ourselves, and not a whole road

This was not the wrong decision. But we’re not sure if we’d do it again. Cyclo were able to provide us a perfectly decent tandem (it even had front suspension). There were one or two niggly things on the bike which we only picked up once we were far away from Brussels. It didn’t stop us, and the problems weren’t tandem specific, but it slightly affected our experience.

Firstly, I am not short, and rental bikes are not made for not short people, particularly one-size-fits-all tandems. The gears on our bike weren’t properly tuned, and the rear seat kept sliding down, no matter how we tried to tighten it. It also had a kick stand which loosened, and due to the length of the tandem would often scrape things while riding. The routes we ended up riding also involved more ‘rustic’ paths than we had anticipated, for which a tandem is not ideal. Also cobblestones. However this is perhaps again, no a tandem specific issue.

Our bike looked something like this

The tandem was fun though. It was fun to be together the whole time. It was fun to ride at the back at times. It was fun to have someone taking photos and navigating while the person in front could continue focusing on the cycling. We didn’t get upset with each other, or have any specific bad experience on the tandem, but at the end we both agreed we’d rather have been on our own bikes.

But wow, as flat as Belgium is, it’s a different ballgame climbing a hill with another person, panniers, bike locks and a (allegedly) 23kg bike.

Route Planning

Because this is Belgium, you can get away with Google Maps, and for getting out of cities, this is definitely what I’d recommend. Our first day we left later than we would have liked, and had to get to Ghent by a specific time, as such we decided to just follow Google Maps. And it works. But Google Maps takes you on the straightest easiest route. Also the least interesting, and least pretty route. We finished the first day and were a bit disappointed. We were hoping for some nice Belgian countryside, but we mostly just rode next to a B-road for 50km.

Thankfully there’s They are an amazing resource for all things cycling in Belgium (fiets is Dutch is for bicycle). Along with general information and suggested themed routes, they also just have a route planner letting you select a start and finish point, while it generates the best route.

The Belgian cycling routes are set out in nodes (an intersection where multiple routes meet). At each node there are signs pointing in the direction of the next node. And along each stretch, there are additional signs keeping you on track to the node you want. Fietsroute generates a route for you based on these nodes. It explicitly does not make use of main roads, as you can see in the below image, where the bicycle routes are overlaid on the normal street map.

Fietsroute generated route in yellow. Google Maps route shown in dashed-red.

Inevitably these routes end up being 20%+ further than the direct Google Maps option. But it’s well worth it. The routes it generates are far more enjoyable. Taking you through the countryside. On old farm roads, cobbled streets, and generally less trafficked and prettier areas. If you’re on a road bike, you may want to do a bit more work to ensure you stick to paved roads, as the first route you get may take you on some less than desirable paths (although these sections can be short).

Fietsroute provides a list of all the nodes (knooppunten) that you need to follow to get to your destination, and you can technically just follow road signs to these destinations. We found however it safer to download the GPX output and track those on a GPS. Most GPSs support this functionality, and there are several cellphone apps as well. We ended up using BikeGPX, which was sufficient for our purposes, if not perfect.

Below is the route we ended up taking. You can see on day one the route is fairly smooth as we followed Google Maps, and day two and three are more jagged, as we traced the Fietsroute suggested path.

Our route in white, leading us from Brussels to Ghent to Antwerp


You have many choices when it comes to accommodation. There are hotels everywhere. There’s AirBnB and multiple similar services. We ended up selecting places off Fietsroute’s list of BnBs.

Regardless of where you stay you’ll be able to lock your bike up outside for a night relatively safely. However the more expensive your bike, the greater chance of theft. The list of places on Fietsroute are listed specifically to cater for cyclists. So the places we stayed in Ghent and Antwerp both had place for us to store our bike overnight. Even our double length tandem. They also end up being a bit cheaper than regular accomodation.

But accommodation is really a small concern. Places in Belgium are so close together that you’ll be able to find somewhere to stay, no matter how far you decide to cycle each day.

Cycling through the countryside


I grew up wearing a helmet while cycling, and continue to do so. We planned on picking up helmets along with our rental bike. However, when collecting our bike, there were no helmets. Not to rent, not even to purchase. The shop cited some off-hand liability reasons.

And so we joined the throngs of helmetless Belgians, cycling through the cities, cycling on country paths. Sharing roads with cars, enjoying other roads completely devoid of any traffic. And being very careful not to crash.

In and around Brussels, probably only a quarter of people we saw cycling had helmets on. And cycling between the cities reduced even that. Arriving in Amsterdam (which easily had four times as many cyclists) revealed only 1 in 100 people wearing a helmet. Although the risk of an incident with a car is far less than say Los Angeles, or South Africa, I would have still expected helmets to be worn for for events not involving automobiles.

But we survived, without incident. The flat nature of the country, and heavy load kept our maximum speed at any point to under 20kmph. Which certainly worked in our favour.

Additionally, it was just wonderful to cycle around Belgium. Vehicle traffic is clearly aware of cyclists, and you never have to worry about being cutoff, or impatient drivers trying to squeeze past. This was true in the cities themselves, which had bike lanes laid out all over, as well as along more remote roads. People may be in a hurry, but they respect a cyclist’s place on the road

Final Thoughts

Cycling is fun and a great way to see a country. Especially if you choose to take the backroads. So many pretty tree-lined avenues, where it’s just you cycling along. So many unexpected ferry crossings.

We knew going in that we wouldn’t have much time to explore each city. Considering we were planning on traveling for 5 hours a day, this only left a few hours each evening to explore, and considering we only had one night in Ghent and Antwerp, we didn’t see much. We cycled and walked the towns, but rarely went in to places like museums. That being said, they both have a lot to see just from the perspective of a cyclist or pedestrian.

We made sure to cycle past the Atomium on the way back. It’s like the Eiffel Tower of Brussels

50-60km is not a lot to do each day. But considering how close cities are, it would be nice to plan shorter trips each day. This would also allow you to leave later and arrive earlier in each place, giving you more time to explore. Alternatively staying an extra night in each location.

Getting away from rental bikes is difficult, but we’d at least try switch to single bikes, allowing for a more comfortable riding experience. We’d also pack helmets.

In closing, we’d totally do this again. Everything worked out great, and for our first such trip I’m not unhappy with any of our decisions..

Ballona Creek Bike Path

While some may say calling it the Ballona Creek Bike Path gives it a far more romanticised name than a concrete river deserves, as you get to the sea some natural vegetation and wildlife does appear. And regardless, the beauty I see in the bike path is not in the visuals, but the ability for me to escape the hustle and bustle of the LA roads and ride without being impeded by traffic lights.

After a successful ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Path, next on my list was Ballona Creek. Starting in the heart of Culver City, the bike path takes you 6 miles all the way to the sea, just south of Marina Del Rey where it meets up with the Marvin Braude.

I continued my cycle north to Santa Monica, before cutting back through traffic to University Park.

Once again I strapped on my GoPro and went for a ride, you can see the compilation below:

More info on the route can be found here.


Falling off your bike, literally

I’ve been cycling for years. I was playing squash before I learnt how to ride a bicycle, but probably only got on a bicycle when I was 5ish. My Dad got into cycling, and the whole family kind of followed along, we did fun rides occasionally and I did my first Argus Cycle Tour when I was 14. I then proceeded to do the subsequent 10 Arguses, this year being the first one I’ve missed. And in between this I’ve kept up a bit of mountain biking too. I enjoy both disciplines for different reasons, but in general over the past 5 years I’ve tended more to offroad.

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

My trusty steed (aka the Giant Iguana Bomb), cantilever brakes and all

I’ve been fortunate to live in areas with great mountain biking. Living in Somerset West and Stellenbosch a mountain was only ever a 10min ride away. Whether it was the farm roads of Lourensford or the multiple dirt roads around the bases of the mountains surrounding Stellenbosch, it was quick and fun to get a cycle in. Now in East London we’re fortunate enough to have multiple mountain bike tracks in the vicinity that are open to the public and a steady supply of events as well. But it seems like the longer I’ve been riding, the more I’ve been falling off. I don’t know why.

I never really had any crashes/falls until last year. About 8 years ago I came off my bike on the road, going round a corner and hitting a patch of gravel, I lost my front wheel and went hands first into the tarmac. I wasn’t going too fast, but managed to sprain my wrists enough to keep me off a bike and the squash court for a week or two. And then there’s the odd fall in between. Usually going quite slowly, and on two occasions on other people’s bikes, being almost stationary and falling over sideways without being able to unclip my shoes in their much tighter cleats.

Giant Iguana Bomb 2

Then end of last year I had a ‘nasty’ fall. I was flying down a dirt road, dodging some washed away sections of road and not looking far enough in front of me when all of a sudden I was going in the wrong direction towards a donga. As I arrived, the bike went down and I launched myself off, landing sprawled out on the otherside of the donga chest down. My body took it surprisingly well. I hurt my shoulder a bit, and was completely winded, but was able to get up and cycle home. The bike took it slightly worse, putting a nice buckle in the front wheel, breaking one of the gear changing levers and damaging the brake lever a bit too. And it wasn’t even my bike :x

Two weeks later doing some nice downhill single track, I fell twice on my ‘sore’ shoulder, managing to cycle home but cutting my cycles short. And I’ve come off my bike another one or two times since then. This last weekend I managed to do what I consider a fairly graceful roll onto the ground as witnessed below. Youtube made it a bit blocky though.

I’ve been fairly lucky though. Although it’s happened a couple times, I’ve never had any lasting damage. And my confidence knock doesn’t seem to be as lasting either. As I write this I’m having more opportunity to think about the incidents, and it seems like it’s often because I don’t commit entirely, or commit to the wrong choice. This last incident involved my weight wanting to go in one direction, but my front tyre deciding to step down a slight ledge and altering my direction of choice

I don’t really know if there was a point to this post. I felt like writing. And I get to post a great video of me falling off my bike. But otherwise I hope that my falling doesn’t increase. I have a very old bike. Like seriously old, it may be partly to blame for my falls. But for some reason, although I have the money available, I can’t bring myself to get a new one, maybe it’s sentimental, I’ve done so much on this bike, like the Karoo2Coast. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Karoo to Coast

Julle’s die mooiste mense!“, that’s the way my ride started off on Sunday as I completed my first Karoo to Coast bike ride. It’s 100km of almost purely dirt roads that takes you from Uniondale up and down the mountains to end off in Knysna.k2c

100km is a long way, and my constant self-reassurances that it must all be downhill (seeing as we started at 700m and ended at sea-level) did little to help when all the climbing occurred. Something that did help was the beautiful scenery, spectators with cheers of support, water points and a stunning 14km down hill. 14km. Of down hill. It was great!

Although the road wasn’t closed to traffic we were very lucky, along the entire 100km, I probably only encountered 2 or 3 non-official cars. This makes life on the down hills much nicer. Speaking of down hills, and up hills for that matter, and puddles, this is my only complaint, however it is not at all unique to the K2C.

I’m not the fastest climber, and as such I make a point to keep well left and out of the way of the faster riders. I’m also slightly paranoid, and constantly check around em to see where people are. If I want to pass someone I check to see I won’t get in someone’s way and I make a dash. All I want is for other people to do the same on the downhills. Downhills are where I can make up all the time I lost on the uphill. I’m comfortable going fairly fast on the downhills. It’s fun, but when you’re coming down and getting held up the whole time it get’s annoying, especially people who don’t hold their lines through a corner. Obviously cutting corners is the easiest way to get down fast, and I do it often, but I make sure I won’t be cutting someone else off.

Grabbed these off they take great photos at all the events

My problem with puddles is more people’s lack of desire to get wet and muddy in an inherently dirty past time. About 15km into the ride there was a big puddle of water in the middle of the road and everyone tries to go around, half the people climbed off their bikes at this stage. I rode straight through the middle. Why? Because no one else was there, and it’s fun to make a spray of muddy water :)

Most of these problems are just an issue of too many people in the same spot, and is, I guess fully understandable, and I accept them as part of cycling, but it would be nice if they weren’t there.

In any case I cycled the full route with my dad and we finished with equal times of 05:36:08, nothing amazing, but I was quite happy with it. He did somehow manage to grab the position in front of me, us finishing 816 and 817 of 1987 finishers. The cutoff being 8hours. We also stopped for a nice swim in a river along the way to cool off on what was a rather warm day.

Although the race started in Uniondale, we spent the night at a nice B&B in de Rust, I believe the place was called Riverside or something similar. We had lovely pizza the previous night at the backpackers in de Rust whose restaurant is apparently only open on Fridays.

Included in this post are the logs from my GPS which I carried along, and which managed to die 15km from the end. Max speed clocked out at 66km/h.

Overall had a great ride on a spectacular route and look forward to doing it again next year.