A series of new signs has been catching my eye on the way home from work in recent weeks.
Numbers in circles accompanied by arrows means that the long awaited spread of the Dutch-style node point cycle navigation system (Knooppunt) has started to spread from Flanders into Wallonia, in particular my home region of Brabant Wallon where they are called Points Noeuds.
That makes sense, because cyclists round here live close to the regional border and many of us have used the number based navigation system when we travel into Flanders and frankly it is a much more comprehensive system than the Ravel network of individual cycle paths that have been the standard in Wallonia to date.
I case you missed it, the idea is that the countryside is covered in junctions where nice cycling roads cross, so each of these is given a number. Then arrows at junctions point the best cycling route to the next node, so riders can select the nicest route and plan a longer trip just by noting a series of numbers. Old school types write them in biro in the back of the hand, tech weenies program them into GPS, but you get the idea.
So I thought I would give it a little try out on a short ride yesterday, making a change from recycling the standard circuits in my head. Checking out the network map I could see the plans for my commune (Lasne), but knowing they have not been installed yet I headed towards neighbouring Rixensart where I have seen the first flurry of new installations.
All good – I quickly picked up the route in the expected place and was pleased that it actually took me in directions I haven’t been for a while, quite roads, country lanes, fields waiting for the harvest.
And being Belgium you get a free cartoon character thrown in with every ride.
There may be a few teething problems, clearly not all the highway departments have got the idea yet!
There was however one horrible exception. I have found in Belgium that the definition of a touring route can be quite optimistic about what road surfaces riders will tolerate, routes can combine farm tracks and forest roads that don’t have tarmacked surfaces, so this kind of touring does encourage the use of a sturdy touring bike with fatter tyres, the type that in Germany sometimes be called a trekking bike. That’s OK, the preview of the expected node points in Lasne includes some sections that are pretty bumpy, but certainly not unrideable.
However on this ride I found a Wavre section heading into Bierges that was just madness. Dirt road, deteriorating into grassy footpath and then finally into a section of woods where rainwater had washed away the surface leaving an obstacle course littered in broken bricks, stones and broken glass. Below is the best bit, at the start!
This is mid summer, in winter it can only become unrideable except to mountain bikers. I have no idea what the network managers are thinking, but I was so astonished I have broken my rule “no complaining, its not your country” and I am going to raise it through local channels, because I think this new network can be such a great asset I fail to understand how it could be commissioned with such glaring inadequacies, especially when I know there is a parallel road that is very nice.
So I’m going to put the new network down as “almost” for the moment, and I look forward to trying out more of our new resource, hopefully with teething problems resolved. More test rides are promised to all visitors!