When life gives you lemons – make lemonade. When life gives you wind and rain and mud and a bike trail just round the corner …… go offroad.

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When we went to the Ardennes for the weekend I seriously considered not taking our bikes. The forecast was wet and windy, the landscape promised excellent walking, the old dog doesn’t keep up with the bikes any more.………. But somehow … Continue reading

Weekend break in the Ardennes

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The test of a good short break is when you are already planning to go back again before you have even made it home. That was certainly the case last weekend when we followed a Belgian trend by renting a … Continue reading

Gardens of Aywiers – Capturing the colours (and tastes) of autumn

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Among the most popular events where we live are the twice yearly open days at the former Abbey of Aywiers at Couture St Germain, just a couple of kilometres down the valley from Lasne. Today the former abbey buildings are … Continue reading

Abbaye de Villers – peace and tranquility in another hidden treasure of Wallonia

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Just 40km south of central Brussels are the atmospheric ruins of the Abbaye de Villers, the largest set of church ruins in Belgium. It is the remnant of the great Cistercian Abbey whose lands once stretched right across Belgium, today … Continue reading

When I am warned that my bag is falling off my bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race

When you live in a foreign country one of the subjects that often comes up is “how to break the ice with the locals”, especially where language is a barrier.

I have found an unexpected source of conversation that lets me meet someone new almost every week.

My briefcase.

I use an Altura Urban 17 bike briefcase, a design that suit me because it is a big baggy number that can absorb laptop, papers, lunch, waterproofs and even a change of clothes.

To allow for its size it has one particularly distinctive feature – it is mounted on the pannier rack at 45 degrees to horizontal to give heel clearance. That is a really sensible adaption.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I think it must be my second or third version of the bag and until I came here the angle hadn’t really crossed my mind. But it seems to have a really unsettling effect on passing Belgians, whether they be cyclists, pedestrians or even car drivers.

Hardly a day goes by in Brussels without someone approaching me with a look of real concern on their face and saying “your bag is coming unhooked”.  This includes behaviour like chasing me down the road even when I am thrashing along in my lycra and pedestrians rushing off the pavement waving.

Perhaps most unnerving of all for me is to be shadowed by cars and vans who hover just off my back wheel until they can pull up beside me, wide down the widow and gesticulate furiously until I recognise the magic words “sac” and “décroche” over the noise and realise I have found another good Samaritan, not a nutter.

Initially I was really surprised and slightly thrown because I don’t recall a single comment in the many years I rode with a similar bag in the UK and I really do not expect to be approached when riding. Perhaps us Brits don’t do that sort of thing, there are legends of two Englishmen castaway on a desert island who didn’t speak to each other for forty years because they hadn’t been introduced.

Now I have got used to it I am really rather charmed by the concern of the Belgians for my safety, and even the fact that they could look at a passing stranger in enough detail to notice the angle of my bag. It is a nice feeling that they care enough to make a real effort to look out for my welfare.

My alternative title for this post “Invisible cyclist? Get yourself a wonky bicycle bag.”

To the cobbles born – Mum cycles Belgium

I have written numerous times about riding on cobbles in Belgium, in particular the effect it has on visitors. Most recently I was worried that visiting author Andrew Sykes might suffer wheel damage somewhere between here and the North of Norway after a day or two with me in Belgium. I am mighty relieved that he made it to the North Cape this week and is on his way home without a wheel collapse.

Photo Kevin Mayne

However I have also noticed that some visitors just take the lumps and bumps in their stride, without any obvious reason why. After April’s Tour of Flanders Challenge the English language web sites were full of moaning Brits muttering about the pounding they received, but my brother and I were seemingly not as discomforted as many others.

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We put this down to the fact that we have both mountain biked a fair bit so the idea of a bike bouncing around underneath us is really not a novelty.

However today I found that there may be another source …. genetics.

As the days of drizzle and gusty winds finally drew to an end and we have got some proper sunshine I took my mother and stepfather out for a long overdue spin as part of their holiday stay. We had a glorious ride through golden cornfields that are just waiting for the harvest.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

To avoid too much traffic and to enjoy the tranquility I took them carefully along some minor tracks and trails that include a few short stretches of the bumpy stuff.

Photo Kevin Mayne

Patrick behaved entirely appropriately for a Brit on the pave, he was really quite discomforted.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

However there has rarely been anything that stops my indomitable Mum and some simple Belgian stones were dismissed with disdain as she bowled over them without missing a single revolution.

Extremely impressive, her first exposure to the dreaded stones at the age of 73 and she looked like someone who has been on the cobbles all her life.

Chapeau indeed!

Long day. Tour de France viewing at Mur de Huy, and back!

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin MayneThat’s a long hard day under our belts. or rather our wheels.

160 km for me and nearer 200km for Thomas and we got to see an amazing, eventful stage that ended in Huy

There will not be much blogging tonight. It has been a 2 beer ride, and I don’t say that very often with Belgian beer on offer.

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo – photo gallery

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To make the most of this post I have added a gallery of my pictures which I hope sum up some of the atmosphere of the battle of Waterloo re-enactments of the last two days. All credit to the organisers … Continue reading

Facing our Waterloo – time for the 200 year birthday party

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This week is the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, by far the biggest thing that ever happened round here so the various layers of Belgian local government and the former allies have finally got their act together to … Continue reading

Potential book chapter? “Cycling across Belgium with Andrew Sykes and a bike called Reggie.”

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Regular readers will recall my book review for “Along the Med on a bike called Reggie” by cycling traveller and write Andrew Sykes. I am delighted to say that we have had a chance to meet up because Andrew is passing through Belgium on his latest ride as he heads from the south of Spain to the very North Cape of Norway. That’s about 7,000 km by the way, one hell of a trip.

Planning the meet up has been interesting because it has made me watch Andrew’s Twitter feed and daily postings on www.cyclingeurope.org quite closely and by doing so I feel I am watching his next book write itself in front of my eyes, whether it be the never-ending saga of the lost sunglasses or a detailed commentary on French Atlantic Coast cycle routes.

I feel a bit of responsibility here. I have somehow become “Belgian expert” for this part of the route, a big ask for someone with just three years in the country. And I am guilty of encouraging Andrew to divert off his planned EuroVelo routes through the south of the country and further in to the centre nearer to Brussels and Flanders to be our guest in Lasne. If it doesn’t turn out well my EuroVelo colleagues in the ECF office will kill me for spoiling part of their publicity.

Last but not least he is a “proper” author, print and pages and Amazon listings and all that stuff. On the internet we may be a bit ephemeral and a rude remark on Twitter can be laughed off. However I am a bit old school and I like my books to last. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I am worried I might feature forever in print as “the man whose instructions sent me cycling into a canal” instead of some nice words about the Belgian countryside.

Anyway, so far so good. A few hours ago I left Andrew in Leuven plotting a route east towards the Netherlands and Germany following roughly the route I did with my Dad last summer. Prior to that we have had three good days cycling and sightseeing together with the Belgian countryside and indeed the weather doing us proud.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

On Friday Andrew’s arrival over the border from France was a good excuse to take an afternoon off work so I could meet him part way guide him though some of the interesting routes through Wallonia using mostly the Ravel cycle network of canal towpaths and converted railway lines.

I took the train to the old Roman city of Nivelles where I took a ceremonial photo of my bike being dwarfed by the imposing west face of the church of Saint Gertrude.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I then had a lovely ride down the route I planned for Andrew enjoying the wild flowers, birdsong and warm sunshine on the traffic free routes that took me swiftly south, firstly on the old rail line of Ravel 141 and then the old Brussels Charleroi canal, Ravel 3.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our meeting point was La Louviere, crossing point of a number of routes due to its extensive canal network. Not a town I knew at all because it doesn’t feature in any guide books, When I approached the town past the steel works I realised why, because these canals were first and foremost industrial corridors and La Louviere was clearly a solid working town, struggling like much of Wallonia with the decline of historic industries.

The town is trying very hard to spark itself up and I thought I could not have picked a better meeting point in the town square which was full of “animations”. Landmark? There can only be one purple and yellow tree in La Louviere surely.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

That didn’t quite work out because La Louviere has a few satellite suburbs that have their own squares and for a while we were missing each other completely. Eventually a rendezvous was made so we could have a very enjoyable summer afternoon ride back to Lasne. Last time I was here was the 5th of January when it was gloomy and so cold the canal surfaces were partly frozen, today was like another world.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Yesterday is going to lead another blog post or two because we took a sightseeing diversion up to Waterloo, the most famous tourist attraction of the area.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am going to write about it separately because the 200th Anniversary is just a few weeks away and work is flat out in preparation for the events to mark the occasion. The existing Waterloo tourist area was frankly a bit of an international disgrace, run down and unappealing so I haven’t written about it much. However the new visitor centre was opened just a few days ago and it is a transformation, worth a write up in its own right.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It was also an excuse for an hour or so gentle cycling to and from the battlefield through some of my local favourite routes. I am often very, very scathing about Walloon customer service so a special shout out to the landlady of “Le Gros Velo” the wonderfully named bar-restaurant in Plancenoit who knocked us up a couple of bowls of spaghetti bolognese hours after the lunch service was officially over, supped in the tranquil square with a glass of Leffe.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And today we sent him on his way with the ride up to Leuven, countryside full of sporty Flemish cyclists out on a Sunday spin on a public holiday weekend. None of them knew they were passing a man on a trip with 3,000 km done and still 4,000 to go, perhaps we should have demanded some respectful salutes.

What else can I say? Well for those potential hosts further up Europe in the Warm Showers network I can tell you the Andrew you get in the books is very much the Andrew of real life. He is a very warm and engaging guest, full of chatty anecdotes and commentaries from his travels and teaching career. In particular I can see how the life of the traveling author suits him because he has an open mind and is curious about the countryside and cultures he is traveling though, much like a journalist as well as a writer. I admire that quality, it must sustain him.  While I have secret hankering to set off on ride across a continent one day I find it almost impossible to imagine months on the road, I am very happy to be a reader of these travellers’ books and I am looking forward to Andrew and his bike Reggie reporting back after they get to the North Cape.

Andrew posts his reports daily on cyclingeurope.org so you can see his perspective on the visit as it unfurled too, with much more clever stuff like videos and commentary.

I will be slightly nervous until they do arrive. Andrew told me he blames broken spokes on his very first trip on the cobbles he hit in Lille early on that journey. I must be getting a bit too accustomed to them because I just forget that many of my favourite routes have several sections of the horrible rattly stuff and my British guests are often distinctly discombobulated by bouncing around on the stones. I may just have passed over a few sections in my three days with Andrew and Reggie.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

They didn’t seem impressed. Having the bike laden with camping gear and everything you need for three months on the road just make it worse, so even if I didn’t end up as the man who sent the author into a canal I will be mightily relieved if I am not blamed for a wheel collapse, somewhere in northern Norway, three day’s ride from a bike shop.

Bon voyage!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Tour de Namur Cyclo 2015 – classic route in the beautiful spring countryside of Wallonia. With added Triple Mur. That’s a lot of Mur.

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© sportograf Last Saturday’s ride was the latest in a casual series where a few of us that work in transport cycling and also enjoy some sporty touring get together for a thrash round the Belgian countryside. This time was … Continue reading

The moments you don’t get with any other form of commuting except cycling?

Photo Kevin MayneAbout 7.30 in the morning.

Suddenly I am just caught by a moment.

Morning sunlight on the soft gentle greens of newly opened beech leaves.

Birdsong.

Peace and reflection.

If I didn’t commute to work by bike how could I have had such a moment?

In case you think I am far too smug about my rural commute I can report that 20 minutes later I was in the snarl of Brussels traffic and the sunlight was replaced by rain. But what is important is that I can forget that, but I won’t forget the uplift I got from my moment of magic.

I hope you had a moment like that as part of your day. You are one of the lucky people.

Day out in blossom country – Belgium’s beautiful Haspengouw

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I fulfilled a small Belgian ambition yesterday. Ever since I went cycling in Limburg last summer and discovered the beautiful region of the Haspengouw I have been looking forward to going back in spring to see the blossom season. We … Continue reading

Great days out – more fantastic mountain biking in Belgium

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Belgian cycling delivered another wonderful day’s riding last week. I went south to the hills and valleys around Namur to ride a mountain bike event called VTT de Malonne that showcased some of the best of the landscape, countryside and historic … Continue reading