Collective creaking and groaning – must be the start of the cycle touring year


This gallery contains 6 photos.

Yesterday I took my first cycling club ride of the year, breaking into the start of the Belgian cycle touring club season. As usual our club split into two groups, with those who have been riding all winter or who … Continue reading

Taiwan touring day 2 – Taichung mountain circuit


This gallery contains 5 photos.

I am assured that the three peaks of the mountain circuit from Taichung are the measure by which all local riders are judged, with the local clubs and pro-groups regularly thrashing round in a form of survival of the fittest. … Continue reading

Follow the arrows for a Belgian magical mystery cycle tour


This gallery contains 17 photos.

My last Sunday in Belgium before I head off for Australia and New Zealand for Velo-city 2014 and some overdue holiday. So it was fitting that the weather turned on a spectacular day, the Walloon countryside was beautiful and we … Continue reading

Ahhhh, good to be back in the comfort of the peloton. The club cycle touring season kicks off in Belgium

Photo Kevin Mayne

After its winter break the Belgian cycle touring season kicked off again on the first weekend of March. Unlike the UK where I have done most of my cycling the clubs here don’t ride through the winter.

So this means that the March rides are a bit if a “get to know you” and find out who spent the winter doing the kilometres and who were doing the kilogrammes. And it brings a little trepidation, a slight return of cyclingclubaphobia until I have checked that that I can fit in to the club.

I missed the first two weeks in Taipei so this was my first ride of the year with my ambition to drop into group 2 and hide quietly in the slipstream. With the hazy sunshine I was optimistic that there might be a good few riders out so I could chose my level. And wow – 75 starters resplendent in the new club kit.

There were about 35 in group 2 and my hopes worked out quite well, because in a stiff breeze the enthusiasts that had been riding regularly were happy to take the lead, and the big lads provided what might less politely be called a solid wall of Belgian beef that provided excellent shelter!.

Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude NivellesWonderful spring day, I could have stopped and taken hundreds of views of blossom and open fields as we skimmed the open countryside. In Nivelles the splendid Church of St Gertrude was ringing out its bells with great energy as if to welcome us, or just to celebrate the day.

Good to have the first club ride under my wheels.

Cycleottignies March 2014

Wet, steamy, green, welcoming. It must be the 2014 Taipei cycling experience

Photo Kevin Mayne

I managed to get out for three decent bike rides on this year’s visit to Taipei, however it was a very different experience to last year. The defining factor this year was water. The downpours which hit us on almost every day could certainly have killed off my enthusiasm, but instead provided a backdrop to this year’s explorations. In the previous two years I didn’t get up into the forested hills that sweep down into the city on all sides and are the product of all that rain. They go up over 1000 metres from sea level within the city boundaries and apparently cover almost half the land area which must make it one of the hilliest and greenest capital cities in the world.

Through this year’s rides I became more aware of how this landscape links with the city and how much the residents value green space and plants which burst into life in the warmth and humidity of the island. And my very final stop on the trip was the steamiest of all – the hot springs district of Beitou which deserves not only a comment as a ride destination but will get a small post of its own to follow this one.

tern social 2014

Not all things are publishable however. Our friends from Tern Bicycles put on their Thursday social ride again this year. It was social. It was a ride. As ever their bikes are comfortable and smart with some nice features. But it hammered down with rain. I have a lot of photos that look rather too much like this, and very few that look like the one below,

Tern social Taipei

Their Facebook page has a much better selection, but you get the story. But good company and a bike ride are always highlights in the Idonotdespair world, so I enjoyed it and as ever the clothes dried out. Eventually.Thanks to the Tern team.

My two other excursions were better for sharing and learning about Taipei.

Monday Youbike Bimble

Youbikes of TaipeiA brief gap in the showers before the Taipei Cycle Show allowed me to grab a Youbike and set off from my hotel. Last year I experienced the city and the riverside cycle paths so my ambition this time was to try and get into the hills I could see from my window.

Xinyi district is mostly known to travellers as the administrative centre, shopping and property hot spot of Taipei, focussed around the City Hall and Taipei 101, for several years the world’s tallest building and an icon of Taipei. The area has modern malls, offices and busy roads. There are cycle lanes and Youbikes too, which is handy.

Taipei 101 and cycle paths

Xinyi district TaipeiBut within just a very short distance by bike the very new developments end and disappear into a maze of residential alleys and back streets which rear up into the steep slopes and verdant forest of the hills. Out of curiosity I heaved myself up some of these steep ramps to the bemusement of the residents who were clearly not used to seeing tourists round here. There are also a number of waymarked and well signed walking trails that were leading up to the mountain tops which showed a considerable local demand for enjoying these green spaces. The Fuyang Eco Park was busy with walkers and joggers, plus it gave me the backdrop to my lovely moment with a Grandfather teaching his granddaughter to ride (see earlier post)

What immediately caught my eye is the way the buildings seem to just merge into the hills, only stopping at the steepest of overhangs.

Houses on hills Taipei

Taipei hillside houses

Plants and houses Taipei

And not only is the greenery outside, there is clearly a passion for plants with every balcony and doorway having a range of healthy looking plants in pots. Where there was a flat spot these would often be flourishing vegetable patches or in the middle class gardens there were beautiful flashes of colour from decorative foliage and flowers.

Gardens of Taipei Taipei Gardens

It is such mixture in a small area. Small industrial plots, temples, shacks, apartment blocks and expensive villas catering for all levels of society. Given a different bike and a stronger constitution I might have climbed more of the side streets, but a three hour bimble around the different areas was full of variety.

The traffic was also well behaved too, the streets are narrow and busy which has a traffic calming effect which I appreciated.

Cycling Taipei alleys



Saturday touring ride.

My second memorable ride was on Saturday, the day we left. We were invited out by our new friends at Formosa Lohas Cycling Association to come and see how they organise their touring rides. The club is relatively new but is making strong progress with a mix of promotional activities for cycling, especially based on cycle touring, events and cycling education for children. As my regular readers know I am very fond of cycling clubs and within minutes of chatting to Development Director Demi Huang and her colleagues it was immediately clear that we were kindred spirits, chatting away about rides, routes and advocacy for ages.

Formosa Lohas Cycling Association and ECF

Demi offered us a ride with some of the club’s experienced Tour Guides and we suggested a half day starting in Taipei so that we could also pack our bags and prepare for departure. To be honest, the omens were not good because the rain just bucketed down all morning, but at least it wasn’t cold so Bernhard and I were up for the ride.

Cycle route map TaipeiGathering point for a small but hardy group was down on the riverside cycle path where we were kitted out with two nice sporty looking machines with straight bars. Guide James explained our route, a loop of about 20km around the river banks, then up to “Hell Valley” and the Beitou Springs area. The convenient planning board shows that we were to go out into the teeth of the rainstorm and then take a more sheltered line up to Beitou.

The opening kilometres were certainly exposed because our route was not down at water level like other sections of the path that I rode last year. This section sits right up on top of the typhoon defences and looked down on the homes and businesses behind the wall. The views were expansive, but decidedly murky. Clearly Bernhard was at home, this could almost be a Dutch dyke path.

Riverside cycle route Taipei

Beyond the walls were mud flats and reed beds that are now popular for bird watching. It was hard to imagine our hosts description of the rivers as the centre for trade with waterside wharves everywhere. Today it is a world closed off from the city.

Once round the confluence of the two rivers we had the wind behind and swept towards a very impressive suspension style bridge. We were struck by the cycle ramps, huge cycle lanes and segregated sections for bikes, scooters and cars.

Taipei cycle path and bridges Suspension bridge Taipei Bikes bridge and clouds Taipei

The view from the bridge was interesting too, it gave an impression of how committed the local authorities are to high quality facilities along these river paths. We could see a fun mountain bike park already completed and under construction a water filled park being landscaped to fit the land space between typhoon defence and river. Clever use of buffer land which will also improve flooding resilience. Now if only other countries were that sensible.

mountain bike track in Taipei New riverside park in Taipei

Rice paddy field and vegetable garden TaipeiThe benefits of local guides were apparent when we swung away from the river bank and headed north through a series of embankments and small roads. Our guides called this “our secret route” and it was a treasure. Almost vehicle free but taking us through something like a garden zone of rice fields and market gardens cutting right into the heart of the city. Several people I have talked to spontaneously started talking about the Taiwanese love of fresh fruit and vegetables and the expertise of their farmers, certainly the quality of the fruit and veg at meal times is outstanding. We were rewarded with herons and cranes foraging in the rice fields as we passed, oblivious to our presence.

Paddy fields with white birds Taipei

It was almost a shock to pop out of the quiet lanes into urban hustle but we had been brought almost to the heart of Beitou by our guides. A gentle climb took us up to a range of sights in this popular visitor area.

The true finish of our ride was the thermal valley itself, which was a mass of steam and smells of sulphur where the hot water gushes up from the volcanic rock at a temperature of almost 90 degrees. All around us streams carried away hot water to be piped into the hotels and bath houses which have been a feature of the area since Japanese occupation from 1895-1945. The main bath house, now a museum, was built in 1913.

Beitou Thermal valley

Our day finished with steaming hot baths in a hot springs hotel and a delicious meal with our guides, but more of that in my next post.

For now let me just say that once again the friendliness and hospitality of our Taiwanese hosts was unbeatable. The Formosa Lohas guides were knowledgeable and courteous cycling guides and I am absolutely sure that one of their multi-day rides around Taiwan would be a great holiday. James was clearly an experienced leader and Bike Lin (yes that is his name) is the author of two well-regarded tour guides about cycling in Taiwan so I am not surprised they are getting more and more enquiries from around the world. They are going to be popular and welcomed members of the ECF cycling family too.

In summary – another week in Taipei which turned out to be far more than rooms full of bikes on show. Increasingly the international travel media is saying that cycling in Taipei is one of the country’s visitor highlights. I am not going to disagree.

The start of a cycling life

Godric Cycling Club Logo

Some 16 years ago I was offered a job with CTC, the national cyclist’s organisation in the UK. For me the move was never a doubt once the offer was made. Yes we had some real challenges, I was stepping out of a business career that saw us swap a settled lifestyle in Cardiff to a much lower paid job in one of the most expensive places in England. But no doubt whatsoever about the move to cycling on my part.

Not so my old boss. When the the Chair of CTC’s board phoned my corporate boss for a reference he unexpectedly got his ear bent for nearly 20 minutes about how I was throwing away my career for a whim. And he made it pretty clear that he blamed CTC for throwing temptation in my path. He made the same point very clearly to me. The CTC Chair was extremely rattled and spent much of the next two years worrying that I had taken the job on emotion and I might soon set off back to my corporate life.

But of course my old boss had no idea about my deep connection to cycling and the irresistible draw of a dream job. But then again nor do some of the people I work with today. Because in our world of common sense cycling in European cities it really isn’t essential to be passionate about the sport or pastime of cycling to know what a civilising effect it has on a city. I heard this best described in Copenhagen. The city cycling officer said “In Copenhagen you get up in the morning, you clean your teeth, maybe some breakfast then you bike to work. Nobody thinks about having a club for people who clean their teeth, it’s just what you do.”

Well in my childhood cycling to school was still quite normal. But being a “cyclist” wasn’t. My trip back to Bungay was a chance to celebrate that with the people who made my cycling life possible, the Godric Cycling Club. I went back as the guest speaker at their Annual Dinner and prize presentation. About 70 people took over the local golf club, many of whom I have known since childhood, either my parents friends or indeed my own schoolmates from the 1970s.

Godric Cycling Club Annual Dinner 2014

Time trial start mid sixtiesClose to my heart? My earliest memories are of being carted off to races at ungodly hours in the morning, waking up to ask if Mummy or Daddy had won. Even now my dad is the Chairman, my mum organised the dinner and there were enough relatives to have their own table, these really are my cycling roots. And the club itself has rocked from time to time, but when a glass of wine was raised to toast the founding members of sixty years ago it was brilliant to see several in the room.

Godric Cycling Club Dinner 2014

As an after dinner speaker the job is of course not to overstay your welcome, entertain with some travellers’ tales and in my case throw in some anecdotes about the quirks of cycling in Belgium then get out of the way so everybody can get round to collecting their winnings from the groaning table of prizes and on to the raffle.*

Godric Cycling Club Trophies

But as part of my speech I said roughly this:

I wasn’t such a great racing cyclist. I am proud that my name appears on at least one of these trophies, but my speeds were not exceptional. (“I’ll second that” agrees a voice in the room)

But this club gave me the opportunity to be what I am today. Firstly the club was always a supportive place to be, it let me go forward in another way. I got the chance to try out things that some young people never get to do. At 14 they let me be the club-room secretary, having the keys the club building, selling Mars bars and drinks or organising the table tennis tournaments in the winter.

At 16 I organised my first open race. It was probably so inconceivable at the time that nowhere in the rules of cycling did it set a minimum age for event organisers, so I just put my hand up to run one of our cyclo-cross events. These were chances you just cannot replicate.

And of course when I went on to university I got involved in running our cycling club, making friends for life but also filling my CV with more of those try-outs for real life that came with the territory. Discovering the stunning region in which we lived while the other students made it little further than the bar. Plan and lead group rides? Deal with bureaucracy? Plan cycle tours round France? But of course we did, it just was just the world I knew. And every one of those experiences enriched my CV and when at 23 I didn’t have a clue what to do I discovered that what I was really equipped for was something called management. I’ve been there ever since.

So now I have the unque honour of traveling Europe managing cycling programmes, talking about cycling, promoting cycling, meeting people who are battling to grow cycling in small groups in cities that often don’t really seem to care. Or put me in a Belgian cycling club where I don’t even speak the language. I know I am among friends. Because the Godric Cycling Club made that my world, a very comfortable place to be. I hope that all cycling clubs continue to give a next generation of young people that chance, the chance to grow up as individuals, not just as places where the only winners are the ones who go fast. That has made cycling so much more to me that brushing my teeth. Its what I do, it’s my people.

When I join a group of cyclists I do not despair.

Thank you Godric Cycling Club.

Godric Cycling Club Sunday Club Run

Related posts:

“I love club dinners”

“Cycling’s helpers” by David Horton on the ever excellent “Thinking about Cycling”

Press report in local media

* On the podium on the Champs Elysee after getting his trophy for his Tour de France win Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s first ever winner said “Are we going to do the raffle now?” Millions of spectators worldwide were completely baffled. About 30,000 club cyclists in the UK just collapsed with laughter, recognising just how many local cycling club dinners Brad must have attended during his career rise. One of us.

Ten best things about being a cyclist in Belgium

Watchng the Fleche 2

A year ago we moved to Belgium. 

By way of an anniversary post and a thank you to my new country here are my musings about the best things about cycling here so far.  

Next week I might throw in a few pet hates, although the scales are overwhelmingly positive for the first year in this great cycling nation.

In no particular order this British cyclist’s “Ten best of cycling in Belgium” are

  • Belgian National DaySocial cycling
  • The Classics
  • Tracks and trails of Wallonia
  • Long summer evenings
  • Being strange
  • The ever changing Belgian countryside
  • Belgians like a lie in
  • Bike fans
  • Somewhere near to everywhere
  • My bike shed

1. Social cycling – you are not alone.

Recreational and sports cycling in Belgium is overwhelmingly a collective activity. At the weekend you can hear the groups of cyclists passing our house not by the tyre swoosh but by sounds of talking and laughing. I have commented that I love the sense of community in the small towns and villages of Belgium that carries over into the cycling, everywhere I go I see people riding together.

It’s not just the big pelotons of club cyclists in the touring and racing clubs.


It’s the scouts.

Belgian scout ride

It’s the youth clubs.

Chateau Solvay La Hulpe cyclisme

It’s the senior citizens on a Friday night near Ghent.

Friday night in Flanders

It’s just a couple of friends riding their mountain bikes.

Solvay park VTT

It’s the randonnée à vélo for families that every village and town puts on for its jour de fete.

Child cycling Solvay Park La Hulpe

2. The Classics

fans 5

The chance to experience the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege are just fantastic days out for a bike fan.

All the legends – beer and frites, fan clubs, cobblestones and star riders come together in an atmosphere I have never experienced before after a lifetime of going to bike races.

Liege Bastogne Liege Sprimont 5

minor places Fleche Wallonne

And by pure chance this year I took the best cycle racing photo I will ever take on the Patterberg – Spartacus (Fabian Cancellara) making the winning move against Peter Sagan.Ronde Van Vlaanderen Paterberg

Hard to repeat that, but I’ll be back again this year for my next fix.

3. Tracks and trails of Wallonia

Brabant Wallon

For the mountain bikers this time. Every commune in our area has hundreds of kilometres of farm tracks, forest trails and cobbled roads that together make an amazing network of rides for mountain bikers. Where I live in Lasne the brilliant folks at Lasne Nature have signposted 250 kilometres of the trails into circular routes from 5-15km in length, all of which can be joined together to give great rides.

Beaumont Lasne

Belgium, Brabant Wallon

And this continues for village after village.

It isn’t rugged and mountainous, it isn’t the flowing singletrack of a purpose built trail centre but it is an endless source of riding. Add an unexpected and freak layer of snow for four months last year and it was plenty tough enough for hard riding too.

Brabant Wallon

4. Long summer evenings

Ben Mayne Chapelle St Lambert

An unexpected bonus. I didn’t think I would notice the time difference between Belgium and the UK. It seems a minor point but because Belgium is an hour ahead of the UK in clock time but geographically just a few minutes ahead this is like having a whole extra hour of daylight in the evening.

In the summer this means the evenings just seem to go on for ages. When I was a little boy I used to resent being sent to bed while it was still light in the summer. Now I can commute home in the light so much later or go ride my bike after work. We have had some just lovely riding evenings, even well into the autumn.

5. Being strange

IMG00779-20131126-0836When I had made a lycra-clad appearance in our office for the second or third time a colleague said to me “you are a bit strange”.

While I decided whether to be offended or not he quickly qualified himself. He said he had never met anyone in who worked in cycling who also enjoyed cycle racing and sport or was prepared to commute in from outside Brussels. I was a bit thrown, I had come to Belgium to be part of this glorious cycling heritage and I was being portrayed as a bit of freak.

In the UK I have always been around sports cyclists even when I was working in transport and tourism and many of my colleagues carried a passing interest or a background in the sports world.

ECF lunch rideBut in some areas of Belgium, especially Flanders and in the EU district of Brussels what I think of as the Dutch/Scandinavian sub-culture is really strong and it is daily transport cycling, in normal clothes on normal bikes that holds sway. It is really great to be part of this multi-national community in the mornings, taking their kids to school, going to the shops and generally giving cycling status as a proper transport mode in front of the EU political classes, unlike in much of the English speaking world where cyclists can still be distinguished as a sub-culture by sport or hipster dress codes.

Segregated cycle path Ghent

For me to be “the strange one” is a statement that cycling has healthy prospects in Belgium.

6. The ever changing Belgian countryside

Houtain le Val

Friday night bike ride Flanders

I have written many blog posts about the changing light and weather of Belgium over the past 12 months. I don’t know what I expected, but I don’t think it was steep-sided valleys covered in beech trees or ever changing farming landscapes. The differences across the country from West Flanders to the Ardennes pack a lot of scenery into a small country.


Belgium farming and forestry practices have a big part to play in maintaining this landscape as does the maintenance of the historic buildings and villages despite it being the battleground of Europe.

Mist, trees and moon, evening in Belgium

There is a big push towards organic and pesticide free farming here which means that farmers have returned to traditional practices like crop rotation and green manures. In the fields just around our house we have seen wheat, barley, sugar beet, maize, potatoes, and parsnips just this year, all mixed up with fields of cows, sheep and horses and lots of coppices of deciduous trees. And in addition to the fields themselves this wide variety enables bird and animal species that are declining in other countries to flourish. Not the large monocultures of Britain or France or the horticultural factories of the Netherlands here.

Snowy ride Belgium

It means that even familiar roads can take on a new feel from month to month, the sense of being part of the rhythm of the land is palpable. More examples of posts here, here and here, or just chose the Belgium tab to the right.

7. Belgians like a lie in

Just 30 kilometres from the capital city, the heart of Europe. And a group of cyclists can ride for two hours on a Sunday morning and not see a car moving. 

Wallonia Cycle Touring

Or a public holiday in mid-summer when the parks and woods are empty for hours, making them a personal playground.

Brussels forest

Sundays especially are like a throwback to an earlier time. The shops are not supposed to open and tranquillity regulations ensure that mowing the lawn and noisy DIY are banned.

Thank you Belgium. Don’t bother getting up, I’m going out on my bike.

8. Belgian bike fans

Tour of Flanders IMG_0707 beer 1

Cycling matters here. Or more precisely cycle sport matters here. Especially in Flanders.

Every branch too, not just the impressive heritage of road racing. I mean, where else can cyclo-cross be on the TV every Saturday and Sunday all winter and Sven Nys be a national superstar. Do you even know the name of the national cyclo-cross champion in your country? I don’t. It is in the news, the television and even the gossip. Earlier this year I blogged about how the Prime Minister of Flanders got pulled into a dispute about cycling facilities while he was away on a trip to the Tour de France, everybody is sucked into the cycling world.

I loved my trip to the Tour of Flanders Museum in Oudenaarde to absorb the legends, to the classics to celebrate with beer, frites and people in birdie suits.

Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen Ronde Van Vlaanderen Centrum

And amazingly this even carries over in to driving behaviour. Drivers have a remarkable tolerance for anyone in lycra out in the countryside, they seen to be prepared to wait for ages for individual riders or in groups. Maybe less so in the rush hour in Brussels, but I have certainly noticed that when I ride like a posing roadie I get a lot more space. If only they knew just how un-Belgian my riding actually is I might not get the same respect.

9. Somewhere near to everywhere

Ittre Walloon Brabant

Flanders Cycle route signs

While I was in Poland last week at the COP 19 Transport Day I met a very dour Belgian railways official. When I said I used the service every day politely he asked me “how do you find it?”

He was genuinely shocked when I said I thought it was a good network with cheap prices and how pleased I was that it carries bikes on almost every service. He turned to his companion from the European rail association and said “See, I have to come to Poland to find a satisfied customer.”


Yes some of the trains are old and tired. Yes the strikes are a pain. But I cannot be fed up in a compact country, covered masses of country lanes, varying terrain, varying history, even different languages, all seemingly within about an hour’s travel in any direction and the chance to let the trains do the work.

And beyond the borders more great cycling countries to sample, all within such easy reach. Luxembourg, Germany, France, the Netherlands……

Luxembourg Old town and Kirchberg

10. My bike shed

Ok, you can’t enjoy this with me. It’s my space.

Kevin Mayne's Bike Shed

All I wanted was a shed, or a garage. When we started looking at apartments in Brussels we quickly realised that space was going to be at an absolute premium so I started reluctantly selling off some of my old bikes and bits. But having decided against city life and headed for the countryside I raised my hopes slightly that the shed would be a bit bigger.

When I visited a former farm in Lasne that we had previously ignored off as too small, too remote and without any storage in the particulars it was a very long shot.

Ok the house was fine. But seconds after entering the former milking shed I just burst into a smile that has barely left my face ever since. And now it has been properly equipped with its new livestock it has a similar effect on visitors, although mainly they just bursting out laughing.

Mysteriously the bikes seem to like it here, for it appears their numbers are growing. When the rental finishes it is going to come as an almighty shock, but for now it’s in my top 10 reasons for loving being a Belgian cyclist.

Thank you Belgium.

A year ago I wondered what life might bring. The answer? I do not despair!

Wallonia offers up another perfect day’s cycling

Walloon skyline

Cycle Touring Wallonia

There’s nothing unique about today. We didn’t go further than usual, it wasn’t especially hilly. We just cruised the rolling countryside to the South West of where we live. But it was just the perfect way to spend a cycling morning.

CycleottigniesJust over 90 minutes into today’s club ride a thought popped into my head. I couldn’t recall us passing any moving cars, from the front or the rear. There might have been one in Ottignies at the start of the ride by the station, but after that I think we opened up with about 30 traffic free kilometres.

It was almost windless so that the even the giant turbines out in the flatlands were still. And if there is sound I can recall beyond the clicking of freewheels it is the sound of skylarks above the fields which are almost ready for harvest.

Cycling in Wallonia

Some of that was definitely the wonderful network of tiny lanes found by our ride leader but also it reflects how sleepy rural Belgium is on a Sunday morning, especially a hot summer’s day when so many people are on holiday. The villages and farms were no more active than Spain during siesta. Imagine that just 50km from London, or indeed most big cities.

Cycling WalloniaWhen we first came here it all seemed a bit old fashioned. No Sunday shopping. A ban on noisy implements on a Sunday – so no diy, lawnmowers or hedge cutters. Now we welcome the wonderful tranquillity and the fact that there is no incentive at all for anyone to get up early.

Cycle Club Ottigines Louvan La NeuveExcept the cyclists. I wondered if our group would decline during holiday season but when I rolled up to the station meeting point for 8am if anything it was bigger than usual, well over 60. So in addition to the wonderful riding conditions there was lots of company for our 85km spin.

Not much chance for quality photography in a cruising club-run Cycle Club Ottignies Louvain La Neuve at Ottignies Stationso only a few atmosphere shots on the mobile as usual.

Music of the day? When I am spinning in a group I am usually concentrating but to today I was so relaxed the music just flowed. What to recommend for “Music to Ride Bikes By”? Lou Reed and Perfect Day seems a bit obvious, but I did manage a few verses. So that’s a good start.

Much better “Summer’s here and the time is right, for cycling in the streets”. At least that’s what Martha Reeves and the Vandellas could have sung. For sheer exuberance let’s take the 1985 Live Aid version which was running through my head for hours today.

Over to you Mick and David.

Now that is what I call a weekend – cycling, Le Tour, British Lions and Murray

  • Stunning weather.
  • Great bike ride.
  • The British and Irish Lions beat the Aussies comprehensively at rugby.
  • Despite all my best intentions I am totally addicted to the Tour de France all over again. Incredible stage today, impossible not to watch.
  • There is a Brit in yellow at the Tour.
  • And some bloke called Murray won Wimbledon ending 77 years of famine.

How good is that?

To be honest I am almost as pleased by the bike ride as anything else. I had a 60 mile day with the Belgian club I have started riding with and I the brilliant weather it was outstanding. I avoided the calamities of my last ride and we saw our all the best of our local countryside. And once again it was almost car free! (Club Cyclotouriste d’Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve)

Cycling Ottignies Brabant Wallon

The first few kilometres took us out of the dips and valleys of Walloon Brabant and then we rolled through the flatlands to the south with just a few ripples in the landscape. The villages were looking great, not least the beautiful chateau at Sombreffe which could have been almost anywhere in more celebrated landscapes in France.Wallonia Cycle Touring

On the way back we followed a similar pattern, to the point where one of the riders muttered that everything was a bit easy today. It looked awfully like we were going to get back about 30 minutes early, until the ride leader threw in about 40 minutes of climbing on a lot of the short, sharp climbs of in the area around Ottignies – we seemed to go up and down a lot of times and by the end my legs were hanging. But it was the sort of satisfied pain that comes with a good day out.

Cycle Ottignies

@30daysofbiking – how was it for you?

I last posted on 30 days of biking back on the 14th of April.

That doesn’t mean I stopped riding, it just means I ran out of steam on the blogging. It’s a great concept and it probably lends itself to the 140 characters of Twitter but I assumed my readers will probably run out of patience if I write “went to the station again” for the 15th time in a month. And it’s not as if I haven’t ridden a bike almost every day since too.

The bigger problem however was that I completely ran out of time to blog, I have had some pretty good content but I haven’t had time to do it justice. So while I am catching up with those posts I have looked back at the second half of the month and pulled out just a few highlights to close out the sequence, even if it is late. Almere and Paris were the travel highlights, but I have already blogged about those.

What was really great was being forced to note as I went along why even daily cycling is so uplifting, especially when you live out in the countryside and spring brings changes almost every day. This has been especially true this year, the late cold winter has compressed spring into a ferocious burst of energy and all of that broke during the 30 days of April.

So glory number one from the end of the month is blossom, bursting out all over.Genval Belgium Lasne Belgium

And number two is the rediscovery of touring. At last the weather has been good enough to do proper touring rides and I managed three or four of those, both local explorations, another club ride with Cyclottignies and my big trip across Wallonia. I ended April a lot fitter than I started it!Cyclottignies Club ride Brabant Wallon Lasne Houtain le Val

Finally there was one other big beneficiary of my determination to ride every day. He is a lot fitter too. When I might have just nipped out for a walk instead Murphy got lots of great cross country rides even after work and we explored a some great new local lanes off the Lasne Nature maps although not without a few barriers.


Anyway I managed to ride every day except one in April, probably more than I would have done without the incentive of the challenge. So Murphy and I thank the 30daysofbiking guys in Minneapolis, great idea. We’ll be back next year.

To see how the rest of the world fared click here

Should have been a horrible day for cycling – but got to make the most of it.

Oh my. Can I say again – I am so over snow.

Woke up this morning to almost the worst possible scenario for a road ride – snow and sleet beginning to lie on the fields. The road outside looks clear of ice, but it is soaking wet.

I am not free again on Sunday again for several weeks and after all the psyching up of yesterday there is no way I was going to back down from my first Belgian club ride unless it was truly unrideable so I put on my thickest winter layers including the neoprene overshoes and set off.

Unfortunately the prospect of a soggy cold day had a much bigger deterrent effect of the rest of the club because there were a grand total of two other riders out. I was assured that I was “unlucky” because there are usually up to twenty riders per group.

However no-nonsense Philippe was waiting for nobody and set off bang on 9.30. I was told this was planned to be a ride of around 55kmph at a speed of around 25kmph. Amazingly despite the conditions and the newcomer he delivered me back to the start point at exactly that time, just by riding at a well paced and constant effort throughout the whole ride, regardless of which of the other two of us was riding beside him.

What should I say? By all normal standards it should have been horrible. The sleet never stopped, stinging our faces on the downhills. The roads were awash and the minor roads were covered in mud and grit. From following Philippe’s wheel a few times I am afraid I will be getting the grit out of my teeth and eyes for the rest of the week.  The bike looked like a mountain bike when I got back.

Brabant Wallon Belgium

But inevitably I loved it. The roads were almost car free, a combination of the foul weather and the fact that there is almost no Sunday shopping in Belgium (yippee!). It made a great cycling route with the knowledge of a local guide and every road was new. We stayed away from the steep sided valleys nearer where I live so it was all rolling farmland which made the pace about right for me, no need to worry about saving something for climbing. In fact with the open fields, strong cold easterly wind and lack of hedgerows it could almost have been my native East Anglia except that the architecture of the farms and small towns and villages was unmistakably Wallon Brabant. The villages themselves just about managed to look attractive and well kept under the grey skies although I cannot say that for the road surfaces which were potholed and badly broken.

For the record: From Ottignies to Saint-Géry, Chastre, Walhain, Tourinnes St. Lambert, Nil St Martin and Corry Le Grand, my first Belgian club run.

I haven’t done that for nearly nine months. Boy I missed it.

Thank you Club Cyclotouriste D’Ottignies. I’ll be back.

Cyclingclubaphobia – fear of riding with a cycling club

Chippenham Wheelers, Dave Duffield RideIt is with enormous trepidation that I announce I am going to go for a bike ride with a local cycling club tomorrow.

It is one of the greatest failings of cycling as a social activity that jumping this barrier is a nerve-wracking experience even for someone like me who has been riding in clubs all my life. I have had some of the best cycling experiences ever and great friendship from my long term clubs Godric Cycling Club, Durham University CC, Cardiff Ajax and Reading Cycling Club but each time the first ride was a big step.

If I feel like this today then I know why people can own a sports road or mountain bike for their whole lives and never hook up with a club. Both they and the clubs miss out so often.

A quick examination of my symptoms please doctor:

Will I be able to keep up?

Will my bike fall apart?

If they leave me will I have a clue where I am?

I don’t climb too badly for a bigger lad, but my descending is pretty rusty at the moment – that could be embarrassing.

Amer Mountain Bike club, Girona I’ve never really had a bad first ride on any of these counts, but I have a deeply repressed memory of something odd happening on one of my first club rides in Cardiff. Can’t even remember the details but one of my creative repairs revealed itself during a ride and as I did a patch up by the roadside I could see the eye rolling going on in the background. “We’ve got a right one here” they hinted to each other. I could easily have become one of so many one-timers who never returned instead of enjoying many more years of riding and club life because many do have a really unwelcoming first experience.

Rugby was my other sport for years and despite being a complicated, physical sport it handles this sort of thing so much better. It has the advantage of taking place at a fixed location but the most important welcome to new starters used to be “the fourth team”. (Replace with 5th, 6th, 7th team as appropriate). Can’t run, can’t catch, don’t know the rules and have a long distance relationship with anything called fitness? We’ll give you a run out in the 4ths and see how you get on under the avuncular support of an almost retired older player with a gammy leg and a deaf ear. Everyone plays because a proper 4th team has any number of players between 9 and 17, except the required 15. A proper 4th team is like the boxes of reject broken biscuits we used to love as kids. All shapes and sizes and only occasionally you turn up a complete custard crème, but its the mix that counts. And when you return to the clubhouse the 4th team creates its own legends of the bar. In short, a place for everyone.

FIAB VeronaThis is the biggest argument out for entry level cycling groups in every town in the world.

Back to the matter in hand.

Tomorrow I am going out with the local Belgian cycling club.

This throws up a whole new set of challenges. At least in the UK I know the stock formula for most clubs is a Sunday ride – 60 miles with a coffee stop for most road clubs and maybe shorter distances with elevenses and lunch for the CTC groups.

Here club cycling seems to follows the French model. A racing club is just that, a club focussed on competition with a supporting network of ex-riders and officials. A cycle touring club looks to all intents and purposes exactly the same – club colours, quality road bikes, helmets and a calendar of events but the purpose is to ride together as groups and not to compete. So I reckon they fill the gap that I am looking for – strong-ish riders but not going to rip my legs off, like a club run or a faster CTC group in the UK.

Connection to my most local club has already failed because they are mainly interested in touring events – this weekend they are driving out to events both days. Sounds great, 100km including the legendary Mur de Gammont today but I actually want to learn about this area first and I certainly don’t want to give up 2 hours cycling time to sit in a car. So I’ll save that for another day, tomorrow I’ll try plan B with another club.


  • I have found where they start
  • My bike is scruffy but unlikely to be a laughing stock
  • I can do the distance
  • I have a domestic pass out

So it is time to get a grip Mayne ……. But they are Belgian, born to be hard cyclists. But my conversational French is awful. And what if I fall off on the cobbles, and what if they ……..

Club Italy

Man’s best friend makes it every rider for himself

One of the pleasures of being out in the snow today was to see the many wheel tracks in the snow that indicated that several local clubs must have taken to mountain bikes for the morning.

Club VTT BelgiqueThis provided my comedy sequence of the day.

I was perhaps 300 metres away across the fields from some farm buildings when I heard a commotion – dogs barking, people yelling. When I looked back I saw a nice compact group of about a dozen riders just heading towards the buildings. They ducked out of site briefly and I got out my camera hoping that I might get a good image of riders against the snow when they came out.

Instead there was a further commotion and two groups going absolutely flat out shot along the track with one man suspended in between. I clicked off a couple of shots rather in hope because it was clear the blowing snow and their determination to race away meant they would be rather hazy. It was only as I took the camera from my eye that I spotted a  further shape behind the final group which explained the split.VTT et chien Belgique












I have no idea how far the angry pooch followed them, but he was still going well when I lost them in the haze. Only doing his job I suppose, but I was awfully glad I had turned short of his territory. I don’t think I would have got away as quickly as the group I was watching and I would have been a much easier target.

In praise of Nicole Cooke, a real champion

Racing cyclist Nicole Cooke announced her retirement today. Multiple world champion and memorably Olympic Road Race champion at Beijing in 1988

Tonight I heard her giving an excellent interview to the BBC in which she is her usual robust self when describing her views on drug cheats and the impact they have on other riders’ careers. (link below) In the week that Lance Armstrong appears to trying to salvage his reputation on the sorry ground of the Oprah show I think we should salute a real star of our sport.

I am biased about Nicole because I have been following her career for long time and I know that she really is an old school champion, one who made her way up through the sport just before the British Cycling machine started producing champions with almost conveyor like regularity.

Back in the 1990s I was living in Cardiff and I restarted my club riding and racing career with the Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club, then a long standing club with a nice family atmosphere. Down in the schools category a name started to appear regularly – a twelve year old girl was beating all the boys at cyclocross and started winning national championships in unbeatable style. Within a year she was getting a national reputation. I recall Cycling Weekly magazine commenting that most of the senior men could learn a bit from watching her bike handling.

But along with her racing supportive parents Tony and Denise had brought up her and her brother as all round cyclists with a real appreciation of the pastime as well. They had cycled to school and been on cycle touring holidays too but Nicole was always a ferociously competitor and outgrew the gentle riding and school category years ahead of her time. Scarily bright too, doing exams early so they didn’t clash with her racing and a good speaker at social functions and prizegivings.

I have memories of the 15 year old Nicole handing out a thrashing more than a few times at any discipline. A 100 mile February reliability ride in freezing rain and snow, most of the top local riders left my group for dead. While we old men were dying in the café the “youngster” was going the whole way with the lead group – perhaps ideal preparation for that horrible day in Beijing ten or so years later?

Or later that summer when she was given special dispensation to ride outside her youth category with the local senior men as a bit of training. I was well dropped when I pulled off the circuit to watch the race finish, but even by then I had been terrified trying to follow her wheel round some of the corners on the old airfield circuit. Everyone else sort of rode round the corners, Nicole just hauled her bike round in a juddering arc, unforgiving on bike and rider. Not only did she ride with the seniors just below elite level and stay with them all race, she burst from the pack to win the bunch sprint embarrassing some quite handy individuals into the bargain.

She then became our club icon, followed by everyone and gradually a champion respected by everyone throughout the cycling world. Junior champion at every discipline, me shouting at the Eurosport coverage in each victory. Then the Commonwealth Games put her on the national stage, coming from behind after missing a corner after a typical piece of mad and fearless descending.

And that was her style. A colleague of mine at CTC Mick Ives also ran a pro cycling team which Nicole rode for a junior and he said she was relentless and unforgiving on herself and her equipment, driving herself to the limit, probably racing and training too much. Actually now I write this I realise how much she sounds like our other champion Beryl Burton who I have written about quite a bit in the last year or so. (tagged below)

I guess I was one of those who probably believed that she was destined never to quite get the world or Olympic titles she deserved, especially with the coming career of the similarly amazing Marianne Vos. But as if the Olympic title wasn’t enough the sheer bloody mindedness with which she outsprinted Vos for the world title in the same year was the one that had me almost break furniture as I jumped in the air.

That was probably her last brilliant year and it has been tough going since then with injury and team problems, not to mention internal tensions in the British team as her status waned but she remains high on my list as a rider that I would never tire of watching, there was always a possibility that she would do something in almost every race.

She deserves a successful retirement now and the continued respect of our whole cycling world. If she gets her moment in some sort of truth and reconciliation process after all the current rubbish in men’s cycling she will be a force to be reckoned with because she will not hold back.


Links – Nicole Cooke on Wikipedia     BBC Radio interview 

Brussels cycle lanes – taking the rough with the smooth

Last week’s trip to Amsterdam prompts me to revisit one of my pet rants.

The surface of cycle lanes in Brussels.

Rue des Sables - Brussels

Typical state of Brussels cobbles

There was lots of cycling on cobbled streets in Amsterdam and in Brussels. I like a nice cobbled street, even if it does play havoc on a small wheeled folding bike. Cobbles are part of Belgian cycling folklore, you can’t be a Flandrian icon without that background as a hard man of the pavé. So I’ll forgive the truly diabolical state of repair of the cobbles in what is supposed to be the capital of Europe.But why, oh why do so many Brussels cycle lanes have to be made of tiled surfaces? It’s an awful surface, effectively a pavement for bikes. And mostly built beside smooth, welcoming tarmac.

Tiles on the Avenue de Tervuren cycle path at the Tervuren end

Avenue de Tervuren cycle path

Harder to ride on, difficult and expensive to maintain, really unwelcoming.The most frustrating stretch I have found was on Avenue de Tervuren, the Tervurenlaan. Direct cycle route all the way to Brussels, nicely segregated from the main road. But every bone in my body wants me to move to the welcoming tarmac beside me rather than stay on the tiles.

Avenue de Tervuren cycle path at the Tervuren end

This looks really inviting, doesn’t it?

I am house hunting out here at the moment but the idea of this being the first 5km of my daily commute is a bit depressing.It’s not as if there is a design standard that stops them.

There are much better examples – to the north of Brussels a new section around an industrial estate and to the south in Walloon Brabant a lovely smooth descent through the rhododendrons near Chateau de La Hulpe which is more common out in this province.  Critics will say that it is deficient because it isn’t properly segregated, but frankly this is supposed to be the transport of delight, you shouldn’t need to be hard man of Flanders to bike to work.

Cycle lane on road to La Hulpe

A welcoming cycle lane on road to La Hulpe

Proper tarmac cycle lane in Brussels

Proper tarmac cycle lane!