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

Favourite cycling photos of 2015


This gallery contains 11 photos.

To complement the small selection of nice travel and home photos that I published two days ago I now compiled a similar selection of 2015 cycling shots. Many of the travel shots were also taken on bike rides around the … Continue reading

El Botroul – glorious Autumn mountain biking in Belgium


This gallery contains 15 photos.

Last Sunday I got up early and rode off into a misty Autumnal sunrise to take part in El Botroul, my club’s big annual mountain bike randonnee. The day was glorious and there was a lovely early autumn feel to … 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

Belgian cycle touring –summed up in a cycling shirt

Cyclottignies new cycling shirt

I got my new club cycling kit this week. There is of course a really nice feeling that comes with opening that bag full of shiny new kit, no scuffs or wear marks to tarnish the glow. And now I will be a proper member of the gang rather than the odd English guy in different gear.

But the acquisition of that bag brings more explanations about how Belgian cycling club life works.

I have always been taken by the fact that the club groups I see out on a Sunday are so perfectly dressed, huge pelotons all immaculately turned out. Now I discovered that my kit for Club Cyclotouriste d’Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve is almost free! Nearly €200 of kit as a handout. Wow, of course I’ll wear it!

I think it works because we have a whole bunch of local sponsors who effectively subsidise the clothing. The catch is that the clothing is only free if you stay a club member for four years because a few freeloaders have over the years joined a number of clubs, grabbed the kit and promptly left the following year. So we pay a deposit which we get back at the end of the four years if we stay. And of course if we ride around in the kit a lot to show off the sponsors.

But hang on a minute – sponsors? For a cycle touring club? Coming from Britain the cycle tourists are considered the less sexy group of riders because the racing clubs and the wannabies are the ones who ride about in colourful lycra. But in Belgium the racing clubs are as much teams as clubs and when the riders stop racing they often stop riding with their clubs. But there is a huge second tier of local sporting cycling clubs in Belgium (and for that matter France) who treat cycling as a club activity and a team sport with a busy national calendar of events and our local club scene.

So it is entirely expected that the cycle touring clubs will look and behave like racing clubs back in the UK, whether it is the expensive bikes, the speed of the fast group or the look we carry off, sponsors and all. If I turned up on my Dawes Galaxy with saddlebag and panniers here I would be considered decidedly odd.

Patisserie sponsorLastly I was delighted when I unveiled the new cycling shirts to discover the identity of the sponsors themselves. What could be more European than to have a cycling club sponsored by a patisserie and the café where the club enjoys its after-ride beer.

But joy unconfined when I turned the shirt over and discovered the emblem that we will be following for the next four years. A friterie. The chip shop. The national symbol. It doesn’t get any more Belgian than that.

Cyclottignies cycling shirt

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

“Who is going to push the Englishman?” – Embarrassment on a Belgian cycling club ride

“Qui va pousser l’anglais?”

The call went out across the clubrun today as the group had to slow up to wait for me again as I grovelled up the road behind them.

I wrote about cyclingclubaphobia several weeks ago, that irrational fear of being embarrassed on your first cycling club ride – being left behind, the bike falling apart, falling off – all that good stuff which never really happens.

It did today. A couple of weeks ago it happened to everyone else, this week it happened to me. Last time it was Cyclottignies medium speed group that supplied all the novelties I associate with club cycling, not least managing to lose the ride leader completely halfway through.

Where did he go?

Where did he go?

This week the problem was unfortunately entirely of my own making. About 40 people were gathered at the station where we meet but there was considerable discussion about the fact that they didn’t have a leader for Group 2, the ride I was aiming for. Then Francois arrived and after some boisterous negotiation in French he was press-ganged into action. Within minutes he was off and I pulled away with about a dozen riders.

However after about five minutes reality dawned. This group was just a bit too organised, a bit too lean and oh heck I have joined the fast group by mistake and I am going to look pretty silly if I turn back now.  Two weeks ago I rode with group 2 and the pace was actually pretty civilised (around 15mph) so if maybe they were a mile or so faster per hour I could just about hang on?

Apparently Francois had been bullied into leading Group 1 so someone else could lead Group 2. I really do have to improve my French if I am going to do this regularly.

The plan worked well for almost an hour and a half. I was hanging on quite well and definitely not embarrassed, so I started to relax. Then I rode straight into the back of the man in front when we made a sudden stop because I decided to absent my brain for a moment. The imprint of my brake lever on his backside wasn’t entirely well received. They know I don’t speak much French but I do know “murder” for some strange reason.

However after that stop the guys in the front decided that it was time the pace went up some more and for the next hour I was grovelling and yo-yoing off the back. They were awfully nice about it and Francois kept telling me I should come back to Group 1 next week because I’d soon get used to it. These are the “cracks” he said, the fast men.

The chap I had hit did get his own back with the call for someone to push me home. I hung on for another 20 minutes to make it up to about three hours and then as soon as I saw a road sign that I recognised I made my apologies and left them to it while I sneaked off to make my way home in a very tired manner. I’m not surprised I was a bit knackered, it was only my third ride with the club and according to my computer I had added 3mph to my usual speed.

I will be back again but I think this time Group 2 should be Group 2. I have no intention of being pushed home and I think I need to hide up for a few weeks to overcome my embarrassment.