I am from the Netherlands, the northern neighbour and older brother of Belgium. So take some of my advice with a pinch of salt.
Bringing your own bike or find a used one?
Like others, I advice to bring your own. It might cost in the order of $400 per bike for the return trip, but you are unlikely to find a good used bike for that money. If they are for sale, it will cost you time to find and view them and time is also money. There is a sort of Flanders craigslist http://www.2dehands.be/
. Look in the left hand panel under 'Fietsen' (=bikes) and then 'Herensportfiets & City Bikes'.
Planning a Route
You will find a lot of tools and maps of specific bicycle routes, in English language, under http://www.eurovelo.com/en/cycling-in/belgium
There are much more specific tools in Dutch for planning routes in Flanders and in French for routes in Wallonie, but it is difficult for me to judge how much you can use them if you do not have command of these languages.
I recommend the yellow Michelin maps, 1:150.000. You will find them at tourist information desks, supermarkets and gas stations. They are excellent!
Some general comments:
- You will find that Belgium is a country that is deeply divided in the two language communities, dutch and french (the german-speaking part is only a tiny corner). In Flanders about half of the people you'll meet is able to communicate in English ; in Wallonie less than 20%. Probably still enough to get around. Flanders has a lot of bike paths ; Wallonie much less.
- I urge you to spend time to understand the different bicycle signage systems. I do not mean the traffic signs (e.g. in www.kuleuven.be/transportation/pdf/guideforcycling.pdf
), but the navigation signs. For most foreigners it is bewildering. If you spend one hour to learn the specifics it will make your touring a lot easier.
Basically there are 4 different signs systems in use, each adressing a specific group.
(1) Destination driven signage, e.g. for commuters, usually the shortest bicycle route from A to B.
(2) A nodal grid for local leisure cycling (in dutch: knooppuntenroute). The advantage is that after preparing your route on a map or computer screen, you just have to write down and follow a string of numbers, instead of writing and spelling difficult names of towns and streets. This grid guides you over low-traffic, scenic roads, but is less suitable for long-distance cycling ;
(3) Long distance (LF) bike paths (Grote Routepaden) ; for bike travel ;
(4) Local thematic loops, often for a full day or multi-day of recreational cycling, e.g. 'Molenroute' (windmill route) or 'Limburgse bierroute' (Limburg beer route).
Each of these sign systems has a specific shape (round, square, hexagonal, etc.) and lay out. See pictures in http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fietsroutes_in_Vlaanderen
. Unfortunately I didn't find a comprehensive overview.
- In Flanders you will find a sort of 'hot showers' hosts, called 'Vrienden op de Fiets' (Friends on the Bike). These are often bicycle travellers themselves and more than happy to guide you through your first days in Belgium. Try ! See http://www.vriendenopdefiets.nl/nl/overzichtskaart/?from_address=&to_address=&single_address=&single_country=24
- In contrast to the US you will find every few miles a place to sit down at a cafe, usually in a garden or terrace outdoors, for a coffee and pastries, or a choice of Belgium beers. Flanders people are proud about their cycling heritage in professional road cycling and especially in cycle cross- ; it is their national sport! Enjoy the stops and the chats and adapt your daily mileage target.
- To get ideas, read some touring journals on Crazy Guy : http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/locales/?locale_id=20&doctype=journal
- Three weeks should be sufficient for cycling Belgium through-and-through, including beer stops. If you have time left, try The Netherlands or Northern France. The quality of the dutch bike paths is much better than those in Belgium, but our choice of beers is much less, unfortunately.