Author Topic: newbie planning Belgium tour  (Read 688 times)

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Offline nicolevilla

newbie planning Belgium tour
« on: March 25, 2014, 05:24:40 pm »
I'm a fair-weather bicycle commuter from Seattle, and I'm planning a three week plus self-guided bike tour through Belgium this September.  I'm an experienced traveler, but have never done a bike tour.  Belgium seems like a fairly easy place to start.  The main question I have is about the bikes.  My husband and I have solid bikes--I have a Masi Speciale Randonner, he has a Jamis Aurora--and they are already fitted with racks on the back.  Both would be good bikes for the tour, but I've heard that it is more expensive to ship than to find used bikes, especially when traveling to Europe.  The two couples that I've known to do a European bike tour both got bikes in their destination country.  One couple rented in Portugal, the other bought used in Italy.  I've been doing some research, but no clear answer has emerged.  Any thoughts?  If buying used, is it a good idea to get them off of the Belgian craigslist, or does anyone know a decent used bike shop in either Brussels or Ghent?  I've found a couple online, but I would love have more options. 

Also, what resources would anyone familiar with Belgium recommend for planning the route?  I've found some on my own, but as above, I would love more tips for planning. 

I know this may be more suited for the International forum, but it seems like this one gets more traffic.  Thanks! 

Offline RussSeaton

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2014, 10:48:30 am »
I cannot imagine going on a bike ride, any bike ride, except on my own bike.  My own bike I have been riding for years and years.

I toured Europe a long time ago.  1992.  I bought maps locally.  The ones I used were labeled as follows.
RV Reise-und Verkehrsverlag
GroBe StraBenkarte 1:200.000

I assume that RV company is a map making company.  And the 1:200.000 is the scale.  That size worked well for riding a bike.  These maps showed all of the roads.  Little roads too.  And all towns.  I folded them up and stuck them in my handlebar bag map case.  I'm guessing I bought the maps in book stores.  Don't think convenience stores would have maps to this small of a scale.  Couldn't have been too hard to find since I acquired lots of them over the summer.  Many different countries.

Offline indyfabz

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2014, 11:16:53 am »
I would definitely bring my own bike. Wouldn't want to have to count on finding a comfortable ride that is set up for the task at hand. Wouldn't want to expend the effort either just to save some bucks. You would also need to find bikes that are compatable with your racks.

On the subject of cost, the most expensive bike charge I have seen is $200 each way on Delta. We paid that last year when we flew to Venice. Assuming you have to pay that much, you are talking $400 round trip. What's a used bike going to cost? $200? If so, you are only saving $200. And keep in mind that you would really only be renting the used bike you purchase it since, presumably, you are not going to pay to fly it back home with you. Your trip is in 5 months. If you each put $2.50 into a jar each day you should have enough saved to pay the airline bike charge.

As for resources, I love The Rough Guide series. There is one for Belgium and Luxembourg:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Rough-Guide-Belgium-Luxembourg/dp/1848367201

They are typically pretty throrough and, more importantly, candid. If a town or a hotel isn't nice, they will tell you. They also contain a good amount of historical information about regions. Michelin makes good road maps of Europe. I used The Rough Guide to Andalucia and the Michelin map for that territory to plan a 7 week tour. Worked out great. I am sure there is at least one Michelin map for Belgium. There may even be individual maps for different regions of the country.



Offline nicolevilla

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2014, 12:22:48 pm »
Thanks for the replies. I did some more searching, and found that unless we fly delta (thanks for the heads up), some airlines are pretty reasonable about their fees for bikes as luggage.  I do love my bike and itd be nice to have an adventure with it. 

I will check out the brand of map you suggested. I know that Flanders in northern Belgium has a lot of bike paths, and the Michelin map I bought doesn't have quite that amount of detail.  I was thinking I may have to wait til I'm there and stop by a bike store.

I tend to be more of a Lonely Planet person, mostly out of comfort because I've done most of my traveling with them, but I'll check out the Rough Guide and see if it has any additional info.

Offline RussSeaton

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2014, 01:14:01 pm »
stop by a bike store.

BOOK store, not bike store for maps.

Offline nicolevilla

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2014, 01:33:44 pm »
Maybe, but it has been my experience that a well-stocked bike shop may be more likely to have maps of bike paths for that area than an ill-stocked bookstore. I guess it depends on where you're looking and what you're looking for. Thanks.

Offline mathieu

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2014, 05:33:48 pm »
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.

Maps
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.




« Last Edit: March 26, 2014, 06:00:20 pm by mathieu »

Offline nicolevilla

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2014, 03:55:48 pm »
Thanks so much Mathieu!  That was really helpful.  I'll check out all the resources you suggested, especially the road signs. Yeah, I'm pretty convinced that we'll fly our bikes over at this point.  As for the languages, I took some French in college and travelled around France for a bit, so hopefully I can get by with the basics and the Walloon accent doesn't throw me too much. Thanks again for your advice!

Offline PeteJack

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2014, 07:11:22 am »
Quote
I took some French in college
Do learn how to pronounce the letters of the alphabet, most people are not taught this. It's very helpful if you want to find route D123 say. (e.g. D in French is pronounced 'day').  See http://french.about.com/od/pronunciation/a/alphabet.htm And be aware that locals often don't know route numbers; roads often have local names that don't appear on maps.

Offline dombrosk

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2014, 05:44:39 am »
I'd definitely suggest that you take your own bikes.  I'm heading across this summer for my 4th European tour and never regretted paying the fee to have my own bike and gear that matched it.

One thought on logistics.  I've found that Amsterdam Schiphol is an incredibly bike-friendly airport to travel in and out of.  I'm often not the only cyclist setting up my bike in the baggage claim hall, and the truly amazing Dutch bike network begins across the pedestrian mall from the main terminal.  I used an Amtrak box for my 1st trip across... minimal fuss to get your bike ready to fly.

Perhaps more importantly, on departure you can buy bike boxes at the airport (left luggage office sells them for about 20 Euros).  These are sturdy cardboard boxes similar to the Amtrak style that last until the return trip you're going to want to make after this first one.   :)

There is a train station connected to the terminal if you want to speed south to Belgium, or it's a pleasant few days down along the coast to Belgium.  It's a reasonable option to take the train back to Schiphol from your tour ending point--- but do a bit of planning on which trains take bikes... most do, but not all, and some require reservations for your bike.

Happy riding!

Offline PeteJack

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #10 on: April 23, 2014, 10:15:09 am »
I'd definitely suggest that you take your own bikes.  I'm heading across this summer for my 4th European tour and never regretted paying the fee to have my own bike and gear that matched it.

One thought on logistics.  I've found that Amsterdam Schiphol is an incredibly bike-friendly airport to travel in and out of.  I'm often not the only cyclist setting up my bike in the baggage claim hall, and the truly amazing Dutch bike network begins across the pedestrian mall from the main terminal.  I used an Amtrak box for my 1st trip across... minimal fuss to get your bike ready to fly.

Perhaps more importantly, on departure you can buy bike boxes at the airport (left luggage office sells them for about 20 Euros).  These are sturdy cardboard boxes similar to the Amtrak style that last until the return trip you're going to want to make after this first one.   :)

There is a train station connected to the terminal if you want to speed south to Belgium, or it's a pleasant few days down along the coast to Belgium.  It's a reasonable option to take the train back to Schiphol from your tour ending point--- but do a bit of planning on which trains take bikes... most do, but not all, and some require reservations for your bike.

Happy riding!
+1 to everything dom says

Offline Galloper

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2014, 08:23:43 am »
As an alternative, if you decide to buy locally have a look at:  http://www.decathlon.be/

Their bikes are inexpensive and well equipped.   

Offline SamSpokes

Re: newbie planning Belgium tour
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2014, 01:26:44 pm »
You may wish to extend your trip to surrounding countries. I crossed Belgium in one day. I appreciate you wish to explore the country but in 3 weeks you could see some of France, Holland and Germany.

Bruge is a must see in my view and cycling across Flanders had its own windy charm.