June 26th, 2010


On yer bike

In the name of fitness, I have been vaguely wondering if I should consider getting a bit more use out of my bicycle. (Young F has recently cracked the art of cycling, and now confidently bikes the 5 km to school and back daily.) One rather audacious plan that crossed my mind was to try and cycle to work. There is a whole blog dedicated to the different routes between Leuven and Brussels, but it didn't quite inspire me - Leuven is already some way north of us, and most of the routes recommended seemed to go further north before they came south, which is not especially helpful since my preferred route would be pretty much exactly due west or east (my home is roughly 850 metres closer to the Equator than my office).

Well, I thought, I would set several preconditions before making the attempt: it would have to be good weather, on a day when I didn't have any meetings outside the office, when I was in good health generally, and I'd have to find a satisfactory way of planning the route. I then realised about the middle of this week that the first three of these conditions were likely to be fulfilled yesterday. After a little more digging I came up with http://www.routeyou.com which actually specialises in calculating bike routes in the Netherlands and Belgium, punched in the two addresses, printed the result, took a deep breath and set off.

The inbound leg went rather well, I thought: about an hour and a half for 23 km, 14.5 miles, the longest single trip I've done on a bike in 20 years or so. I had chosen the "shortest route" option which directed me through pleasant enough commuter villages and the odd woodland path, and culminated with a long and agreeable downhill coast along the avenue de Cortenbergh towards the EU institutions. The worst part was the supposedly state-funded bike paths which are not well maintained. An hour and a half, door to door, is often as long as my commute takes anyway if I am unlucky with my bus and/or train connections. If I could somehow gain access to a shower at work, I'd be inclined to try this a bit more often.

On the way back I chose the option for the "nicer" rather than "shorter" route; 25.5 km instead of 23. This took me along a mostly parallel set of paths and roads, but to the south of my earlier route. I did not like it as much - the morning run was definitely nicer. It started with much less bike-friendly Brussels suburbs (with the odd poorly-maintained bike path), and then - after actually rather a pleasant run alongside the lakes in the park at Tervuren - brought me to a km of narrow trail with huge stinging nettles on the left and a sharp drop into a stream on the right. The next bit appeared to be an overgrown grass and dirt track uphill in the middle of a field; I couldn't quite believe it and backed up to the hard surface to try and get my bearings. That was a mistake and I eventually found myself in Neerijse, much to the south of Korbeek-Dijle where I had hoped to be. The detour added a good 5 km to my journey, which means I passed the 50 km mark somewhere along the way; probably the most I have cycled in one day in 25 years (since a tour of Donegal with my friends from school).

I have a long train journey today and tomorrow; I can see myself insisting on an aisle seat and doing a lot of walking up and down in the carriage as my limbs and especially my backside continue their protest against unaccustomed service. But I may repeat the experience before too long.

(.kmz files of the two routes for Google Earth here and here.)