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On your bike: It’s time to explore outside Brussels on two wheels
If there's one form of transport enjoying a boom in Belgium right now, it's the bicycle, with the easing of coronavirus restrictions prompting many of us to get back on two wheels.
The good news here in Brussels is that the green belt surrounding the city is great cycling territory, whether you're a serious racer or just need a relaxing afternoon ride through meadows and villages.
Bikes can travel free on all Belgian trains from 1 July until the end of the year (although you must still get a bike ticket from the machine). So what better time to get exploring? If you don't own a bike, you can hire one in several locations surrounding Brussels, including in Asse, Halle and Huldenberg.
Let's get started
Flemish Brabant has 2,000km of cycling routes, organised as a network of "nodes". If you've already been for a ride, you might have seen the numbered green and white signposts along the way.
Each numbered node is like an interchange station on a metro map. Head to the first node at the start of your journey, then follow the signs to the next node, where at least two cycling routes cross. The nodes also connect nicely with the bike path network in Brussels.
You can customise your own route using this handy online planner or app - or hit the "surprise me" option. Then get on your bike and follow the numbers to connect the dots. If you'd prefer the rustling of a paper map, it can be purchased here.
Instead of making up a route from scratch, there are dozens of pre-defined routes waiting to be followed, with themes ranging from beer to Bruegel. Find a route that passes near you by selecting a town and how far you'd like to ride.
Perhaps one of the more unusual routes we’ve found is the 26km aircraft-spotting route near Zaventem airport, taking in the sights of Humelgem and Machelen, the Floordam woods of Steenokkerzeel and the hamlet of Lemmeke, the site of a 1961 plane crash, the worst in former Belgian airline Sabena's history.
For the serious cyclist, the newly launched Brabantse Pijl route to the south-east of Brussels is packed with variety. But it's not for the faint-hearted: this sporty 98km route, designed with the help of Flanders Classics, has steep climbs and some cobbled streets as it winds its way through Overijse, Huldenberg, Tervuren and Oud-Heverlee.
If you're looking for a more leisurely ride, explore the rolling hills of the Pajottenland and some of its beautiful castle gardens. Setting off from Dilbeek, the route takes in the beautiful Groenenberg domain in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, with its daffodils, azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, and the nearby Coloma garden, which boasts more than 3,000 rose varieties from all over the world.
Photos: Lander Loeckx