NEW YORK -- How often does someone come into your office asking
about a biking tour in Belgium? Probably not too often. But the
right client will discover a country that has its own special love
affair with the bike and is not overrun by tourists, which makes
this type of touring such a natural extension of the Belgian travel
"Biking is a custom, a tradition in our country," said Annette
Choynacki, deputy director of the Belgian Tourist Office here. "[In
Belgium] people bike to school, they bike to work, and as
professional bikers know, we produce the best racing bicycles in
the world. The country is very, very bike-friendly."
That friendliness is reflected in the well-planned infrastructure
of bike paths around the country. These routes take riders along
the country's scenic canals and offer connections between towns and
sites of interest to tourists, such as the country's various
castles and -- if the biker works up an appetite -- cafes and
restaurants. And because biking is so ingrained in Belgium's
culture, Choynacki said automobile drivers are much more careful
around cyclists, which makes touring on roads a much safer
experience as well.
To promote the appeal of biking in Belgium to Americans, the
Belgian Tourist Office for the last two years has produced a
"Belgium for Biking" brochure. The brochure describes sample
itineraries and various packages and options available to the
prospective bike-tour candidate.
Choynacki makes it clear that one doesn't have to be in great shape
to consider such a trip. "About half the country is very flat, so
you don't have to be a pro," she said. In that half of the country
-- Flanders -- the tourist office details a variety of itineraries
ranging from a 30-mile tour around Bruges to a 450-mile journey
through the countryside and villages, which avoids the major city
For the more serious and physically fit biker, there is the
Ardennes region to the south, which Choynacki described as being
similar to Vermont in its terrain.
The one sample itinerary provided in the brochure is a 194-mile
tour that highlights some of Belgium's historic attractions.
Choynacki also noted that all the train stations in Belgium rent
bikes, which makes it easy for the independent traveler to simply
explore an area by bike then hop over to the next town or city and
rent another one.
But for a more formal bike travel experience, the tourist office
recommends two different tour operators, Bellevue, Wash.-based
Europe Express/Uniquely Europe and Chicago-based CBT Tours, both of
which work with travel agents and offer commissions starting at
CBT specializes in adventure travel in western Europe and has
been offering bike tours to Belgium for the past 10 years. CBT
offers both group and FIT itineraries, but firm director Jerry
Soverinsky said his group trips -- one in conjunction with Holland
and the other to Belgium only -- are more popular. These packages
start at $140 per day and are customized to the needs of the
Soverinsky likes Belgium as a biking destination for many
reasons. "From a traveling standpoint, it is a country of contrasts
and diversity, both in its culture and its scenery," Soverinsky
said. "In the north you have
the Flemish culture and its flat countryside, and in the south
you have the French
influence and beautiful hilly terrain."
Soverinsky also noted that Belgium is not crowded with tourists,
and because biking is so popular in the country, there is a great
support system in place for bikers. When asked to describe a
typical CBT Tours client, Soverinsky said, "We get people of all
ages and abilities. A typical client is willing to bike at least 10
to 15 miles a day."
While biking may be roughing it when compared with riding in a
motorcoach, clients do have the services of a support van to
transport their luggage between hotels, which also rides back and
forth along the bike route during the day to offer any assistance
Uniquely Europe, a division of Europe Express, offers customized
bike packages as well as a six-night Flanders Fields self-guided
itinerary priced at $784 per person, double, land only and $987,
single. The package includes use of an 18-speed bike, luggage
transfers between hotels, accommodations at three- and four-star
properties, and breakfast and dinner daily.
But offering a package does not mean clients are going to walk
in and request them. "This is something the agent has to promote,"
said Kim Bartell, a supervisor at Uniquely Europe. "[Clients] might
come in saying, 'I'm looking for something different. I'm athletic
and I want to do something I haven't done before.' It's up to the
agent to say, 'Hey, what about a bike trip?' The typical client I'm
seeing is someone between 40 and 60, usually professionals like
lawyers and doctors," Bartell added.
As for the physical demands of such a tour, she noted the appeal
of the country for bikers of all fitness levels. "Belgium is very
easy, it is very flat and is really charming. You bike through
beautiful scenery and quaint villages; it's a special kind of
And what happens when the weather is bad? "If it's just a
sprinkling, they are expected to do their thing," said Bartell.
"But if it's pouring, they have to contact the supplier and he will
take them on to the next stop."
A path to building a biker clientele
Where might you find clients for a bike tour of Belgium? Other
than swaying a client that walks in your door, you might try
contacting your local bike club. The League of American Bicyclists
-- founded in 1880 and currently boasting more than 35,000
individuals and 450 recreational club members -- produces the
"Almanac of Bicycling," which is a good place to start. The almanac
lists all affiliated bike clubs and organizations in the country by
Brewster Thackeray, editor of the organization's Bicycle USA
magazine and director of communications, said, "Another easy way to
find out what bike clubs might be nearby is to do a Web search.
Just type in the name of your town and then 'bicycle' and it should
pull up the area clubs."
For a copy of the "Almanac of Bicycling," send a $15 check or
money order to: League of American Bicyclists, 1612 K St. NW, Suite
401, Washington, D.C. 20006, Phone: (202) 822-1333, Fax: (202)
822-1334, E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.bikeleague.org
Belgian Tourist Office, Phone: (212) 758-8130, Fax: (212)
355-7675, E-mail: [email protected] .com, Web: www.visitbelgium.com
CBT Tours, Phone: (800) 736-2453, Fax: (773) 404-1833, Web: www.cbttours.com
Europe Express/Uniquely Europe, Phone: (800) 927-3876, Fax:
(800) 370-0509, Web: www.europeexpress .com