Guest contributor, Adrian, introduces us to Belgium’s all-ages summer cycling event, Le beau vélo de RAVeL and shares why it’s a great way to discover Belgium’s hidden gems.
Belgium has a lot to offer cyclists, even beyond its well-known tourist destinations. If you are done with visiting the big cities and have already taken the bike trip from Namur to Dinant, consider discovering the hidden gems of Wallonia and Brussels, with thousands of people, all riding bicycles. This huge group event is well organised, safe for everyone and, at the end of this cycling trip, there are concerts and various entertaining activities. You can do all this every Saturday, from late June to late September, at Le beau vélo de RAVeL.
What is Le Beau Vélo de RAVeL ?
To put it simply, Le beau vélo de RAVeL is a radio and TV show aired by the RTBF (Belgium’s French-speaking public broadcasting company), that celebrates in 2018 its 20th season. But it involves much more than a broadcast program. It is a cross-media event, meant to promote local tourism and sustainable mobility.
The principle is quite simple: every Saturday of the summer, a 30 kilometre guided tour is organised in a different part of Wallonia or the Brussels Capital Region. The cycling trip follows a closed loop and its trajectory is carefully chosen to include the most attractive sights of the respective area – from picturesque villages, farms, and castles, to wide open fields, rivers, and forests. The trip is open and free for anyone to enjoy. No wonder thousands of cyclists of all ages join the ride every weekend. For the less audacious, a shorter loop of about 10 kilometres is also available, which is ideal for families with kids.
The whole bike ride is broadcast live on VivaCité Radio and is hosted by Adrien Joveneau. He is joined along the way by various guests: artists, sportspeople, politicians, etc. A 25 minute TV report from the event is also broadcast on TV channel La Une the next day.
For each stage of Le beau vélo de RAVeL, there is a clearly designated departure point, as well as a “refuel” stop (halte ravitaillement) halfway into the journey. At the departure point, you can find everything that makes up the nice, cosy ambience of this event: the stage, the various stands, the bike rental and bike repair points, a cafeteria, and plenty of stands for participants to attach and lock their bicycles. Depending on the stage, this departure area can be set in a park, a public square, a parking lot, or simply an open green area. Once you reach this place, you feel like you are joining a summer festival.
The ‘official’ ride begins around 1:15 PM, right after the 1:00 PM news on VivaCité, and is set to end at 4 PM, with a long break scheduled at the refueling stop. There, water and fruits are provided for free to all participants, so they can get enough energy to successfully reach the finish line.
It’s important to mention; there is no obligation for participants to adhere to this schedule. Everyone is free to start riding whenever they want and at their own pace. This is not a competition, so there is no need to be in a rush.
Once the cycling tour is over, you can relax and enjoy a free live concert by the week’s guest artists. It’s not unusual to see renowned singers, such as Gilbert Montagné, Yannick Noah, or British band, The Rubbets, to name just a few.
What does Le Beau Vélo de RAVeL mean?
The origin of this event’s name is a pun on Maurice Ravel’s 1928 piece “Boléro” (Le Boléro de Ravel, in French), with “beau vélo” meaning “beautiful bicycle” and RAVeL being the Walloon network of alleys and paths reserved for cyclists and pedestrians (Réseau autonome des voies lentes). Therefore, although it sounds like Ravel’s Boléro, it simply means The beautiful RAVeL bicycle. Funny pun, isn’t it?
Why Attend Le Beau Vélo de RAVeL?
If the above description is not enough, here is a list of reasons why you should join in, at least once:
It’s easy. The tour is guided, with signs at every turn. You just let yourself go and enjoy the view. There is no need to fill up your mind with street names and routes and no way to get lost.
It’s safe. The police also lend a hand to this event. At the busiest intersections, they handle the traffic and make sure cyclists are riding safely – for instance when crossing a national road. Although it’s still important to ride carefully and wear a helmet, the risk of accidents is highly reduced.
It’s surprising. As the route is chosen by the organisers, it’s your time to simply discover the destinations. So ride on and be surprised by what you see, knowing you might have never known of that beautiful village if it wasn’t for the Beau Vélo.
It’s nice. People of all ages, bicycles of all sizes, families with courageous kids, even dogs… are all riding together for their well-being. It’s a different way of getting to know Belgium and its locals; not to mention the concerts and various activities that make up a nice weekend getaway.
It’s assisted. Technical problem? A team of bike fixers is available on the departure camp, so you can ask for help when in need. This way, you’ll be all set for the trail. Just make sure to see them before the peloton leaves.
How to take part
All you need to know to take part in the ride is the location of the start point. For each stage, the address of this place, along with the length of the circuit, its difficulty level, and other practical details are listed (in French) on the event’s official website. In most cases, you can reach the starting point by train or using a train+bus connection. However, if the departure camp is set in a remote village, it might be poorly served by public transport, so an extra bike ride might be required. Personally, I am not scared of riding the extra distance from the train station to the Beau vélo camp, before and after the tour, but that’s just me. The best bet is to check all the details (and the map) beforehand and organise your day according to your capabilities.
Regarding the bicycle itself, it is always more convenient to take your own. My previous articles concerning taking your own bike on the train or using a bike sharing system might also help you. However, if none of these is an option for you, you can rent one of the bicycles available on the spot. In 2017, the rates were 14€ for a standard bike, 22€ for a tandem and 34€ for an electric bike, for the whole afternoon. But note these bikes, regardless of their type, can be fully booked and thus unavailable if you count on renting one right away. Consider booking and paying your bike in advance. Not only will you be sure to have a pair of wheels to ride, but it will also cost you a few bucks less. To make a reservation and ask for more information, simply call Mr. Bernard Gabriel at 0479 12 33 58. The payment can be made to his Belgian account number BE69 0011 2312 2378.
20 Days of Cycling
The 2018 season of Le beau vélo de RAVeL will be a very special one. It’s the 20th season of the show and the organizers have decided to celebrate this with 20 days of cycling. That is why, an extra bunch of stages will take place in autumn after the regular season comes to an end. Therefore, there will be 13 regular stages throughout the summer, and then another seven in autumn.
The season kicks off Saturday 23 June 2018. There is one stage scheduled every other Saturday, until 8 September, while the final regular stage traditionally takes place in Brussels, on the Car-Free Sunday (16 September this year).
Here is the list of the places where 2018’s stages take place:
- 23 June: Waremme
- 30 June: Genappe
- 7 July: Vaux-sur-Sûre
- 14 July: Antoing
- 21 July: Perwez
- 28 July: Vielsalm – Lierneux
- 4 August: Verviers
- 11 August: Bertrix – Herbeumont
- 18 August: Mons
- 25 August: Ans
- 1 September: Namur
- 8 September: Estampuis
- 16 September: Brussels (Car-Free Sunday)
After that, an additional seven étapes will allow you to discover Wallonia like never before. Under the name L’Échappée belge (The Belgian Breakaway), this spin-off to the regular Beau vélotakes the rather courageous rider on a tour of French-speaking Belgium. This means longer stages (up to 75 kilometres in one day), and an even more intense way to discover the country by bike. The conditions are different from the regular season because every other stage picks up from where the previous one ends and you also need to register in advance if you wish to take part in the adventure.
Here is the planning of the Belgian Breakaway 2018:
- Monday, 24 September: Signal de Botrange – Chaudfontaine
- Tuesday, 25 September: Chaudfontaine – Marche-en-Famenne
- Wednesday, 26 September: Marche-en-Famenne – Couvin
- Thursday, 27 September: Couvin – La Louvière
- Friday, 28 September: La Louvière – Flobecq
- Saturday, 29 September: Flobecq – Wavre
- Sunday, 30 September: Wavre – Hannut
It might not be for everybody, but if it sounds like you, then prepare to book your seat.
For freebie fans
It should not be the primary goal of your trip, but if you are a goodie or freebie fan, you might enjoy the free breakfast served to the first 2000 participants or the “Beau Vélo” souvenir t-shirts given away to the first 1000 to show up at the registration stand. To get them, you should be there at around 9:30 and prepare to stand in line, because it’s first come, first-served.
Now you have a new source of inspiration for your Belgian cycling trips, and I hope you’ll enjoy discovering the country this way. The good news is this event happens every summer, with a new place to discover every weekend. Therefore, don’t hesitate to invite your cycling friends and see you soon on the paths of Le beau vélo de RAVeL!
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