Trip Report: Vosges May 9-12

Location and Dates: Gerardmer, Vosges, France, May 9-12

Participants: Rainer, Katja, Inge, Rich, Carlos, Tony, Ann, Alec, Alexi, David

Trails: Marked trails belonging to the Hautes Vosges VTT trail network

Weather and Trail Conditions: "Late winter" conditions with alternating rainy and dry days. Moist but relatively firm trails with some puddles here and there.

Accommodation: B&B Chalet des Roches Paîtres, Gerardmer

As per the plan, the trip started with meeting up at the B&B on Thursday afternoon after an early morning departure from Brussels for some of the participants. The idea was to squeeze in an introductory ride and fire up the legs for the rest of the long weekend. The rest of the group would arrive that evening after work, or even the following day, Friday.

Needless to say, the drive down to the Vosges was a harbinger of the extreme weather we would encounter, as it had rained non-stop. We made an effort to gather our courage and head out into the pouring cold rain for our intro ride. Long story short, we chose a trail that was located close to the B&B for convenience’s sake and got soaked to the skin while riding mostly wide forest tracks.

Luckily the next day dawned clear with partially sunny skies and dry weather, albeit still cold for the time of the year with temps hovering around 10 deg. We made the most of that day by riding two separate loops before and after lunch. We enjoyed lunch at a mountain restaurant appropriately called "Le Montagnard" which was very welcoming towards muddy mountain bikers. Maybe being the only customers that day had something to do with it?

We knew that the following day, Saturday, would be the worst day weather-wise. The weather forecast was predicting temperatures of 4 degrees at the higher altitudes with wind gusts of up to 75 km/h (hello, windchill anyone?)! So what did we do? We planned to ride the longest 60k loop with 1600 height meters of climbing, duh! I wonder whose idea that was…? Well, in the end it was "fun" in that kind of epic sense where you will be able to tell your grandchildren that you managed to avoid hypothermia and survive to live another day. Ok, so maybe we cheated by bailing out after 40k because it was no joke that we were risking hypothermia from being completely soaked by rain, hail, and snow, all while being blasted by high winds!

Fortunately, Sunday morning was sunny and dry, albeit still a bit cold. We went for our last ride on a loop that took us to a belvedere above the Lac de Longemer which had amazing views. It was nice to end the trip with a dry ride.

Some takeaways of this trip:

Mountains are mountains, and weather can be extreme even in the month of May.

It is impossible to keep your feet dry in persistent rain, so the best bet is to wear thick wool or neoprene socks that still retain some warmth even when they are waterlogged.

The Vosges mountains are very scenic and the views are fantastic, but in general the marked trails follow wide forest tracks with only a few rare singletracks and technical descents. On the other hand, the hiking trails were all singletrack and looked very inviting. Many of these walking trails looked very steep and difficult to commit to riding without knowing what we were getting into. A future trip to this area should consider following a GPS track recorded by a local or someone who has explored the area to find rideable singletrack trails.

Even after heavy rains the trails are not too muddy since the ground seems to absorb the rain well, but there are puddles to avoid in the places where drainage is impeded by bedrock or compacted soil.

The local gastronomy is based on different ratios of cheese, creme and lardons, with each combination of ratios being given a different name just to give people the illusion they are eating something different each time.

More seriously, the Chalet Roches Paîtres was a fantastic choice of accommodation with a very cozy atmosphere, a drying room for wet gear (go figure), ample secure bike storage and washing facilities, and excellent food. Thanks Inge for recommending this place and arranging the booking!

We had a great time together as a group, and really looking forward to another BigM trip in the future!



Ride Report: Hoge Kempen National Park

Participants: Inge, Gail, Tom, Igor, Patrick, and myself David

Distance: +/- 40k

Weather and trail conditions: Mild sunny weather. Compacted sand and loam singletrack with practically no mud.

As so often happens, the day did not turn out according to the original plan. When we arrived at the agreed meeting point at the sports complex in the town of Neeroeteren we were surprised to see that the parking was completely full of cars with bike racks and mountain bikers all over the place. At first I thought that somebody must have hacked my email account and figured out I was leading a ride and it went viral, but the reality is that there was coincidently an organized MTB ride starting from the same exact place.

Undeterred, I thought we would just continue with the original plan to follow the GPS track I had downloaded from the O2 Bikers magazine website, the assumption being that once we got far enough from the parking we would be on our own and not be constantly buzzed by the testosterone racer boys that typically frequent these kind of organized rides. Unfortunately, the organizers must have been aware of the O2 Bikers loop, because the organized ride followed exactly the same paths, but in the opposite direction!

After a few kms of swimming upstream against all the riders who were coming at us on the narrow singletracks, we decided to abandon the idea of doing our own “disorganized” ride. Instead, we would join the organized ride and go with the rider flow. If you can’t beat them, join them!

It was a good decision, because most of the riders had already started riding earlier and we did not suffer too many annoying close passes so we could enjoy the trails in relative peace and solitude. The organizers had put together a really nice loop that had plenty of singletrack and various short but steep climbs and descents. Unfortunately, towards the end we missed some signs and ended up missing the last 6 kms of the 40k loop, which actually corresponded to the section of trail that we had done in the “wrong” direction earlier that morning, so the final riding distance ended up being close to 40k anyway. It was a really fun ride, and when I looked at the GPS recorded track on my computer in the evening I saw that the ride was in a completely different area than the one of the O2 Bikers GPS track (except for the first kms that were in common with the organized ride), so it was a good way to discover new trails!

After finishing the ride we decided to just have a beer and a bite to eat at the sports complex café, which had a decent selection of beers, including Paix Dieu abbey beer which is served in a very interestingly shaped glass:

I still want to go back another time to do the O2 Bikers loop, as the area looks very mud-resistant and the trails are really fun with lots of twisty singletrack, so expect a proposal from me sometime in the future.



Ride Report: Namur – Dinant – Namur

Ride Report: Namur – Dinant – Namur

Participants: Rainer, Katja, Rich, Inge, and David

Navigation: GPS track published by the Belgian O2 Bikers magazine. No official signs.

Distance: 44 + 45 km over two days with overnight stay in Dinant. 1800 height meters of climbing in total.

Weather and Trail Conditions: Beautiful sunny weather with 15/16 deg highs, dry trails with the occasional small patch of “permamud”.

As planned, on Saturday Sept 29 our hardy band of adventurers met at the Citadelle of Namur to ride offroad to Dinant by following the Meuse river valley. The return to Namur from Dinant would happen via the opposite side of the Meuse valley the next day. The idea was to stay at a B&B in Dinant taking everything we need for the overnight stay and following a bikepacking philosophy of bringing the minimum luggage possible, either in bikepacking bags that strap on to the bike and/or carried on the back in a rucksack.

However, Rich decided that the B&B was for softies and decided to bring full-on camping gear strapped to his bike, which is the truer hardcore definition of bikepacking. Luckily we had managed to dissuade him earlier on to not do the trip on a gravel bike. He did thank us later.

Day 1 Highlights and Incidents:

· The starting point of the ride, the Citadelle of Namur, is perched high above the city with amazing views. The ride started with a very nice wooded twisty offroad descent down towards the city and the river Meuse. However, before we got going on that descent Rainer tried to bunny hop over a curb and landed funny where his backpack swung to the side and caused him to lose balance and crash hard. Ouch.

· Next, we had to bike along cycle paths next to the river for a while before hitting the next offroad section. We were impressed to see a person in a wetsuit swimming down the river at a pretty good rate of speed. Water didn’t look too warm, but some people are brave/crazy.

· There were plenty of stiff climbs and descents explained by the fact that the trails weaved in and out of the valley and onto higher plateaus. One of the descents we did that first morning was super long and rocky and qualifies to me as one of the best descents I have ever encountered in the Ardennes. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face at the bottom, and duly punched in the location as a waypoint into my GPS for future reference.

· We had planned to stop in the village of Crupet for lunch as it is a known touristic town that is described as one of the most beautiful villages of the Ardennes, and beautiful it was. The first café/restaurant we encountered was closed, but luckily there was another one a bit further down the street so we did manage to have a pleasant refuelling break on the terrace.

· Entering the village of Crupet was reasonably easy. Getting out was a whole other story as we had to go up on a steep trail consisting of stone slabs with loose rocks and gravel lying on top. Since it was difficult to keep momentum on that kind of surface, it was only a matter of time before we were all pushing our bikes, but hey, that’s part of the adventure!

· After 6h20m of elapsed time we finally saw Dinant in the distance as we descended through some open fields and joined a tarmac road which brought us down to the busy waterfront of the city. At that point Rich set off to ride a further 5km to a camping he had researched on the internet. We set off towards our waterfront B&B, but not before stopping for celebratory drink(s) at a sunny terrace on the water’s edge. After checking into the B&B and changing into our “civilian” clothes, we met up again with Rich to go for dinner together at a cozy restaurant where Rainer made up for his time away from Belgium by stuffing himself with fries, accompanied with a “side order” of mussels. I guess you could call it frites-moules instead of moules-frites.

· The temperature forecast for Saturday night in Dinant was predicting lows of 3 degrees, so we were understandably concerned that Rich was so nonchalant about going back to his camping for the night. We had visions of having to go fetch him in the morning to chip the ice off of his tent and see if he was still alive, but he was adamant that he was going to camp that night. Respect.

Day 2 Highlights and Incidents:

· We slept very well in our waterfront B&B and next morning the view from the windows was spectacular with a thick layer of mist floating on top of the river Meuse which gave a very dramatic look. We started to wonder if Rich had made it through the night, even considering he had brought a flask of whisky to increase his chances of survival, but at 10am as agreed he was in front of the B&B ready to roll. We stayed at the B&B “L’Inattendu sur la croisette” and it was very clean and comfortable with extremely friendly staff that allowed us to store our dirty bikes indoors. Highly recommended.

· Leaving Dinant also proved to be a challenge as the GPS track led us up some concrete stairs into the forest. The dirt trail that continued onwards after the stairs was really steep and we did not have a proper warm up in advance, so some pushing and cursing was in order. After some time the trail flattened a bit and just as we got to believe that the worse was behind us we saw another group of mountain bikers waiting to queue as each of them pushed their bikes up an inhumanly steep trail that seemed impossible for anyone to ride. It is then that I saw the arrows for a marked VTT trail pointing up and couldn’t imagine who thought that this was a good idea.

· After making it up to the plateau above Dinant we enjoyed some scenic trails in rolling countryside. One particular trail started off idyllically with a beautifully manicured tunnel of overhanging trees and shrubs but after 100 metres it spit us out in front of an exposed hillside climb which made us wince just looking at the pain that was to come. As feared, this climb was very tough with a very evil kick-up at the end.

· One unpleasant experience came a few moments later when we were descending on an asphalt farm road and approaching a left bend in the road. Rainer, Katja, and Rich had already disappeared around that bend moments earlier when all of a sudden one of those huge mega-tractors came tearing around the bend heading directly towards Inge and myself at high speed and with no apparent intention to slow down. Needless to say we had no choice but to take evasive panic action and swerve into the field next to the road. The sad thing is that seconds earlier on the other side of the bend Rainer had motioned to the tractor driver to slow down, which he didn’t feel the need to do, apparently.

· Right after the tractor incident we turned on to a wide descending trail flanked by concrete electricity pylons. It all started looking terribly familiar to me. This trail was in fact part of Steve’s Anhee loop, but we were riding it in the opposite direction descending into the village of Annevoie. The funny thing is that one of the memorable descents on Steve’s Anhee loop is that one long descent that zig zags down from a restaurant perched on the edge of a high cliff overlooking the town of Godinne. This time however, that descent was to become a climb, and boy was that a long long climb! We ended up having lunch at the restaurant at the top and enjoyed amazing views over Godinne and the Meuse valley while we refuelled on pasta.

· After the lunch stop we rode some amazing rocky technical trails, some of which were barely rideable when loaded down with bikepacking seatpacks that prevent the possibility of sliding your bum back over the rear wheel to avoid going over the bars.

· The section after the town of Profondeville was quite disappointing as we had to stay on tarmac roads for kilometre after kilometre. I would like to go back there one day and explore to see if there is a way to avoid those long stretches of tarmac.

· After finding dirt again we just had a couple of kilometres to go before we all of a sudden arrived back to the parking of the Citadelle after 6h40m of elapsed time. First priority at that moment was to load our bikes in the cars followed by a quick “hydration” stop at the panoramic café high up overlooking the city of Namur.

All in all, a fantastic weekend in the company of fantastic people! If there is interest we can repeat this ride next year. 🙂



Back to the grind…and that’s a good thing.

September shows up on the calendar and that means kids go back  to school, vacation memories are already fading, and all sorts of weather conditions arrive in Belgium. It seems like some of these days we experience 3 seasons in one day. But if you’re going to let a little rain and a few clouds get you down then you live in the wrong place.

So Big M continues to grind on into the year and we like to send summer off with a big end of summer party. It  promises to be a fun time and plenty of great food and beer. We will welcome plenty of new members that have either found us here on the website or also via our new  Meetup Group.

And coming soon  – to go with the new look on the web site, new look Big M jerseys !!! And remember  if you’re joining for a night ride  (Tuesdays and Thursdays @7 pm ) you’ll need good quality riding lights that throw a strong enough beam to allow you to ride full speed through the night for 2-3 hours from now until time changes again.

Do you need some recommendations for lights ?  :

Magic Shine

Some articles that shine a little light on the subject….


See you out on the trails !


July 2017 updates online and offline…

Ahh summer has arrived and BigM continues to ride all over Belgium and enjoy what has been a particularly dry summer – thus far ! But whats new ? We’ve introduced and ordered our new club jersey to commemorate our 15th anniversary.  Look out for an all new look that will hopefully arrive in time for our annual Summer party.

And we’ve made a few changes right here on – with the intent to make sure that anyone looking for a mountain bike club in Brussels finds us easily online and recognizes us for the friendly, knowledgeable group of riders that we are 🙂

And on the subject of online activity, we have left behind our old yahoo forum. So if you were wondering why there are no more updates there, we have migrated to a new platform that combines group messaging, calendar,  etc all in one place. Send an  email   to and we’ll get reconnected.

Ride Report: Trans Triple De Kroon Brewery Ride

Participants: Steve B, Rainer, Katja, Selma, Chris, Bert, Steve J, Pierre and David.

Distance: 32.5k

Weather and trail conditions: Sunny, hot, dry and dusty. No mud whatsoever.

After assembling at the car park of the De Kroon Brewery in Neerijse we proceeded to head out on a cobbled tree-line track in the direction of the castle of Neerijse on edge of the Dode Bemde nature reserve, the first true off-road section being ridden on an elevated embankment which used to hold a steam tram railway many years ago. A section of this tramline skirts the edges of the Dode Bemde reserve which used to connect villages between Vossem and Hamme-Mille from 1905-1957. There’s your little cultural-historical trivia fact for today.

We then exited the Dode Bemde nature reserve by crossing over a concrete bridge over the Dijle river and headed into the Meerdael forest, but not before Pierre managed to burp his rear tubeless tire with a sideways bunny hop curb smash. There are other easier ways to take a right turn into a side street, but Pierre has a particular style of riding… J

After Pierre managed to put enough air back into his halfway seated tire, we rode (and Pierre wobbled) into the first serious climb of the day. Chris mentioned something like that Pierre’s tire looked more crooked than Donald Trump, but maybe I’m not quoting him properly.

After negotiating a few overgrown singletrack sections we arrived at an area where some youngsters have built some tasty berms and dodgy jumps, so we proceeded to “shred” that section. Ahem. We kept going after that and tackled a long wide climb which marked the beginning of the very hilly southern edge of the Meerdael forest. What followed next is a series of singletrack descents and climbs ending with a root-infested descent punctuated by drop offs and loose sandy berms. It was right after that when Chris asked if we could swap bikes as he wanted to try my steel cross-country hardtail, and I have to admit I wanted to try his loaner Kona Honzo plus bike that he had borrowed from the bike shop that is fixing his bike. The fact that we are both Time pedal bros made it a convenient swap. I then realized I may have made a mistake in that the Kona was noticeably heavier and there was a steep climb coming up which I was starting to dread. To my surprise, I cleared the climb more easily than I usually do with my own bike, as the plus tires gave me constant traction and allowed me to conserve energy on the climb. Very cool.

After some further ripping up of singletrack which Steve rated as “flowy” we got to a point where we had exhausted the singletrackage in the area and needed to start heading back before beer desperation set in. The idea was to cross over from the Meerdael forest to the flatter Heverlee forest and then re-enter the Dode Bemde nature reserve via another entry point which runs parallel to the Dijle river before heading into a refreshingly cool shaded trail. Having done that we then exited the nature reserve and after 5 more minutes of riding we were sitting down at the terrace of the De Kroon brewery ordering lunch and swapping stories.



Trans Tripple rides are back

Many of you may recall our series of beer-themed rides that we have done the last years, starting with the Trans Trappiste rides which took place in the area of each of the Trappist monastery breweries in Belgium something like 5 years ago.

We followed that up the subsequent years with the Trans Triple series of rides, which basically opened up the concept to having rides near any brewery which makes a half-way decent strong beer. We tended to sample those same said beers after the ride to help the local economy. 😉

The first ride of this year’s Trans Triple series will be happening on Sunday, March 20, so not next weekend but the one after.

We will not be far from Brussels, in the town of Neerijse which is about 30 mins from the center of Brussels in the direction of Leuven.

Mark this date on your calendar and I will send out more detailed instructions as we get closer to the date, but the start time to meet at the church of Neerijse is probably going to be 10am.

Since this may be the first Trans Triple ride of the year, we will limit the distance to around 30k, however be aware that the area is somewhat hilly.

This the brewery we have chosen to inaugurate the Trans Triple season, which you may already know from a previous Trans Triple ride:

It is no coincidence that we are revisiting this brewery again. Their triple brew "Delvaux" is nothing short of spectacular according to my tastes. The food is also really good so having lunch there after the ride is a great plan. 🙂

if you’d like to join email us at