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HERE ARE THE FILTHY
The DirtyDropbars, an off road collective created by Jochen & Nils. Gravel and bike packing is their passion. It all started with sharing their adventures. Nils & Jochen love to take pictures so the Instagram page was a logic result that started September 21’. Together with the perfect adventure compagnons, our Jaegher bikes. DirtyDropbars have designed what is likely the first documented multi-day off-road cycling route in Flanders, Belgium: The Flanders Divide.
GENK > OSTEND
We decided it was our duty to come up with a bike packing route that shows what our stomping grounds have to offer with as much off-road as possible. A route taking you from Genk in the east all the way to Oostende at the seaside. The route spans from the historic mining areas with feisty offroad switchback climbing the terhills via the gravel lanes of Limburg to the hills of Hageland. Once you leave Leuven, home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe, it is nature galore with the triple Meerdaalwoud, Zoniën Forest, and Hallerbos. Literally hours of fun in the forests.
THE ROLLING HILLS
With lungs filled with fresh oxygen, it’s time for Pajottenland, known for its typical rolling hills through Flemish farmland and backroads. Don’t be fooled by the much-deserved rest peddling along the Dender though. Your calves are about to get burning again when it’s time for some of those famous Flemish cobbles. Starting with the infamous ‘muur van Geraardsbergen.’ From here, it is straight into the Flemish Ardennes, over to Oudenaarde, which is the centre of the Tour of Flanders.
WHERE'S YOUR INNER FLANDRIEN
Then its time to channel your inner Flandrien and conquer the steep cobbled bergs and offroad stretches, already well over 350kms into the route. With most of the 3500 meters of climbing done, it’s time for the final push towards the seaside. More backroads, single tracks, and gravel lanes follow with another highlight in the historic town of Bruges before arriving at the beach and dipping your wheel in the waves of Ostend, concluding this epic 560km trip from east to west.
But, this ended up to be only the start. At the end of 2022 we decided we wanted to not only share pictures and stories, but really share the experience.
Our never ending desire of exploring on our Jaegher bikes took us to remote and unique places all over Europe. For years, route design has been our passion. That’s why we are also official Komoot ambassadors. We find pride in fine tuning a route to perfection with focus on off road.
We believe a lot of people want to experience these kinds of adventures and moments, but all too often, logistics, doubts and the need for material and tools create a big threshold. End 2022 we decided to start a new business. It is our mission to share the positive impact bike adventures had on us. On a bicycle you go fast enough to cover a whole continent in a reasonable time and slow enough to see so many interesting things. We let people discover scenery, experiences and themself along each other. Bike adventures or getting outdoors is always a reflection of life itself. Embracing both the amazing and incredibly difficult days make us who we are. Being outdoors for days and exposed to the power of nature brings you back to the essence of life. It makes you understand your own body and mind better. Because of the endless endorphins, you reach parts of your mind that you normally wouldn’t reach.
Our guides ensure the journey you go through is as important as achieving the destination. It’s as much about making you see new things through authentic encounters, physical effort and communion with nature.
AND THAT'S WHAT RAW
HAS TO TELL
ABOUT THOSE DIRTY GUYS.
by Javi Angulo for RAW Magazine
The Flanders Divide, a new bikepacking route right through Flanders. The 564 km long route consists of more than 40% unpaved paths and winds from Genk in the far east of Flanders to Ostend by the sea.
CROSSING THE CYCLING MECCA
During the first part of the year, Flanders is undoubtedly the place to be for anyone interested in cycling. The last races of the cyclocross season precede the start of the spring classics, and all that takes place in the Belgian region.
Nonetheless, not everything is about professional cycling, and most of us ride our bikes with the sole purpose of enjoying every single pedal stroke. There is of course a place for this type of cyclist in what is considered to be the cycling mecca, and the launch of the Flanders Divide is a good example of it.
FLANDERS AT IT FINEST
Flanders Divide is the first off-road bikepacking route that crosses the Dutch-speaking part of the country, from the east to the northern coast. One could think that Flanders is fully urbanized and flat, but most of the 560 km of the route is on unpaved terrain, including singletracks, smooth gravel highways, and even some hills.
While most cycling enthusiasts in Flanders follow some of the traditional cycling disciplines, one can also feel the rise of gravel as another valid way of exploring new places with a bike.
The guys from DirtyDropbars have been exploring the entire country and neighbouring regions on their gravel bikes for several years. They wanted to let others know about what Flanders has to offer, and in collaboration with komoot they created this route.
The 358 waypoints contained in the final version of the route are a clear indicator of the planning required for a track of this distance, following unfrequented ways and including sections that not even the mountain biking option of komoot suggests you to follow.
THE CURATORS OF THE ROUTE
Over the past year and a half, Jochen and Nils have checked parts of the route themselves as komoot’s ambassadors of gravel in the region. Nonetheless, it is impossible to be aware of the current state of the roads and trails that the Flanders Divide goes through, as there can be parts under construction or paths that are no longer accessible for cyclists. By checking the photo content they created during those exploration rides and then doing the Flanders Divide ourselves, we could see how the landscapes change throughout the year, with green fields where a few months before there was nothing but fallen leaves.
We were invited to the launch ride two weeks ago. We did 300 km in two days, starting from Hasselt with a planned finish in Halle, slightly beyond the halfway point of the full route.
According to the surface indicator of the route planner, the segment we were going to cover was 60% unpaved, so a bike like the Ridley Kanzo Fast was perfect to ride at high speed in the tarmac and compact gravel sections, and still be in full control when the terrain became tougher. Unlike the Ridley Kanzo Adventure and most true bikepacking bikes, it does not have mounts on the fork. However, a handlebar and a saddle bag were enough to carry our food, tools and camping gear.
Just a few minutes into the Flanders Divide we were already immersed in the Hoge Kempennational park, a place shaped by its past as an industrial mining and gravel extraction site. After mining was abandoned, nature did its job and now this place features some hills coming from the old spoil tips, sandy sections, and scenic views.
We spent most of the first day riding the top gravel paths and roads of Limburg, first heading north to pass by some must-visit places like Fietsen door de Bomen, and then crossing the Albertkanaal, heading southwest until we reached our destination.
For this launch ride, we spent the night in a cosy tent that the organizers had set up for the occasion, using the sleeping bags and sleeping mat we carried with us. With no running water nor electricity, it felt like a true bikepacking experience, and the weather allowed us to enjoy a warm evening outside and sleep quite comfortably.
On the second day, we linked the different forests of the Flemish Brabant, with a sense of solitude even being close to a metropolis like Brussels. At some points, the hard mud prevented us from riding at a constant pace, but we were also rewarded with smooth gravel highways in between high trees. The Meerdaalwoud, Zoniënwoud, and Hallerbos led us to our final destination, Halle.
Despite not being able to cover the remainder of the Flanders Divide, we were told good things about the final segment from the west of Brussels to the coast. Along the Pajotteland region, riders will encounter different paths through farm fields in varied conditions, and after a constant left and right zig-zag linking gravel roads, they will climb the Muur van Geraardsbergen. This monument had to be included in one way or another in the parcours of the Flanders Divide, as the history behind it trespasses cycling disciplines.
The route also includes the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, the final two cobbled hills of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. After the Flemish Ardennes, the remainder 125 km head north through mostly flat terrain, so you can either be lucky with the wind and arrive at the coast with no effort, or curse the DirtyDropbars crew for making you suffer until the very end.
The track of the Flanders Divide was not planned with the sole purpose of including as many gravel sections as possible. Many roads in Flanders are quiet and lead you through scenic landscapes, so there was no point in rejecting them for the simple reason of being surfaced.
When asked about the best direction to tackle the Flanders Divide, Nils and Jochen told us that one can start from Oostende or Hasselt depending on our preferences, but that it is always rewarding to finish by the sea. We wouldn’t have minded extending this launch ride and ride all the way to the end, as the boiling heat during the weekend was the perfect excuse for a swim at the beach as a reward for our accomplishment.
Who will set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the Flanders Divide? On the komoot collection we can see that the full route is divided into five suggested stages, but we all know that people also like to explore the limits and do it in one go. There are several bivouac areas along the route, and the Flanders Divide passes by some cycling-related cafés and accommodations worth stopping. The Flanders Divide is made for a gravel bike, mountain bike or touring bike with at least 35 millimetres tires, but preferably even wider. The first 50 cyclists who complete the route will receive the unique Flanders Divide patch.