By Bantam in Belgium (for the over 70’s)

The plan was to fit 4 bikes in the van and head over to Belgium with the 3 of the members of the Berkshire Section of the Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC), aka the ‘Grumpy Club’; namely Alan (my father), Dave and Roger.

Day 0:

The van was loaded the night before, 3 Bantams and a DT175 ; had to strip the leg shields and front panniers from Dave’s bike in order to fit everything in. Dave’s is a D10/14 hybrid, with Roger’s is an orange (?) D14 (I think?), whilst my Dad’s (Alan) D175 was the one with the original patina. All the bikes had been lovingly prepared and paperwork and needs packed. Roger is used more to going to cruises than bike trips, but soon got into the swing of things.

Three Bantam's and a Yamaha

Really quick run round the M25 for a Monday morning; partly because we were in the van, not on 60’s and 70’s two-strokes and partly because it was holiday season and no traffic. Bit of a wait at Eurotunnel and then off through France and towards Osteende, Brugge, Gent and Antwerpen.

A warm welcome from Sophie in Lier and after a getting sorted in the hotel went for pleasant dinner in town.

Eyeing up a classic.

Day 1:

View Baarle-Nassau in a larger map

After some faff time fitting a new wing mirror (on the correct ‘european’ side ) to Roger’s bike, we set off in rainy conditions on a trip towards Baarle-Hertog (to Belgians, Baarle-Nassau, to the Dutch, more on the enclave situation check out Wikipedia ). Stopped after 3 minutes for Malcolm to find his over trousers.

Preparing the bikes for the Day 1 trip

Good to get on the road and head towards Zandhoven with all the bikes running well, with a range of blue smoke levels billowing forth from the bikes. [[ Two stroke oil and mixture ratios were the main contentious topic of the week. The approach ranged from the cheapest oil (£5 per gallon ??) to Silkolene Comp 2 and the exact mixture and measurement of oil to the more ad hoc methods. ]].

Some navigation issues towards Malle and Zoertsel as well as heavy rain, which saw us take shelter for a coffee and/or beer in a bar in Beerse. Suitably refreshed, we headed off towards Merkplas and then took the back roads up to Baarle Hertog. All bikes going okay (still) and after some suitable pastries and a conversation with a local beauty about the local parking legislation, we climbed back on board and headed back towards Turnhout.

What was clear, that the adventurous approach of using small back roads made navigation all the more difficult. There is no doubt that Belgian road signs and markings are the worst in Europe, both in terms of the inaccuracy and specifically their absence. Therefore, the route back used some bigger roads, in particular a dice with the Ring near Turnhout.

Weather was clearing up a bit as we continued back via Lille, Vorselaar and then Grobbendonk. Time for more beers and coffee before riding the final 20 kilometres or so back into Lier.

One of the main challenges of the trip was to find suitable beer for Dave (that is bitter, no head, ie like a local pint in Berkshire), so the team decamped to a bar near to the hotel to test out some beers (including Ciney and Palm ), which is where I found them over an hour later. Dinner consisted of a home cooked steak (which was ‘paarde’),some wine and beer. A slightly wet but day without major bike incident.

Day 2:
A brighter day and a mission. To the Holland but really ‘spare’ Belgium.

View Lier to Phillipine in a larger map

The aim was to catch up with Franz, who’d been on the End-to-End run with Dave the previous year. By happy co-incidence he also owns a mussel restaurant, so lunch should be sorted.

Some starting problems with the DT delayed the take-off and needed to adopt the fuel down the plug-hole to get the bike moving. The lack of maintenance (ie none since its arrival from the US) was beginning to take its toll in terms of trip reliability).

Nothing to ambitious for the morning run, through Mortsel and straight through the centre of Antwerp. Traffic not too bad and then through original tunnel under the Schelde and off towards Zeeland….

Except a problem….

Google Maps should be used with caution as despite best plans heading for the E34 towards Brugge. One of the advantages of lightweight bikes is their offroad ability between motorways. Back on track took us through some of the dock areas and then on into the Netherlands via the backroads. After a slight detour, the decision was made that lunch was an important event and we then made good time on bigger roads to get to Phillipine….and Franz’s restaurant.

Great guy, great food and great service, followed by a trip to his house to view his bikes (which was impressive). All in all it meant a later than planned departure back towards Lier, which was 120km away.

Franz's Mussel restaurant in Phillipine

A fuel stop and a failing fuel pipe on the DT delayed us further. Roger sprung some fuel pipe out of his bag and a quick fix saw everyone of their way. For a while, as everyone arrived in Wachtebeke, Dave did so without a clutch. Given that Bantam’s are a relative simple bike, replacing the clutch cable is anything but simple.

Replacing the Clutch cable on Dave's Bantam

There was offer of help from a local guy (Matchless owner) and then from a young lady who had seen Dave pull up on the side of the road. Another British bike enthusiast who distracted some from the repair task at hand. It was past 17h00, with 70km to go to Lier and dinner. A bit of pace was injected, as we headed to Dendermonde, though progress was held up slightly with a closed bridge back across the Schelde at Boom. As the cycle path was open, we decided to walk the bikes across, again another plus point for the nimble two-stroke.

Another 30 minutes and we passed through Rumst and Duffel and were back in Lier by 19h30. A quick aperitif and then pizza for dinner, which ended off a long day in the saddle. One of the positive things about small bikes, you can spend a long time not going very far, but having a lot of fun.

Day 3:

View Zonnebecke circuit with Ieper in a larger map

We left Lier in the morning and headed west over towards Ieper (Ypres in French) for a short day touring around the countryside. We parked the van in Zonnebeke outside the Passchendaele Museum with a nice day weather wise and then headed the short distance up to Tyne Cot cemetery. It’s the largest of the Commonweath cemetery’s with 12000 graves and a memorial to 36000 other soldiers without graves and it is a poignant memorial.

Menin Gate; Ieper

Off then via the back lanes into the centre of Ieper and after avoiding the road works found ourselves in the Grotte Markt where we met up with my sister Louise and family for a relaxed lunch. Took a look at the Menin Gate, before heading off south to Wijtschaete. We went to have a look at Spanbroekmolen crater now the Pool of Peace. This was the site of one of the mines that were exploded at the start of the battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.

Spanbroekmolen : the pool of peace

Also had a look at the small Lone Tree Cemetery opposite, on a far small scale than Tyne Cot. Back on the bikes and a short tour via Hill 60 before arriving back to Zonnebeke. Packed the van again and then headed back to Calais, when after some delays got back to England and then reading and the end of the trip.

Good fun and some discussion about the next trip. Maybe some better route planning next time, though Belgian back roads are not the easiest to navigate if you are not a local. With route-finding, leading the group, choosing meals etc, I didn’t get enough time to take photo’s, which was areal shame, but a great trip and good fun !


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