Roads to Ride: The Schelde

Most of the places so far in this series have featured mountain passes famed for their difficulty, history and stunning scenery. But here’s the opposite, a riverside cycle path that’s neither scenic, hard nor famous. But this is a key route for Flemish cyclists and you’ll spot more pros here than on the Koppenberg.

The Route: you can ride along much of the Schelde but here’s the section between Gent and Oudenaarde in East Flanders. There are countless access points to join and leave the path. As you’d expect it’s flat.

The Feel: dog-walkers walk, children learn to ride their bikes and barges chug up and down the sleepy river. It’s all so slow, inviting the rider to put the chain in the inner ring and slow down. But this being Belgium – whoosh – along comes a bunch of cyclists and the wildlife and human alike scatter. It’s one of the most concentrated routes for racing cyclists. The calm never lasts long.

The route is useful because it takes the cyclist away from traffic. Flanders is a busy place, it might be the home of bike racing but it’s got a crowded vibe and this is a way to escape the traffic. The feel is whatever you want, put it in the 11T if you want or just spin the legs. There’s a 30km/h speed limit but…

Scheldepeloton: the Scheldepeloton is a group out for regular rides in the area and take their name from the river. They don’t only use the path and they’re not the only group. But they have a reputation for speed and the ride often includes local pros, kermesse kings and others with fiercely contested sprints. Het Nieuwsblad describes the group as a mix of old racers, suspended doping cheats, pro riders and talented espoirs who hold a “race” every weekend.

Complaints about the Scheldepeloton have prompted municipal authorities to deploy ribbelstroken or rumble strips to thwart the speeding pelotons. Only one account says they’re useless, a tiny vibration that won’t jolt racers used to the cobbles but which risk slowing people carrying their shopping home.

Celebrity spotting: ditch the macho notions that real cyclists use roads and Flandriens only train on cobbles and bergs. These cycle paths are full of keen cyclists and many an elite rider will use the path. Maybe just a section or two, perhaps for a recovery ride or more but the path is often full of profs.

Weylandt Memorial: near Zevergem there’s a memorial to Wouter Weylandt by the path which also commemorates Frederiek Nolf and Dimitri De Fauw. It’s a solid Belgian tribute: no marble or bronze, just a rectangular block of bricks. It’s by the Meersbloem café on the left bank, the “finish line” of the Scheldepeloton sprint.

History: Belgium has a big network of rivers and canals which were essential for moving heavy goods like coal and steel. The Schelde river (Scheldt in English) is one of the most important arteries running through the country to Antwerp, once Europe’s richest city and today still a vital port. You can’t overestimate the importance of this river to Belgium’s industry, it’s played the equivalent role of a fibre optic cable today or a highway or railway in the past. By following the level course of the river barges could move heavy loads of coal, steel and other essentials around northern Europe because the Schelde is connected by canals to other rivers like the Rhine, Meuse and Seine. The paths beside the canal allowed horses to tow the barges. Today barges still ferry goods up and down.

Scheldeprijs + Scheldecross: if Belgian geography isn’t your thing, many cyclists will know the Scheldeprijs race held each April, sometimes for its French name, the GP de L’Escaut, Escaut being the French name of the river. The race has been the property of Mark Cavendish in recent years but tellingly Marcel Kittel got the better of him last year. There’s also the Scheldecross race. Both are held in Antwerp.

Photo credit: main image by Flickr’s Cindy Trossaert

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16 thoughts on “Roads to Ride: The Schelde”

    • The path is as long as you like, I’ve only done bits of it but think you can go from France to Antwerp and onto the end of the river, plus you can turn on to other canals. It’s useful to dip in and out, an easy escape route south from Gent.

      • From Ghent to Antwerp the path is more narrow, with rough tarmac at places but the river is mightier, the tides from the sea work all the way up till Ghent. Also you can learn to battle the wind like a real Flandrien, it gushes hard, certainly on the more exposed parts that run on the dikes closer to Antwerp. The part to Oudenaerde is more like a cycling-autostrada to the ‘Vlaamse Ardennen’ where most of the hills of the Tour The Flanders are located.

    • My 12 yr old daughter and I did this when we were in Gent for the Six Day last November. Gent to Oudenaarde and back via a lunch stop at the RVV Museum worked out at around 56km.

    • Living in Oudenaarde, the Schelde provides some great relaxing riding. But how long? That depends on a lot of factors (like not getting lost). I’ve only ever ridden the canal to Gent on the North side (where I use to ride to the west toward Brugge and finally to the coast in Oostende. If you do it without getting lost it’s around 180km, 6ish hours and about 8km of actual road the whole way there and back. I use to also detour to the south via the Izer canal and then cut over in Waregem back towards home.

      There are stories of Robbie McEwen doing 200km motor pacing days on the canal system (Oudenaarde-Gent-Brugge-Kortijk-Oudenaarde) in lue of racing some days.

      I know you can go all the way to Antwerp as some guests of our cycling house, The ChainStay, rode all the way there back when Starbucks first opened, just be sure to leave with enough time. They ended up coming back in the dark.

      For the South direction from Oudenaarde the farthest I’ve gone was 3 hours south (about 90km) and then turned around. This was pre-GPS days, so I’m not sure exactly where I was, but I know it was France.

      If you ever get the chance, do ride in this area. So many roads to see that you can do a month of riding every day and never ride the same roads twice.

      Gregg Germer
      The ChainStay

  1. Great stretch if ridden as part of the Ronde Flandrien sportive, which uses the path and keeps crossing the river back and forth. Memories of riding in big groups of 20+ riders hammering along at 25 mph, disregarding the other 1oo miles ahead of us!

  2. One of my key training areas. Many different route and distance options to choose from, which helps to alleviate the boredom from riding the same routes. Some routes are full of twists and turns, others have long straight stretches (which can be a hurt locker if there is a strong headwind!).

    Can get real busy on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning when the weather is good! Lots of clubs (5 – 35 strong) with average speeds ranging from 28km to 40km, depending on the group.

    Interesting that you mentioned the scheldepeloton! They have been in the news a few times. People have made many complaints about their aggressive behaviour toward other users of the bike path! Some would say they have popularised the term ‘wieler-terrorist’ (bike-terrorist). ‘Bumped’ into them once on a training ride and rode with them for a while…most of them are ok guys but you always get those who tend to ‘lose it’ once the adrenalin starts to spike!

  3. Looking to ride from Gent to Oudenaarde and then up some hills later this year so this looks perfect – Does the path run on both sides of the canal? – if so is there a better side to ride on?

  4. Loved the article, brings back so many memories from last year. Road down from Amsterdam to Ghent, via Antwerp – essentially along canals.

    Based ourselves in Ghent and road The Schelde a good half dozen times to Oudernaarde. Was a great way to warm up for the Ronde sportiv, though it was literally freezing.

    Probably the most enjoyable ride along The Schelde was when we moved onto Roubaix. We rode along it until we got to Moen where we checked out a brewery.

    Just cruising along, taking in the sights. I actually found the route very picturesque. Definitely recommend everyone to check it out once.

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