South Limburg by bike
November 9, 2010 1 Comment
South Limburg is a bicycling Mecca for the Dutch. And that’s saying something in a country where the population of bicycles easily out-numbers that of its people. The roads throughout South Limburg are filled with serious cyclists who come for long training rides, arduous hills and incredible views. But for those of us who weren’t blessed with legs like Lance Armstrong’s, the steep terrain can be a bit intimidating.
Before writing yourself off as a motor-only traveller, consider for a moment that suiting up in head-to-toe Lycra is not a requirement for an enjoyable day of peddling through the region. Local retailers have made it their business to provide fun and accessible riding options for people of all ages and abilities. And you may be surprised to learn how adventurous your riding choices can be.
Electric bikes have become increasingly popular in the past few years thanks to the power they add to your pedal. With a small electric engine that sits on the bike, your speed of travel increases with much less heart thumping effort in the hills. The result is more countryside covered and a faster door-to-door journey. Pedaling is still required so don’t expect a completely leisurely journey. Think of it more like that little push Dad gave to the back of your saddle when you were first learning to ride.
Electric bikes are a great option if you haven’t been clocking in many training miles but still want to ride some hilly roads. We rented a few e-bikes with an out-of-town guest and managed to cover almost 80 kilometres including a climb up the Vaalserberg. We took a leisurely lunch break at the Herberg Café in Epen where the views from the patio are breathtaking, before heading on to Vaals. The Valkenburg Cycle Centre rents all types of bicycles and provides maps with suggested riding routes of the area. Since Valkenburg is the cycling capital of the area there are many great loops that start and end there.
Did you know that Valkenburg has an extensive underworld dating back 2,000? Did you also know that you can take a bike tour through parts of the 70 km long cave system? The 90-minute guided tours (by ASP Adventure) start in Old Valkenburg and continue through some of the more wondrous parts of the caves with several rest stops to take photos. Participants are given helmets and a special ‘cave-bike’ equipped with a powerful light. The tunnels can be a bit chilly so bring a jacket. All ages are welcome and the pace of the ride is leisurely for all ability levels.
Cave biking in Valkenburg
Mountain bikes have fat tires and suspension designed to make riding over rugged trails and on dirt paths smooth and easy. Riding in a heavily wooded area is a peaceful way to explore nature away from cars and congested paved bike paths. Kids often enjoy this type of riding because there is an element of exploration in nature for them. Some of the best and most varied mountain bike trails are spread through the forest near Heerlen, about 20 km southeast of Maastricht. More sports-minded individuals looking for an adrenaline-pumping workout have many challenging trail options there too.
We found a unique off-road cycling experience at ‘t Zinkviooltje (The Zinc Violet) in Epen. An old farmhouse that is now used as a sports and recreation facility, they offer bike rentals with an option for tours with experienced guides. The farm sits on a beautiful area of nature in the Geul Valley surrounded by trails and the River Geul. The activity centre doubles as a campsite so guests can take advantage of the onsite showers, changing rooms, ample parking and a spacious patio to relax after your ride.
Tour bikes are great for urban cruising and flatter bike paths. One great option for an easy family outing is just 30 km north of Maastricht in the quaint village of Susteren to the Beezerd. The Beezerd is a new recreational company situated in a nature park with a restaurant and spa. They also rent children’s bikes and regular touring bikes for adults by the day. Since kids can tire quickly, having a fun destination planned on the route helps motivate them to keep moving. A number of less hilly routes leave from the forested site including an easy 8 km ride to the local ice cream shop. Groups and couples can also book a pre-ride brunch followed by a custom guided ride, wine tasting tours, or a post-ride dinner and massage.
Sharing a bike with a family member may sound a bit more like torment than relaxation, but riding a tandem bike can be a blast. And because four working legs are more efficient than two, you can cover much more distance on your ride. Tandem bikes also allow kids or slower riders to stick together with more skilled cyclists. The strongest person rides in front controlling the steering and balance. If you prefer to start your ride right from the city, renting a bike right in the city of Maastricht is possible from Fietspoint bike shop. Located right next to the train station, you can ride out of town on the bike path along the Meuse River.
Limburg’s convenient number mapping system was created to help cyclists navigate the 2,000 kilometres of routes in the area. Every intersection in the cycling network is assigned a number making it nearly impossible to get lost. Signs indicating the direction to the next number help point you which way to go on your route. The system is easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Just choose a route, note down the numbers of that route, and then follow the well-marked signs. Maps are provided at most bicycle shops as well as the tourist office in Maastricht.
If you live in or around Maastricht, you already know that the area has an endless amount of natural beauty to explore. Take a lesson from the Dutch and be your own engine for a day. No matter what type of riding you chose, discovering the area by bike gives you the freedom to enjoy areas beyond what your motor vehicle will allow.
By Erin Wille
Erin Wille is an American expat and writer living in the Netherlands. She is dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles through her writing.
Rental Centre Information (as mentioned above)
043 – 60 40 675
043 – 601 53 38
Rental options: touring, hybrid, mountain, race and electric bikes
Rental options: touring, children’s and tandem bikes
043 32 111 00
Rental Options: city, hybrids, mountain, tandem bikes
Rental Options: Touring, hybrid, mountain and electric bikes