A third “Cycling Experience Enhancement” opened in Belgium

The gigantic wooden walls look rather intimidating when you approach them in the woods near Maasmechelen in Belgium. The cycleway between the dark trees takes you to a concrete deck between two even darker walls of almost 7 metres tall. That deck rises slowly to the top of the walls making them less daunting with every metre you cycle. Once at the top, your very restricted view up until that point opens up and suddenly being able to see the vast heathland of “Hoge Kempen” National Park is a beautiful experience.

Billet en français

The most impressive part of “Cycling through the heathland” is cycling between these two massive wooden walls.
At the top of the viaduct you can look over the walls and many people stop to enjoy the view.

The tourist board “Visit Limburg” opened a third “cycling experience enhancement”. It is a 4 kilometre long cycle route called: “Cycling through the heathland” (in Dutch “Fietsen door de Heide” or #FDDH) in the middle of Flanders’ only national park “Hoge Kempen”. The top attraction in this ride is a 294m long and 6.7m tall wooden cycling viaduct with an exceptional guarding design. The other two projects have been around for a while. I showed you “Cycling through water” and “Cycling through the woods” in an earlier post. (In Dutch “Fietsen door het water” #FDHW and “Fietsen door de bomen” #FDDB respectively.). The opening of this third project was delayed for quite some time. Initially it would be finished late 2018, then it would be spring 2020, but in the end it became summer 2021.

On the way down you end between ever taller looking walls again.
The top of the side guarding stays at the same horizontal level on the entire viaduct, which makes the experience of cycling on the viaduct quite special.

The wooden viaduct was designed by MAAT-ontwerpers and Witteveen + Bos. Contractor Besix built the structure. The viaduct was opened on 5 July 2021, after a building period of a little over two 2 years.

The project was initiated by the tourism board. The total investment was 2.9m euro which was shared between the municipality of Maasmechelen, the province of Limburg and Toerisme Vlaanderen (Tourism Flanders). The opening itself was done by representatives of these three authorities. One of whom, provincial executive member Igor Philtjens, wrote on his own blog:

“With our cycling experiences, we want cyclists to enjoy our Limburg fauna and flora even more. As in the other experiences, this installation also blends into the surrounding nature. In this exceptional way, we bring cyclists into close contact with everything the National Park has to offer.”

An areal picture gives an idea of how the viaduct is embedded in its surroundings. On one side woods and on the other side the beginning of a vast heathland. Picture © Kurt Vandeweert via Visit Maasmechelen.
The viaduct is always described as located between numbered junctions 550 and 551. That means there are no additional signs needed to point to it. I found only one tiny purple sign at junction 550. I expect there to be anther one at number 551. The colour purple must refer to the heather in bloom.

Building had started in June 2019. The project was meant to become an iconic cycle viaduct straight through the heathland of the Hoge Kempen National Park which is on the tentative Unesco world heritage list. The bridge’s supportive structure is made of Azobé tropical hardwood, supplied by the same Dutch firm which also delivered the wood for Europe’s longest cycle bridge in Winschoten, the bridge in Oirschot and the viaduct in Harderwijk, all in the Netherlands.

The spindles in the guarding walls (the vertical boards) are made of pine wood. The pine trees were grown locally to be used in the coal mines as pit-props. After the mines had closed in the 1970s the pine trees had never been harvested. By using these local trees now for the viaduct it connects to the area’s mining history.

The bridge is quite massive looking. The almost 230 metre long bridge required 300 cubic metres of wood according to the firm which supplied the wood.
That it is really a viaduct is only clear from the outside. There is indeed a road under part of the structure, the “Weg naar Zutendaal” (Road to Zutendaal)

.The top of the side guard remains horizontal at the highest level from the beginning to the end of the entire viaduct. That means that you are cycling in between two impressive walls of wood on a gentle slope (4%) until you reach the top where the landscape opens up and the concrete deck stays horizontal for about 30 metres. That breath-taking view, after having been confined between the walls, is overwhelming and it results in almost everyone stopping on the spot. Unfortunately, no extra space was designed for people wanting to enjoy the view – much like in the other two projects – and that results in a busy and messy situation at the top. Especially since the deck is only 3.5 m wide. It is a pity this wasn’t considered after the experiences with the first two projects.

Many people stopped at the top of the viaduct to enjoy the view and to take pictures, making it rather difficult to pass at some moments.

If you would like to visit this site, or one of the other two, the official website of the three projects is also available in English.  At this site cars must be parked at the edge of the national park. You can rent bicycles near some of the parking places. That can also be done at the Railway station of Genk from where it is a 13km ride on the numbered junction network. The nearest railway station in the Netherlands is in Maastricht, at exactly 20km, which is where I cycled from. It was an easy ride but for one hill. I had not anticipated a 10% incline to reach this location. I filmed some excerpts of the ride to and from this new tourist attraction. You can find that video below the two of the viaduct.

My video report about the new cycling viaduct in Belgium.
And the ride on the viaduct.
From Maastricht in the Netherlands I cycled north-west to get to the bridge. I had not expected there to be any hills and certainly not this one with an incline of 10%. I was not the only one to dismount and push my bike. An OV-Fiets (rental bike) does not have any gears so it is near impossible to cycle onto such a hill.
During my 40km of cycling in Belgium I used my camera at some points to give a short impression of cycling in Belgium. Most of which in ‘Hoge Kempen’ National Park.

5 thoughts on “A third “Cycling Experience Enhancement” opened in Belgium

  1. Mark, you always leave me, after reading your post, and watching your videos, wanting to visit your wonderful country.

    Thank you,
    Keith

    1. Yes, in beautifull rainbow colours to tell homophobes to mind their own business what we do overhere in this part of the world.

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