With the UK experiencing such a great summer of Cycling one could be considered slightly greedy in having wanted it to never end. However, as the nights started to draw in and temperatures faded towards the end of September, the arrival in store of the new Trek Silque SLR saw cravings soar for more clear skies and open roads.
Pleading to be ridden, a road trip was definitely in order
Fortunately, the perfect opportunity of a week off and nothing planned arrived at much the same time as the new Trek Silque SLR. Pleading to be ridden, a road trip was definitely in order. With a quick study of the UK weather forecast for the week ahead it was clear a road trip further a field may be required.
Our luck couldn't have been better, no more than a few hundred miles away, Belgium was set for dry and sunny conditions all week with temperatures up in the the high twenties. Within an hour, B&B rooms and Eurotunnel reservations were booked with another hour seeing the car packed and ready for an early morning start.
Travelling over to Belgium via the Eurotunnel couldn't be easier and for someone who, like myself, isn't the best of sea farers, is a great alternative. From check in to arriving in Calais can take under an hour with time on the train being about half of that.
Being seasoned travellers to Belgium for the Classics, navigating our way to our destination of Dendermonde was a breeze and by late afternoon we were all checked in. In not wanting to waste any opportunity to get out on the bikes we were soon kitted up and ready to go for a quick shake down test of the Silque SLR.
For those not familiar with the Trek Silque, 2016 saw the launch of a redesigned range of bikes based across 2 Silque frames, these being the S & SLR. Whilst the S shares many similarities with its predecessor, the SLR has been completely reworked. For the technical folk out there the new Silque SLR now boasts features also seen on the Domane SLR such as, front and rear Isospeed decouplers, Isocore damping handlebars and adjustable vertical compliance. What does this mean to us less technically driven? Well for me, all I can say is this is, without doubt, the smoothest and most comfortable women's specific road bike on the market. Moreover, weighing in under 7.5Kg* is also one of the lightest.
The demo bike taken to Belgium weighed even lighter than the standard Silque SLR 7 having taken advantage of Trek's factory custom service called Project One. Using this option customers can choose from a range of custom paint schemes whilst also being able to change out different components to meet their specific needs. Options taken out on the demo bike included a custom Gran Premio paint scheme, upgraded wheels to Bontrager Paradigm Elites with tubeless R3 tyres and Bontrager Speed Stop brakes.
With our B&B situated rurally within the quiet farm lanes of Dendermonde and us having stayed here multiple times before, we knew of the perfect 12 mile loop for the Silque's inaugural ride.
On the aged farm lanes that led from the B&B it was clear just how smooth the ride was. Whilst I had previously ridden a first generation Silque SL and was used to how the rear decoupler felt, both the front isospeed decoupler and isocore handlebars were new experiences.
12 miles of steady riding completed and we were happy all systems were checked and working and ready to really put the Silque SLR to the test.
For it's true test of smoothness Belgium couldn't be the better place .With its multiple classic cobbled climbs the choice was plentiful. We decided on a 30 mile undulating route looping from Brakel through Geraardsbergen and Ninove. What this route afforded us was the chance to ride the iconic cobbled Classics climb of the Muur plus the Bosberg.
With the weather beating out 26 degrees of sunny blue skies it was very much the perfect day to cycle and we reached the Muur in no time. Lined with details of famous Flandrian Champions the Muur is steeped in history and to ride it, should, without doubt, be on the bucket list for any cyclist.
Open now to only foot and cycle traffic, the Muur's cobbles show evidence of a hard life with many cobbles twisted and jutting up from what would have been their original positioning. This makes choosing your line imperative to keeping momentum up, to stop and have to restart would certainly be a challenge in itself.
Having been off the bike for a couple of months before this trip, my fitness was certainly not at its best. Fortunately, the Silque SLR's capabilities far outweighed my own though and with the adjustable rear isopeed decoupler set at full vertical compliance, allowed me to hold a steady line all the way to the top whilst staying sat in the saddle to keep traction on the rear wheel.
Next we were onto to the Bosberg where the cobbles were not so much twisted and jutted rather were sunken in continuous ruts from the weight of years of traffic. Once again though, the Silque SLR smoothed out all but the worst of the ruts and even allowed for an 'out the saddle' push to the top.
With two Classic climbs completed in hot conditions, passing the bar at the top of the Bosberg without stopping would surely have been rude. We therefore felt it only polite to stop and take advantage of some Belgian refreshments before meandering through rural lanes to Ninove. Whilst many equally beautiful routes could have taken us back to Brackel, tired legs persuaded a more straight line approach and the main road cycle lane was chosen.
For those that haven't been to Belgium before, one of first things that is apparent is their attention to designated cycle lanes running alongside most main routes. Even more impressive though, I guess in part because most Belgian's cycle themselves, the drivers all seem to understand what its like to be on a bike and drive accordingly, giving priority to cyclists at junctions, roundabouts and ample distance when overtaking.
One of the other great aspects of cycling in Belgium is that lots and lots of it is pancake flat and for our final ride of our trip we exploited this to the max. Cycling pretty much in the big ring all the way to Gent and back our final ride of 56 miles totalled a staggering 327 feet of climbing. Now for those of us used to the Torbay hills where on average you climb 100 feet for every mile covered, doing only 327 feet in 56 miles was truly an epic find!
The Bay Cycles team and a number of customers will once again be travelling out to Belgium in the spring for the Flanders Classic sportive and pro race. However, for anyone else who would like details on how to put a trip together to this great destination both Jez and I love nothing more than talking about the riding available in Belgium and are always happy to offer advice.
*Based on a Trek Silque SLR 7 52cm.