Bikes allow you to see more of the sky

We continue our collaborative series with Bike for Brussels on the Capital-Region’s growing adoption of bicycles as a viable urban mode of transport and talk to two entrepreneurs who’ve placed two-wheelers at the heart of their budding businesses.

Photographer Thomas Ost (c).

Sarah De Bony

To me, bicycles should be everywhere, especially in Brussels where distances are relatively bike-friendly.

When I began selling organic cotton and fair trade underwear for babies, kids, women and men on Brussels’ markets, I quickly opted for a cargo bike as I wanted my business to be as sustainable as possible. I started in April of this year, and haven’t looked back since. To me, bicycles should be everywhere, especially in Brussels where distances are relatively bike-friendly. That being said, it is quite a hilly City, so it’d help if electric bicycles weren’t so expensive. But overall, I do see the situation changing, with things getting much better for cyclists in Brussels over the past ten years, even though there remains room for improvement. For starters, bicycling paths must be a priority, as all too open they just stop in the middle of the road, or are riddled with potholes. Truth is, I’ve often preferred riding on the road with cars as opposed to staying on the cycling paths, which are just in too dreadful of a state sometimes. In the end, I think the change that is needed is a cultural one first and foremost. Cars are still seen as a “must-have” and the best way to move around town, which simply is utter nonsense. I might be paranoid, but I recently read that the automotive lobby was pushing for the adoption of autonomous cars as a viable mobility alternative, which really is a shame and would result in a missed opportunity in shifting the City’s transport infrastructure more in favour of two-wheelers. I mean, bikes allow you to see more of the sky and discover streets as well as neighbourhoods you’d never normally pass by, and I love that.

Sarah (1984) is the founder of Les Culottes Volantes, an itinerant, bike-powered retailer of organic cotton and fair trade underwear.

Charles Lelou

I think Brussels as a city has undergone something of a U-turn in recent years, moving from a car- first approach to a people- first one.

You could say that a combination of different factors led me to opt for cycling as a mode of transport as well as a business. The culture that revolves around it is interesting, the cycling community is amazing (and constantly growing) and, in my view, it really is the only logical transport option for Brussels-based people – I just can’t imagine wasting a fifth of my day inside a car. What’s more, when you consider how people, myself included, behave when driving, cycling is a given. I’m simply calmer and more relaxed when riding my bike, and Brussels isn’t that big so you can pretty much get anywhere in less than 25 minutes (it takes me just over 6 minutes to get to work, for instance). It also keeps me in shape which, considering how much I like greasy food, is always a plus. I think Brussels as a city has undergone something of a U-turn in recent years, moving from a car-first approach to a people-first one. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some way to go before being like Copenhagen, for instance, but I do believe we’re heading in the right direction. Initiatives such as Bike for Brussels, or the administration tackling various different infrastructure works, definitely points to a change in thinking, even though more could be done in terms of securing cycling paths (spray-painting a bicycle on a road does not make it a cycling path) or educating cyclists about the need to wear helmets. Bottom line, I think the role of culture in mobility change is often underestimated. Cars have been associated with freedom and adulthood for decades, the result of years of movies, marketing and lobbying that projects that image onto cars. If the same cultural shift was applied to cycling – something cities could reinforce by smart marketing campaigns – I think the impact for Brussels would be greatly beneficial.

Charles (1989) is the founder of Kring, Brussels’ first concept store dedicated to the culture of riding.