In a new five-part series on Brussels’ ever-burgeoning bike culture, we team up with Bike for Brussels to shine a light on the Capital-Region’s two-wheeling tribes – from the Bakfiets mum bundling her kids off to school to the creative professional whose fold-up is just as crucial to his practice as his MacBook, and for whom riding a bike is as fun as it is functional. In part one, we contrast the unmitigated enthusiasm of Pro Vélo’s director with the more subdued realism of an everyday commuter.
All photography by Thomas Ost (c).
In Brussels, bicycles remain a good way of moving around the city and, for a growing number of people, they also embody a somewhat alternative and liberated lifestyle. That being said, like every regular bike rider, I’d love for two-wheelers to occupy an even larger place of the city’s mobility landscape, especially in terms of infrastructure. Bike lanes are a good example. All you have to do is Google “bike lanes” to see what real lanes should look like. Here, despite certain improvements, we still don’t have dedicated bike lanes and, when we do, they’re very quickly taken over by cars. Don’t get me wrong, a few things have been done over the past few years in Brussels to facilitate bike riding – workshops being organized, some attempts at adding to the infrastructure – but I don’t have the feeling that it’s changed that much on the surface of things and more could be done. I mean, riding a bicycle is really the best way to get to know your city, as you’re able to go everywhere you want and stop whenever you want. For instance, if ever you went for a ride out in the Soignes forest, make sure to go all the way to Boisfort’s train station, where you’ll find us playing bike polo on Sunday afternoons.
To many, bicycles occupy a dual function of both city-maker and liberator. People feel drawn to them because of a variety of reasons: their speed and flexibility, the sense of freedom and independency they provide as well as the sense of belonging to a certain lifestyle and urban subculture. On the other hand, bicycles are still all too often considered by policymakers as something marginal and anecdotic and I believe one of the biggest challenges is to encourage a mental shift, convincing inhabitants and decision-makers that bicycles are a serious and credible way of transport. For instance, it’d be nice for the city and its inhabitants to have a more ambitious vision of how our capital should look like in the near future and stick to it. Car free Sundays, for example, are a huge success appreciated by a big part of the population but, for the remaining 364 days of the year, commuters mostly stick to their usual choices that have somewhat of a nefarious impact on the common good. That being said, an increasing number of people started cycling over the past five to then years – Brussels has enjoyed double digit growth of bike riders over the past 10 years – so we’re clearly on the right path but more could be done. To give you an example, many people who do not cycle are scared to death when they think of having to share the same roads as cars but everybody, cyclists as well as drivers, should learn to co-exist and that’s an area that needs to be focused on. Our network of counter-flow paths is also something that should be better promoted as it is the envy of many other European capitals but, at the moment, it is really only known to daily cyclists. The challenge is to widen its use to new and non-cyclists. And, in that respect, I’d urge first-time cyclists to enlist the services of a coach (bikeexperience.brussels offers personalized coaching sessions) and familiarize themselves with the many different aspects of riding a bicycle in town. They’ll soon find out that cycling in Brussels is not as “dangerous” as they might think.