We continue our five-part 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 young mothers about the benefits of city life on two-wheels.

Visuals by Thomas Ost (c).

Valérie Berckmans

Let’s face it, biking – which is efficient, eco-friendly, cheap and keeps you fit – is the future.

We’ve been using bicycles as a family for the past 12 years now, doing close to everything by bike, from going to school and work to doing our shopping. Our kids, who are seven and five, pretty much started using bicycles from the time they were able to walk. It gives them a sense of liberty, which I like. I have to say, I’m not that concerned about them moving around by bike because we really trained them to behave safely in traffic and be responsible. Plus they also have fluorescent flags which makes them much more visible. Overall, I’d say that life for cyclists has improved in Brussels, although, as usual, more could be done: more promotion, more workshops in schools, more cycling paths, more facilities for bikes, more secured parking spots and the likes. I also feel that Brussels should strive for a more balanced car-bike ratio because four-wheelers still occupy, in my opinion, too much space on public arteries and attitude as well as mentalities towards cyclists remains very aggressive, as if we are the crazy ones. It often feels as though we are still stuck in the sixties in Brussels, where cyclists are all too often still seen as being marginal and “hippies” whilst drivers act as the dominant force. Fact is, drivers don’t care about bikers, and more could be done in terms of informing them, for instance, about the dangers of double-parking on bike lanes. That being said, initiatives such as Bike for Brussels are heading in the right direction, and should be commended, because let’s face it, biking – which is efficient, eco-friendly, cheap and keeps you fit – is the future.

Valérie (1976) is a fashion designer who works in her own boutique-atelier in the center of Brussels.

Géraldine Van Houte

You go wherever you want, whenever you want to, and don’t have to worry about traffic nor parking.

I gave my car up a year ago (which got me a year’s worth of free public transport) and only started using my bicycle three months ago. The utter nonsense of having two cars (my partner has his own) in Brussels was becoming too much and I was getting increasingly conscious of the choices I made in terms of the way we as a family lived. I thought that giving up my car and using a bike was going to be difficult but, to be honest, I’ve never felt so free. I find that cycling is simply more efficient: you go wherever you want, whenever you want to, and don’t have to worry about traffic nor parking. I work in Mechelen, so take the train to work and have a rusty old bicycle at the station there to take me through the last kilometer, with the added benefit that those extra five minutes by bike helps me wake up – it’s the perfect in between moment, which you simply do not have when driving a car. To me though, switching to bicycles goes hand in hand with other alternative choices I’ve recently made, such as buying our groceries from the local market or in neighbourhood shops, and in smaller quantities. From a general point of view I do think there are an increasing amount of initiatives supporting bike culture in Brussels – Pro Velo, of course, but also smaller local projects such as Papa Douala in St Gilles – but much more could and should be done. For instance, authorities should work towards creating more cycling paths and reduce the space given to cars because, at the moment, I’m still a little uncomfortable at the idea of my children using their bikes on the street. If they want to go out for a ride, I’ll get them to stay on the sidewalks whilst I follow on foot. And, in that respect, Mechelen (or the rest of Flanders for that matter) really should be an example for Brussels – I see more bicycles and cargo bikes than I see cars there.

Géraldine (1979) works for a non-profit organisation called Time4Society whose mission it is to facilitate corporate engagement by inviting companies and their employees to give time to social and environmental organizations through volunteering.