Cycling really should break free from the “leisure” category

In the final installment of our collaborative series with Bike for Brussels, we speak to the CEO of a leading insurer as well as a contemporary artist whose daily commute stretches 20km and discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of Brussels’ bicycle infrastructure.

Photographer Thomas Ost (c)

Jef Van In

As the CEO of AXA Belgium, I find it to be the company’s social responsibility to actively work towards a sustainable society where I aim to create the right context for change and to nurture a culture that empowers every employee to look at the world with an open mind. As a market leader in car and mobility insurances, we try to help transform the business towards a sustainable mobility approach. Case in point, in June 2017 we actually moved our headquarters to the heart of the capital, which you could consider somewhat surprising given that most companies tend to settle in more car-friendly areas, such as the suburbs. The fact is, we’re intent on positioning ourselves as pioneers of clean and environmentally-friendly mobility, our aim being to illustrate that alternatives do exist, and that we as a company wholeheartedly believe in them. This also explains why we regularly organise a “mobility week” – complete with safe commuting workshops, electric bicycle demos and prevention courses – as we’re intimately convinced that it is the employers’ responsibility to ensure employees manage to get to work safely. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges we face in Brussels today remains the improvement of current urban infrastructure such as the provision of safer bike paths. Truth is, despite significant  investments having been made since the 70s, Brussels still feels like an urban jungle where both cyclists and motorists aren’t sufficiently respectful of road safety and traffic laws. And the sad consequence of that is that many of the capital city’s citizens refrain from cycling to and from work, simply because they just do not feel safe enough, making vigilance indispensable. That, to me, is a missed opportunity since commuting by bike or public transport is decidedly faster than with a car whilst, let’s not forget, every bike equals one less car on the road. Brussels’ current situation demands politics and policies that actually care about cyclists, which is why we invited Brussels’ Minister of Mobility Pascal Smet to our headquarters to share his vision, which luckily isn’t just limited to cars and pedestrians, and instead takes into consideration every possible means of transportation. What’s more, beyond mere politics and urban planning, we also need to change people’s mindframes and habits in terms of mobility – basically encourage them to cycle more. There is no reason not to hop on your bicycle when the distance and weather permits it, for example. There’s absolutely no doubt that it’s the best solution when it comes to the environment, health, well-being and quality of life in urban centres. And, with that in mind, I’d like to offer up my three points of advice for anyone serious about commuting to work by bike. First, keep your bike in shape – check your brakes regularly. Second, always opt for the safest cycling route possible, even if there is a shorter trip available. And third, do not be overly ambitious if you feel that your physical condition isn’t at its best. Stick to these basic principles, and you’ll quickly realise there’s really no better way to get to work than by bike.

Jef (1967) has been CEO of leading insurance company AXA Belgium since 2016.


Ever since I moved out of the city to the outskirts of the Pajottenland, I cycle around 20km everyday to and from Brussels. It’s a great way to rediscover the city, as I get to enter and leave the urban bubble as I please. Biking throughout the year also makes me highly aware of thedifferent seasons – contrary to popular belief, Belgium boasts a surprising number of sunny days. My favourite route has to be the one along the canal, heading towards Halle and beyond: with little to no traffic, you can easily cover 10km of this flat bike lane in half an hour. And it’s interesting to see the limits of urban development after passing Anderlecht. That being said, cycling really should break free from the “leisure” category and shift into becoming the overriding transport mode in all cities, alongside pedestrian and public transport. Cars are still too dominant – reducing vehicles numbers should be a main priority, with the amount of bike paths and green spaces increased. Fact is, we still have a long way to go before biking can be considered sufficiently safe and fun. And it would be great to see more nighttime services made available, rather than having to rely solely on Collecto. To be honest, in some ways Brussels’ mobility feels like it’s stuck in the 80s. To give you an example, by banning cars from certain areas, we could put in place our own version of Detroit’s non-profit, sustainable urban agriculture project Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. It’d be great to be able to reclaim our streets as public meeting spots again, rather than just a space between A and B.

Bert (1987) is a contemporary artist working within a range of mediums, from printing to sculptural installations.