A Schuman trainee encounters Brussel traffic on two wheels
by Sanja Banjeglav
My devotion to city biking could be described as a successful mix of frugality, laziness to walk and an anxiousness that public transport arouse in me, all topped with a not-so-exceptional eco awareness of our generation. Therefore, even before I knew where will I settle and relax after those long hours at European parliament I started to check the bike culture in Brussels. Encouraged by all those bike signs on the road and discouraged by irregular and overcrowded buses on a Schaerbeek commute I decided to stop frantically browsing and checking how actually safe cycling in Brussels is and try for myself. Cycling in Brussels is still an ongoing adventure, but I hope my words will excite you to do the same, if you have not already.
The most common bike infrastructure in Brussels, but don’t be discouraged
Step 1. Purchase your friend that will take you on many trainee adventures
There are few options when it comes to buying your bicycle. Firstly, you might consider renting one of those bikes that are stationed around the city for a year (cost is around EUR 50), which would definitely be payed off after your traineeship. However, Internet thought me even before my arrival in Brussels that those are heavy and hard to navigate. I cannot say it for sure, but indeed it does seems so just by looking at how people driving them. I guess it also depends on your cycling skills. On top of this rational reasoning, I get irrationally attached to my bikes and feel that I cannot develop such a relationship with those generic bikes.
That is the reason why I consulted the best webpage for second hand stuff according to my flatmate. Trying to keep things simple and get on with biking as soon as possible I chose one of the first bikes that appeared within my price range and it was perfectly located in my neighbourhood so I could go and check it after work. So, that was simple, I just had to get some equipment and off we go.
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike
Step 2. A word or two about the equipment… safety first!
According to Internet bike thefts are common in Brussels. I didn’t want to spend more money on the lock that I did on bike, so I bought a normal lock with key and a bit stronger wire inside and hope that would suffice. I have to mention that bike was not that expensive, that should keep bicycle thieves on the distance. Secondly, I observed a good amount of city bikers wearing a reflective vest so I arranged that too. When in Brussels… Just want to say that I do feel a lot safer with the vest and it does not hurt to wear one, my highest recommendations. And finally, a helmet. Here I have to plead guilty, because I am still looking for a right helmet. But again, my approximation is that around half of the cyclists in the city wear it, so I try to concentrate on other half and how they manage without a helmet. Also, I read once that car drivers tend to drive faster and closer to cyclist with than without helmet. Just try to rationalize my laziness here. Decide for yourself, but never forget safety and especially in the following step, cycling!
Step 3. Hop-on et on y va!
It is possible! I managed to bike to and from large and jammed avenues in European district across romantic, narrow and hilly streets of Schaerbeek. So far, my biggest friend is Google maps that takes me on the right path once I get lost. To my defence, my commute is quite long and complicated. Another drawback of cycling in Brussels is that you might to conquer a hill of two on your way. Still, when I am going uphill, I am thinking of a great cardio I do first thing in the morning and my glowing skin and that croissant I will eat without any gulit. If I need an extra motivation, I think about chocolate croissant.
Also, I have to mention the satisfaction I get when I pass by all those people waiting for a bus each morning. One stop is behind me, looks like more people than yesterday waiting, after the second stop, the bus is still not coming. Once I have been there, but now someone else can squeeze in my place. Well, I am sure some commuters enjoy that. Finally, it brings a smile to my face the realisation that by regular cycling I can also slightly contribute to the cleaner air (and all those things that come with CO2 reduction) in the city I consider my home for the next, now, four months.
So, if you have not already started cycling with these first spring day please do not be discouraged by a crazy Brussel traffic. Show that you care like a proper Schuman trainee. Enjoy your time in Brussels! Enjoy this ride!
The best way to get the know the happy little corners of your neighbourhood is by getting lost on the bike