My experience as a cyclist in Brussels

I come from a solid cycling tradition. In my region, Emilia Romagna, everybody cycles and most people are also fond of competitive cycling and follow the Giro d’Italia with vigor and passion. Especially in the city where I went to University, Forlì, people always say “there you can find more bikes than people.” I have also lived in Antwerp and Maastricht, two pretty cycling-oriented cities and that’s why prior to coming to Brussels I thought I would find the same level of cycling-friendliness. Well, I was wrong… My friend Kwinten writes a very good blog about this topic. You should check it out.

Brussels is everything but bikes-friendly. Let me tell you a few reasons why.

  • Infrastructures aren’t great

We can perhaps say that cycling infrastructures are decent compared to other areas in the outskirts of Europe but in comparison to most Central-Northern European cities, Brussels doesn’t shine through.

  • Drivers aggression (especially taxis)

Don’t get me started on the dangers of being a cyclist in the Belgian capital. Drivers literally love to get as close as they can to cyclists and when I take a cab I can’t understand why they are so aggressive and impolite to them.This very well done documentary about bike messengers in Brussels (the most congested city in Europe with only 4% cycling traffic) shows this very bad attitude and how dangerous it can be to cycle around the city.

Also, here are some interesting statistics about injured cyclists in the Brussels Region. Numbers go up and very little has been done to educate drivers about cyclists.

  • Thefts are just ordinary business

This video by simply says it all. “When I saw Casey Neistats’ video* where he tested how easy it is to steal a bike in New York, it struck me how little people reacted, so I did the same test in Brussels.”

At these regards, there is even a dedicated blog that made a Brussels – map of stolen bikes

  • Expensive bike market

In Italy, an old bike is an old bike. In Brussels, an old bike is “vintage.” Yes, hipsters have also managed to ruin the bikes market. Before hipsters came to existence, you would simply go to a shop or a second hand market to get a cheap bike. Now instead, you can go to the vintage market in Saint Gery, Vainquer and other hipsters-run places and buy the same product for 300€ (because it’s “vintage”). In Maastricht, you can go to a shop inside the train station and buy a great, solid and comfortable Gazelle for 60€. In Italy the same type of bike would cost you maybe 40€. But in Brussels, the very same item would cost you 5 times more because “Vous savez, non? C’est un vélo des années 80. Il a de la valeur pour les collectionneurs, et c’est pas parce-ce que je porte des lunettes rondes sans prescription et une chemises à pois déchirée que je vous garantis ça. Voulez-vous un café bio, colombienne fair trade et sans additives? Je peux le préparer avec l’iPad que j’ai acheté avec l’argent de mes parents même si, vous savez, je m’en fou des marques moi”

Damn hipsters…

hipbike.jpg w=584

  • Super expensive repair shops

Even if you manage to get a bike, you’d better NEVER BREAK it! That’s right, because fixing a bike, whether it’s just changing a tyre or fixing your brake will cost you more than the bike itself. The regular fee for repair work is between 50€ and 60€ per hour! Avoid place like Vainquer, la Maison du Velo or Eddy unless you really don’t have a choice. Go instead to Atelier Cyclo, a honest and reliable place. Once I went to Eddy to change my breaks (basically a 15 minutes job), their response was “It’ll be 12 € for the parts and roughly 30€ for the work. You can come back in 2 weeks.” I already know that Belgium has an appalling service culture, but getting ripped off is not something I like particularly.

If you think something more could be done to increase the number of cyclists and improve infrastructures in order to live in better, cleaner and less congested cities. You should watch this video and promote #BikesVScars

6 thoughts on “My experience as a cyclist in Brussels

  1. Purée, tu gagne probablement trois fois plus que le gars du magasin vélo, sans salir tes mains, et tu râles sur les “super expensive bikeshops”. Tu sais, le gars du magasin vélo mérite de gagner trois fois plus que toi, parce que son travail apporte vraiment une valeur en plus à la société, ce qui est moins sûr avec ton boulot.
    Et tu sais pourquoi les réparations chez Cyclo coûtent moins chèr? Parce qu’ils sont subventionnés…

    1. Hi Jeroen,

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I really don’t earn that much. I actually live in a crappy attic in Saint Josse, (the poorest commune in Belgium), with poor piping, and a lot of other structural problems, which I share with two more people to afford the place. I’d be happy to invite you for tea and show you.

      The guys working at the bike shops should probably earn a lot more as in fact they do have a valuable expertise, I don’t doubt that, and I very much value the skills you need to have in order to work around the mechanics of bikes. Their job is absolutely appreciated.

      I didn’t know about Cyclo being subsidised. Thanks for flagging this information

      Having said that, bikes shops in Brussels are way more expensive than other cities in Belgium and Holland and this is unfortunately a fact.

      I read about your “Cycloperativa” initiative and I find it great. You should flag it to my friend Kwinten Lambrecht who writes a lovely blog about cycling

      Best of luck


  2. Etant un piéton, je ne crains pas les voitures. Elles restent sur la chaussée, on les entend, et elles sont munies de klaxons.

    Les cyclistes me terrifient. Ils roulent dans les parcs réservés au piétons, passent sur les troittoirs qu’il y ait ou non une piste cyclable dessinée sur la route, ne sont pas munies des sonnettes et semblent s’imaginer que les persnnes à pied marchent invariablement en ligne droite. De plus, la vitesse à laquelle beaucoup de cyclistes roulent -surtout ceux étant très jeunes et non accompagnés – est effrayante.

    J’ai failli être renversé plusieurs fois pas des cyclistes arrivant dans mon dos.

    De plus, je les vois traverser les carrefours aux feux rouges.

    Un piéton dégoûté

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