Conquering Brussels

Written by Dave
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When I first moved to Brussels three years ago, I used to commute by bike across the Place Flagey to Avenue Louise. Every morning I would pass a woman heading in the other direction, wobbly and uncertain on her brand new mountain bike, helmet firmly fastened, reflective vests and lights all over, a look of terror in her eyes as if she was being forced to swing dance in a mine field. I realized in watching her, just how intimidating biking in Brussels can be. But trust me, it can be done! With some simple guidelines, biking in Brussels can become such a safe, efficient, and pleasant way to get around the city that you’ll never move any other way – and that’s to say nothing of all the pollution you’ll save by doing it.

Rules of the Road

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lithium/2075163437/For starters, you need to know some basic rules. Bikes are allowed in both directions on almost any street in Brussels. For one-way streets, this means that as long as the sign says “Excepté/Uitgezonderd” with a picture of a bike, you can ride in the opposite direction. Studies have shown that there is no increase in accidents on these kinds of roads. Otherwise, cyclists are obliged to follow the same rules as cars: giving priority to pedestrians and vehicles entering from the right, stopping at red lights, and obeying all traffic signs. Bikes cannot ride on the sidewalks. Where there is a designated bike path, bikes are obliged to use it – though if it is shared with pedestrians, pedestrians have the right of way. Once you start biking, you’ll notice that some streets are more bike-friendly than others, certain roads follow ridges rather than climbing hills, and there are some intersections to be avoided at all costs.

Cycling Map

The best way to find your own cycling routes is to take a look at the Brussels cycling map, available for sale in a waterproof hardcopy or for free download. The map shows the contours of hills and also codes the streets of the city in terms of their openness for bikes. It can seem a little complicated at first, but once you learn how to read it, you won’t leave home without it.

Security

If there is one basic rule of bike security in Brussels it is this: skimp on the bike, splurge on the lock. Bike theft is reality in Brussels, if you bike long enough, you’ll have one stolen; consider it something of a rite of passage. Still, splurge on the lock. Any bike shop should be able to tell you which locks are the best, and it is well worth the investment – forty Euros on a lock is cheaper than two hundred Euros on a new bike. But even the best lock isn’t fool proof. Bikes should always be attached to an immovable object (bike racks are best) and the wheel (particularly if it is a “quick release” wheel) should be attached to the frame.

The Brussels region also offers a service of bike engraving. This can be done for free at any bike event or on specific days at your local commune and police station, or for one euro at the Pro Velo offices in Brussels. This technique engraves your national identity number indelibly onto the frame of the bike with the goal of deterring theft and helping to restore recovered bikes to their owners.

Regardless, whether your bike is engraved or not, make note of the bike’s make, model, and frame number (visible on the frame, underneath where the pedals attach) and keep them somewhere safe so that if there is a theft, you can report it with all the details. And please do report it! As of now, bike theft is not a major priority for the Brussels police, and this has a lot to do with the statistics on bike theft being underreported! Too many people just shrug it off and go to Gare du Midi to get a new bike. By reporting theft, you can help make the roads safer for all the other bikes rolling around Brussels now.

This article was originally published in the May 2009 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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