When I started working in Brussels just over a year ago, I was surprised that my contract included a company car.
Coming from London where absolutely nobody has a car, the concept of having my own vehicle, let alone using it to commute, was not appealing.
I asked if there was a cash alternative to taking a car and sure enough there was one – although everyone was at pains to point out that it wasn’t a great deal. Regardless, I took it and invested in a foldable bike. My reasoning was that it rains a lot here and I’d just be able to fold it up and jump on the bus if I needed to.
I had very little experience commuting by bike. I tried it a few times in London, but after a near miss with a bus I stopped. I tried to plan out my commute to avoid busy roads and tram tracks (I’ve been caught in them before and it’s not fun).
I live in St. Gilles and work in Diegem (not far from Zaventem Airport). Google Maps says that’s a 40 minute cycle, but in my experience it’s closer to an hour.
That was too long and gruelling, so I decided to take the train between Luxembourg Station and Bordet. That means my commute is split into three: a 15 minute cycle to Luxembourg, a 10 minute train ride to Bordet and a 15 minute cycle through the fields to the office.
Twelve months down the line that’s still my commute and I love it.
Exercise and flexibility
My colleagues who live near me often spend frustrating mornings stuck in traffic. Those who take public transport are at the mercy of some of the rudest and least reliable services known to Europe (I’m looking at you De Lijn).
I enjoy most of my commute and ensure that I do some exercise each day – something that I’ve found harder and harder to commit to as I’ve gotten older and had a child.
If it rains, I pull on some waterproof clothes. If it pours, I fold my bike and take the bus. I get to spend half an hour each day cycling through fields, surrounded by corn stalks and rabbits.
During the city part of my commute, I join the swelling ranks of people who have chosen to ditch four wheels for two. Gone are the days when the only cyclists you saw were grim faced, lycra-clad, middle managers.
When it rains it pours
Of course it’s not all great. Some parts of the city have little to no infrastructure for bikes. For every purpose-built cycle lane, there’s a junction designed to give cyclists their daily adrenaline boost.
The growing popularity of electric scooters and bikes means the streets have been inundated with people who have no idea how to behave on a road. Wearing no helmet, let alone a high visibility jacket, these urban dare devils zig-zag in and out of traffic with no regard for anyone’s safety.
Then there’s the weather. Some days it just rains too much to take a bike to work. There were also times last winter when certain roads had not been treated and as a result were dangerously slippy for my bike.
Also, while I have never had an issue myself, letting bikes go the wrong way on one-way streets seems like a recipe for disaster. Especially in a country with such a unique priority rule.
Get on your bike!
All in all, my 12 months on a bike have been great and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested. The downsides are all easily countered by the benefits and although I complain about the weather, I estimate that I have been able to rely on my bike on 95% of days.
A few tips for a budding biker
- Helmet, high visibility vest, lights and be alert. As a cyclist you need to deal with exactly the same elements as a driver and some. Keep an eye on the road in front of you - a pothole that might be a nuisance to a car could be enough to send you flying.
- Know the rules of the road. Plenty of road users have no idea what they’re doing. Don’t be one of them. And, sure you might have priority, but I wouldn’t advise you to assume anyone else knows that.
- Tram tracks are the enemy. The one downside of my beautiful, foldable bike is its thin wheels. They seem to have been fitted to perfectly slot it to the tram tracks that snake across the city. Having been caught in them a couple of times, I can guarantee it’s not fun.
- Plan your route. Find the best commute for you and ask fellow cyclists for tips. You’re one of us now!
- Invest in a comfortable bike and take care of it. Make the commute as fun as you can. You’re hardly going to keep going if your bike breaks down every second week. Buy a good lock too.
- Have fun!