Cycling has long been a sport with a strong link to Belgium, and with good reason.
From city hoppers to spandex-clad weekend trips, Belgians – and those who call it home – seem to develop a deep love for cycling.
Since the first national mobility survey in 1999, various surveys agree on the fact that cycling’s popularity has increased, both when it comes to the proportion of the population that uses the transport vehicle and the proportion of trips being made on bicycles.
This trend, however, isn’t a recent development. Brussels in particular saw a tenfold increase in the number of bikes in the city between 1905 and 1935.
By 1940, there were five times as many bicycles in the former province of Brabant (which included Brussels) as there were cars in the whole country.
With that in mind, let’s take a look back to a time when the bike was the king of the road in the country with a snapshot of the history of bikes in Belgium.
Portrait of a man with his bike in Ganshoren (1925)
Credit: Erfgoedbank Oudergem, Collection Marie-Jeanne Van Damme
Jean Vankerckhoven (later the husband of Marie-Jeanne Van Damme) posing with his bicycle in Rue Albert Meunier. In the background lies the Heilig-Hartplein.
Players of cycle-ball posing in front of a goalpost in Jette (1950-1965)
Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand
The photo shows a number of cycleball players with their equipment: the bicycle and the football, and the net with some cups won in the foreground.
While perhaps not the best-known sport, cycleball is still played to this day. It traditionally involves two players per team, and plays out in a similar way to football, albeit with players hitting the ball with their front tire instead of their foot.
Children and their vehicle for competition in Auderghem (1958-1959)
This photo was taken at the start of the first soapbox race in the Rue Emile Rotiers that went downhill through the Rue Franciscus Vandevelde.
The photo is of Dominique Biebuyck behind the wheel of car no. 3 built on the framework of an old pram with wood, balatum, curtain rods and brakes from a bicycle.
Noël Provoost can be seen pushing the car, while Olivier Biebuyck (n°22) is at the back of the shot.
Biebuyck’s car – the only one with two independent axles for the wheels – won the prize for the most beautiful car.
These photos were provided from the Erfgoedbank Brussel digital database, which preserves the heritage of citizens, families and associations in Brussels. It concerns heritage that you usually cannot find in professional institutions such as museums or archives. The Erfgoedbank Brussel presents old photos, postcards, films, audio and stories about daily life older than 20 years.
More information on the heritage database – and the collected 7000 items and web exhibitions – can be found here.
This photo collection is part of an ongoing series looking at the history of Brussels in Photos. Do you have any photos of Belgium through the ages that you would like to share with The Brussels Times? Let us know.