I was surprised to discover that cycling in Brussels is not all that easy. The last time I was in Belgium, over three years ago, I biked with all three of my couchsurfers, in Gent, Antwerp and Brussels. I imagined Brussels, a relatively small “big” city in Belgium, so close to the Netherlands, would be a cyclists’ paradise. I was wrong.
There are not that many cyclists in Brussels. While I am not alone to cycle to school, the roads are not full of cyclists during rush hour like in the Amsterdam, Copenhagen and even Montréal. They are few and they are brave, for several reasons:
>> The drivers. Brussels drivers are aggressive. They drive fast and they are not very patient. Understandably – there is a lot of traffic in the city and the narrow roads are even more difficult to navigate when shared with cyclists. Nonetheless, this makes being a cyclist oscillate between exhilarating and scary.
>>The cobblestone. Enough said.
>> The topography. The downtown of Brussels is literally, downtown. That means that when I leave my St-Gilles apartment, I roll down a hill until the city centre. This is pretty nice. However, whatever goes down must come back up again and thus cycling home afterwards can be an athletic endeavour. There is an elevator from the downtown though, just in case.
>> Bicycle paths: While there are bicycle lanes on most streets in Brussels, there are few separated bicycle paths in the city.
While cycling in Brussels can be a challenge, one very good thing about cycling in this city is that cyclists can bike against traffic on almost any street. This means that while cars are stuck navigating the narrow one-way streets, cyclists can weave through the urban fabric with relative ease. That said, narrow streets with one lane of traffic and two rows of parking make sneaking by on a bicycle a tight squeeze.