Survival guide for the biker in Brussels

Written by Frédéric Solvel - 16 Apr 2014, 00:00 (Updated: 21 Sep 2015, 07:44)
Survival guide for the biker in Brussels
Weak cyclists are all too often left to fend for themselves in the traffic jungle. This pedaling species is thriving, but they should still learn to protect themselves. The cyclist kind must be vigilant...

First of all, you have to choose what wheels work for you. A nice little bike to keep in your garage or hallway. Or maybe the public Villo bikes? That’s up to you to decide. It’s a question of budget, space, and location. If you go for a fixie, make sure you are already a strong and controlled biker… if not, you’re liable to come out an ex-biking fan, or rather an ex- vintage bike fan.

Be safe

The golden rule for bikers who want to leave the urban jungle alive is the following: wear a helmet! Here’s a hint, helmets are worn on your head, not hanging on the handle bars in order to avoid bad hair.

So that your helmet doesn’t actually have to come into play, make yourself visible! Attach lights to your bike, don’t wear too dark of clothing, and most importantly, wear a neon vest once night falls. If you would rather go for a nudist ride, wait for the Cyclonudista.

Most cars on the road are attentive to cyclists, accept the buffoons who think the city streets are a motor speedway… Scream and holler at them all you want, but your remarks won’t even reach their exhaust pipe.  

Lastly, with the climate here, you must always think about the weather. Keep a raincoat and gloves on you at all times. And when it starts to pour, postpone your departure and wait under a bus stop until the rain lightens up.

Once you’re dressed appropriately and have your helmet on, hop on your wheels!

Rules for cyclists

In addition to pedaling, riding on the right side of the road, and being ready to break at a moment’s notice, here are some other riding guidelines:

  • Stay in the bike lane without hitting the parked cars. Be aware that a door from one of these parked cars could open unexpectedly.
  • Clearly signal your actions. Avoid quick changes of direction and breaking at the last second.
  • Try to get visual contact with automobiles who are crossing your path.
  • Stop at red lights. When the “cyclist right turn” sign is present, proceed with caution.
  • Leave the sidewalk to pedestrians.
  • Pay close attention to the tram rails. Your bike wheel can easily get caught in the middle! Sharply turn your handlebars when crossing over them to avoid problems.
  • Use your bell or your voice - this is your horn equivalent, if you haven’t noticed! The sound of your bell is the only way to let cars or people know you are there. Be polite, or at least try.
  • Take your time. You are getting from A to B in the city. This is not the Tour de France.
  • Always keep an eye on other people on the roads who maybe don’t see you.
  • Be a defensive driver, even when you have the right of way. The 206 bones of your fragile skeleton will not stand up to a car.  
  • Leave your cell phone in the bottom of your pocket. However it might be useful to call for help if your wheel takes a wrong turn in a pothole.

Protect your bike

When you're riding your bike, you two are best friends. Nourish this friend (a little oil from time to time), clean it, and get it tuned up regularly by a professional. Without this maintenance, you risk having to climb up Mont des Arts with your bike in your hands, or losing your breaks going down Avenue Louise towards Flagey. Not a pretty sight…

Prepare for the worst and learn how to repair your bicycle. Knowing how to change a wheel will save you some trouble one day. Always carry around the necessary tools and rubber gloves. This way, you won’t have to worry about getting dirty hands when you have to mess with the chain or tires.

When you two must separate, one piece of advice: attach your bike somewhere! Even if it’s just for a couple of seconds. Always try to lock your front wheel to a fixed point in the ground. The best locks are the U shaped ones. Also consider engraving your bike which will scare off even more predators…

Choose your itinerary

We should have been frank from the get-go: there is no such thing as the perfect route. However to find the best one possible, follow these rules:

  • Do not try to take the shortest route, rather the best cyclist adapted one. It can be just as fast and much more enjoyable.
  • Change up your route – it makes it more fun. As your fitness and mood changes, find different ways to get to where you need to go.
  • Even if you are in the bike lane, stay aware! Between the tourists with their heads in the air and the paths that run into construction dead ends, Brussels is not lacking in surprises…
  • Use the Brussels Mobility bike map to find the best itinerary.
  • On rainy days, avoid the big roads. Heavy rain makes you invisible, plus you get a nice splash every time a car passes.
  • Beware of café terraces. The human being, you included, tends to lose all civility in their quest for sunshine and a drink. Car doors open up randomly and people jaywalk everywhere, guided by their thirst and their search for a table in the sun.
  • Take part in the Bike Experience. A coach will help you plan out your routes.

Life is good on your bike. So smile, enjoy the fresh air (more or less) and the efficiency. One last bit of advice: if a fly comes to smack you in the teeth, don’t freak out! It’s good source of protein! 

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