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Biking in Brussels: ‘I can just walk away and do my thing thanks to rentals’

Blue-bikes can be found in cities all over Belgium. © Sofie Verdonck

In a city like Brussels, a lot of people use public transportation to get from one place to another, which can only get you so far. Often it happens that you still need to cover the last few kilometres in another way. Last time, e-scooters were introduced as a solution. Now, expat Sara Johansson (36) explains why she turns to bicycles.

There are at least eight options when it comes to cycling in Brussels. You can either use your own bike, or choose a rental one instead. Sara Johansson prefers her own folding bike, but right at the start of the interview she has a confession to make: ‘I actually don’t like biking in Brussels at all. It isn’t very safe.’

When commuting to school in Mechelen, Sara does cycle. ‘I’m living quite far from the train station, so if I didn’t bike I would need to take the tram. But the tram is too expensive, because I already have to pay for the train tickets. Biking is a cheaper way to get to school, and it’s a way of closing the gap between the train station and my home.’

She believes cycling isn’t the safest way of getting from A to B in Brussels. ‘You are in the same street as cars and trams, and people often aren’t cautious when driving. Also, the streets can be very difficult to bike on because of tram tracks and cobblestones. It often happens that I have to be in a narrow street with cars parked on the side of the road and people opening their doors, which is very dangerous.’

Finally, she states that another issue is the air quality. ‘Another reason I don’t like biking is the air quality. The air is terrible, so it’s not very pleasant to go uphill. It’s not nice at all.’

Sara Johansson, ready to bike to the train station. © Sofie Verdonck

Rental bicycles: ‘much easier’
Next to using your own bicycle, there are several companies that offer rental bicycles. Villo! lets you rent a bike for a year, but you can also choose to rent one for a day or a week. Blue-bike too gives you the opportunity to use a bicycle just for a day or for a longer period. These types of rental service offer many advantages, such as not having to haul your bike everywhere or having to fear that it gets stolen or damaged.

Another type of rental bike is offered by Cyclo or Pro Velo for example. In this case you can rent a bike which you keep for the entire period. Swapfiets too offers bicycles for longer periods of time, but in their case the bike can get swapped when you are experiencing any problems with it.

Other initiatives such as BrikBike have special student offers, so students have the possibility to rent a bike for a semester or a year.
Even though Sara doesn’t use rental bikes in Brussels, she really likes the concept. ‘I did use them a lot when I was living in Antwerp.’ She thinks rentals offer several advantages: ‘I used rental bikes a lot in Antwerp, because the price was very good. It was 40 or 50 euros a year I think. The system was really well spread-out over the city so it was really easy.’

‘It was also a great way of not having to worry that your bike would get stolen if you went out at night. Because at night the tram wasn’t an option, since it stops working really early.’

But the rentals don’t only come in handy in the evening: ‘If I went to the city centre for the day, shopping or walking around, I could leave the bike in one place, do my thing and take it back home from another place.’

And even though she already had her own bike back then, she still chose to use rental bikes. ‘I even had two. I had the folding one, but I was afraid that it would get stolen because it’s expensive, and another one. The other one I did use a lot too, to go to work and back, for example. But when I was going to the city centre, it was a hassle if you wanted to go to some shops, or have a coffee, and go different places. Then you would have to lock the bike, unlock it, lock it again, and so on. With a rental bike you could just leave it, walk away and do your thing. So that was much easier.’

And what about rental e-bikes?
Not only regular bicycles are for rent, but electric ones too. Pro Velo offers both regular and e-bikes. And since 2017, there’s a shared e-bike system in Brussels: the Billy bike. They, however, work with a waiting list due to the limited number of bicycles.

Sara admits she isn’t really a fan of e-bikes. ‘In Brussels there’s a lot of uphill and downhill, but it’s not that difficult to bike uphill. I mean, I am physically capable of doing that. It’s great for people who have difficulties, if they have bad knees for example. For healthy people I think the e-bikes are not a responsible choice because of their environmental impact.’

The verdict?
Biking in Brussels: an affordable way of moving around in the city, with several existing options when it comes to rentals. But Sara warns bikers that they should remember to be careful which route they take while paying close attention to traffic.

 

Text and pictures: Sofie Verdonck

 

This article was first published on Brussels Express