Cycling in Belgium

I’ve been travelling around Belgium, and their cycling culture is a thing of absurd beauty.

There’s cycle lanes everywhere, sometimes as busy as their car counterparts. On a one-way road for cars there’s often two cycle lanes on each side. Bicycle parking spots are always busy and resemble a tubular metallic haystack. Good luck finding your own bike in there.

Watching the cyclists go by was a constant source of enjoyment, a people watcher’s paradise. I saw young cyclists rushing to school in the morning, youths spitting and doing wheelies at street corners at night. I saw green-clad food delivery people cycling past, as well as a guy holding a massive painting under his arm as he pedalled along. In the UK, most cycling commuters are all decked up in Lycra, peacocking with their expensive carbon-frame rides. In Belgium, they’re dressed in suits, their bikes drab, pure function. Business as usual.

I saw more than one gentleman cycle with a distinguished wide-brim hat, and at least one well-dressed lady pushing the pedals with her high heels as if it was no bother. I saw all size and shape and colour of bicycle: small, big, lay-down, upright, penny-farthing, electric, blue, green, mauve, chartreuse. I saw every single event of life carried along by a bicycle, much like horses for the Mongol tribes of old. I saw bicycles with prams built into the front, then with a child seat at the back. And then I saw the inevitable rite of passage, tiny cyclists making their own way along the cycle path on the street, flanked dutifully by mommy on bike and daddy on bike. I saw a young couple, cycling one next to the other, holding hands, and right behind them an older couple on a tandem bike, their lives and cycles entwined into one, always headed the same way, always working together, always. I saw babies get born, grow old, get married and die, right there on the saddle. I saw entire empires rise up, glorious and proud, then mature and crumble into millions of pieces, suspended on a frame between two tyres, balancing, teetering, coasting along towards a dark and uncertain fate.

And I’ve not been to the Netherlands but apparently over there it’s even worse.