By David Martin
Bruges is a medieval city, with narrow, winding, twisting, cobblestoned streets. Canals wend their way through the city, a throwback to the halcyon trading days of the Hanseatic league. The quaint old buildings are narrow, multi-storied and crowded together, fronting directly onto the streets.
There are lots of bikes, day and night. People of all ages wearing, not lycra, but ‘normal’ clothing. Parents with children in add-on seats, trailers or ‘cargo bags’. Teenagers ride two-by-two, chattering and laughing on their way to and from school. Families proceed like a gaggle of geese, mum and/or dad with children of all ages on or around their bikes.
Yes, there are cars but they go slowly and defer very politely to people on foot and on bicycles. In fact, even when a bike rider brazenly refuses to give way when legally they should, the driver yields and allows the rider to pass with no horn honking or abuse. This is just the way it goes here.
There are very few helmets worn. The ones I saw were on ‘roadies’, the keen, fit, young riders on expensive machines. There’s an irony here for me: it’s only a couple of decades ago that roadies were the least likely of any riders to wear helmets. By the way, why is it de rigeur for roadies everywhere to dress totally in black? I’m feeling decidedly uncool in my hi-vis colours.
Riders are out day and night and use of lights at night is almost universal, though flashing LEDs are almost absent.
Sound like nirvana? Yes, it’s close. But not perfect. The cobblestones would shake your dentures loose if you had them. I’d ditch my beloved road bike at home for something with wider wheels and lower tyre pressures.
Valda and I took a Sunday guided ride, a small group of seven on a relaxed tour of the countryside around Bruges, less than 20km in total. There are lots of cycle lanes, shared paths and quiet streets along the canals and through the rich farming land they call the ‘polders’, land reclaimed from the sea.
Our group stopped for a break mid ride – just like our BayBUG Sunday rides – in Damme, a small town. In Sydney we restrict ourselves to coffee and the like but in Belgium it seems quite normal to have a Sunday morning beer. The beer is good, yes, but I’ll keep it for later in the day, thanks.
I saw broken glass only once, in a town square on this Sunday ride. A single beer glass perhaps, from the Saturday night before. Our tour guide was most concerned and hovered over it while we all passed around.