Biking Belgian Style

By - September 21, 2006 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

After almost two years of living in Benelux, I am one step closer to being like the locals — thanks to the kindness of my neighbours, I finally have a bicycle.

As a child in Canada, I had various bicycles (my favourite, at eight-years-old, was a pink and white number with a white wicker basket and rainbow streamers on the handlebars). I rode back and forth to friends houses, to the beach or the store. My bike gave me a sense of freedom.

Once I turned 16 and got my driver’s licence, the bike started to get pretty dusty sitting neglected at the back of the garage. Even so, when I moved to Halifax for university, the bike came too. I thought that without a car, I may revert back to pedal power. It never happened.

Few people cycle as a form of commuting in Halifax — it’s very hilly, the ice and snow in winter make cycling impossible and there are no bike paths. But mostly, people are just too addicted to their cars. If they do cycle, it’s for exercise rather than to get from point A to B, (and more often people will drive their cars to a gym where they can sit on a stationary bike rather than cycling out in the elements).

In my 10 years of living in Halifax, my poor bike was probably used less than half a dozen times. I sold it before we moved to Europe and I hope someone is enjoying it as I once enjoyed cycling as a child.

Since I moved here and stopped driving, I’ve often thought of how convenient that old bike would be. I could pedal to the store or the train station, or just get out and sightsee with my camera.

Bicycles are ubiquitous in this part of Europe and the two-wheeled experience here is very different from Eastern Canada.

Take clothing for example — in Halifax, the few times I did bike, I put on specific clothes for cycling (track pants and a T-shirt usually) and I always wore sneakers. I remember the first time I saw a man biking in Amsterdam in a three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase — I was astonished. Then there are the young women in skirts and high-heals and the older ladies with stockings and dresses — this just isn’t something you see on the streets in Eastern Canada.

Here, the bicycle almost becomes and extension of its rider. Children here seem to pedal before they even walk, perhaps because they are riding strapped onto their parents’ bikes as soon as the come out of the womb.

Belgium also has those who bike for sport — and boy do they take it seriously. Every Sunday, packs of iron-legged men and women swoosh past my house, covered in multi-coloured spandex, their cycling gear costing more than a small car. Roads are closed regularly for cycling events and those at the top of their game have hoards of fans.

I admit I’m a little nervous to get on my bike. For my inaugural ride I want to take it someplace deserted so the locals won’t chuckle at my wobbly start. After 10 years, I’m worried I won’t be able to handle the bike as I once did.

I doubt I’ll be peddling in high heels anytime soon, but hopefully with a bit of practice I can regain some of that sense of freedom my childhood bike gave me. Besides, they say that once you learn how to cycle you never really forget — it’s as easy as falling off a bike.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 15 hours ago


  1. Comment by Jay

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Jay September 22, 2006 at 20:02

    I wish I could accidentally wind up in Amsterdam. This country is just too big for its own good sometimes.

  2. Comment by dARK sIDE dAD

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    dARK sIDE dAD September 22, 2006 at 21:23

    Yo biker!
    Maybe it’s your love affair with shoes that is the basis for your resistance! Just need to find some pointy, flashy, one-of-a-kind cycle sneakers and away you go!
    Two memories from the summer of ’66 and the world of the bikers in Europe. When I was at the YMCA World Youth Conf in Stavanger the local kids who worked in the kitchens and stuff would lend a couple of us Canucks their bikes and we were able to explore the city and countryside and see places and meet people that made the whole experience so much richer … I could never thank them enough. Later in the tour phase we were billeted with families in the Netherlands (Bussum if memory serves) and the kids in my family were speechless when their father granted me permission to use his bike (something they never imagined being able to do in their wildest dreams). After he took the train to work the other kids and I could visit all the interesting spots around the area that, again, I never would have seen otherwise. In both instances the bikes not only enabled us to expand our experience beyond the scheduled visits but also brought us so personally into the wonderful culture and friendliness of the people. Love those bikes and the bikers too!
    Sorry to keep you, I think you said that you were just going out for a ride … have fun …
    dARK sIDE dAD

  3. Comment by Ame

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Ame September 25, 2006 at 14:45

    Does your bike have a banana seat?? You must post a picture! 🙂

  4. Comment by christina

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    christina September 28, 2006 at 15:28

    The biking culture is exactly the same in Germany. *Everbody* does it – from two-year-olds to octogenerians in skirts and support stockings. Every time I’ve been on a bike here in the past it’s been a harrowing experience, but I’m thinking of trashing my old bike (which actually once did belong to my husband’s grandmother!) and getting a decent two-wheeler so I don’t stick out like a sore thumb by walking everywhere.

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