This post is a photo gallery of cyclists and cycling taken while I was wandering the streets on our recent visit to the lovely city of Bruges.
My wife calls this sort of behaviour “stalking” and seems permanently worried that I am going to get arrested somewhere in my travels for invasion of privacy. I like to think I am celebrating cycling, especially in those cities where cycling just seems part of the fabric of life.
Cycling in Bruges is well worth celebrating. The supporters of cycling in Flanders are convinced that it is really Europe’s third cycling country just behind the Netherlands and Denmark. Within the region Bruges is one of the historic hot spots for cycling so that makes it a very busy place for cyclists indeed.
That actually fits one of my personal observations about the development of cycling cities. There is a strong movement in cycling that says cycling can only flourish when there is a comprehensive off-road cycling network. But I keep coming across cities that have grown far above their national averages because other policies to restrict cars in their historic city centres have shown that bikes are just the best machine in the city. In that way Bruges cycling development is a bit like Cambridge and York in England or Ravenna and Ferrara in Italy; although here the authorities have also continued with a strong programme of cycle lane development to link the city centre to the outer neighbourhoods that have pushed cycling numbers up still further.
Here the cyclists are so much part of the fabric of the city that they are celebrated by the city too. In t’Zand, the largest open square of the city, is a fountain and a set of four statutes representing the area that dates from the 1980s. Along with the mermaid to represent the reclaimed land, the fisherman from the port and the bathing ladies are a group of happy cyclists and I think they seem to be a perfect representation of the cyclists I saw.
It is not just the locals either. It is always a great sign when every guide to a city immediately recommends that cycling is one of the best ways to explore.
In reality the centre of Bruges in August may not be a great place to be a cyclist, but it is a hell of a lot better than being a driver. There are flocks of pedestrians, the horse-drawn carriages and a lot of the other cyclists are wobbly tourists so the sound of the local cyclists is a vigorous ringing of bells and the occasional shout. It is a tribute to the local appreciation of shared space that everybody just seems to interact with a smile and tolerance. All the relaxation that we normally expect from Dutch streets is on show here, along with elegance and equality.