Cyclic Observations in Antwerp

My awesome second hand bike, with it’s awesome “Girl Power” sticker

One thing I did not expect when moving to Antwerp was the nightmare that comes with driving around this city.  In fact, the INRIX Traffic Scorecard ranked Antwerp as the second most traffic congested city in the world — second only to Brussels. That’s right, my city is more nightmarish to drive around LA, NYC, Boston, Beijing, or Manila.

Luckily there is a decent public transport system as well as an awesome system for biking around the city. While my husband uses the public transport system daily, I prefer to take my bike around the city. It’s not really any faster than public transport, but I can reach some of the hidden corners of the city better, and I am not beholden to time tables so can leave whenever I want.

That being said, I find that there are 6 different types of bikers you will see on the streets of Antwerp.

  1. The Parent Pack Leader and his/her offspring

    You can usually find the Parent Pack Leaders on the road from 8:00-8:30 and then again from 15:00-16:00. You can distinguish a parent pack leader by their speed and/equipment. They are usually biking rather slowly to either keep from jostling the toddler in their bike seat, or to keep from out pacing their young child(ten) who are furiously peddling their little bikes nearby. Quite frequently, a parent pack leader will have a tandem bike attachment with one wheel and stationary peddles. This extra attachment causes them to take wide turns, so be wary of them if you see them out on the road. The danger with the Family bikers are the small children. Little children tend to weave in the bike lane, which makes them unpredictable and difficult to pass.

  2. The Don’t-Want-To-Break-A-Sweat Biker

    The Don’t-Want-To-Break-A-Sweat bikers tend to be the men in suits and the women biking high heels. I only imagine that they’re trying to maintain their perfectly coiffed hair despite the wind and the rain of a Belgian Autumn. However, they’re generally pretty considerate of other people on the road and are happy to let you pass them if you need to. They rate fairly high on the  spectrum of socially conscious road users, I’d give most of them around an 8.

  3. The Social  Butterfly Biker

    These people are also relatively easy to spot. They are typically in groups from two to four, all riding in a horizontal line to facilitate conversation and making it impossible for anyone to pass them. This type of biker rates in the middle of the socially conscious road user; probably somewhere win the 8 range They generally do not do things that put other road users at risk, but you typically have to ring your bell several times before they even acknowledge your desire to pass.

  4. The Baby Motorist

    In Belgium, if you have a Class A moped you are obligated to drive on the bike paths in the city. For those of you who don’t know, Class A mopeds any motorized bikes that have a tank that is smaller than 500cc and have a maximum speed of 25km/h.  They are the vehicle of choice for delivery drivers and frequently used by young adults here in Belgium. I understand that it’s probably safer for these wannabe motor cycles to be on bike paths, but I find them frequently to be a danger to other cyclists on the roads. They tend to dart in and around bike traffic at top speeds and like to tailgate other cyclists. I remember one morning I was biking and a little boy fell off his bike in front of me. I stopped in time but a moped user was following too close and hit the back of my bike. Fortunately, I was mostly stopped so I wasn’t jostled too much but it was still disconcerting.

  5. The Wannabe Sonic the Hedgehog

    This category of cyclists can be either moped drivers or traditional cyclists, young or old, man or woman. They’re easy to spot, because they seem to be the cyclists that like to challenge death. I call them the Wannabe Sonic the Hedgehogs because they rush around like the little character in the game, treating everyone like obstacles in the game and collecting invisible coins. They generally have little or no regard for cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, and traffic laws. Sometimes they do something royally stupid, like a motorists lets a traditional biker hold onto their arm and pulls them along the bike path. Sometimes they run red lights because it doesn’t look like there is any one at an intersection, but they fail to see the approaching vehicle. While there aren’t many Sonics, they are the bane of every road user in Belgium. They have a socially conscious rating of a 1.

  6. The Sensible Biker

    I consider myself as part of the last, and generally largest, category of bikers. These bikers bike in the direction of traffic, keep a decent pace with the flow of traffic and follow the rules of the road. We generally keep a good pace, but if we are going too slow for someone behind us, us quickly pull to the right to allow them to pass. We always signal our turns and yield to pedestrians. We’re not perfect, but I’d say we’d rate a 9 on the socially conscious scale.

And because this post is all about bikes, I have to share this really catchy song by Gers Pardoel, featuring Sef, called “Bagagedrager.” It’s all about a guy trying to convince a girl to hop on the back of the bike so that they can go away together, and I think it’s really cute.

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