You see more and more cyclists nowadays venturing onto the highways and byways of Brussels in order not to have to deal with its traffic and the stress that that causes. But more bikes on the road also means there more accidents. Because of the increased level of injury they are exposed to if involved in an accident, cyclists are given additional protection under the law. Like all road users, they're also under a number of obligations such as that they have to comply with the traffic laws. A number of precautions are crucial requirements.
Cyclists may have special protection but they're vulnerable!
If you collide with someone on a bike, you have to compensate them not only for their personal injuries but also for any damage to other items like clothing or eyeglasses. This applies on a no-fault basis (except if the cyclist caused the accident deliberately). The protection that is offered cyclists by the law cannot, however, extend to physically protecting them, and they do remain vulnerable. It's better to give way even though the other vehicle should be stopping have right of way rather than cause an accident in which the cyclist is more than likely to come off worse. If we all drive with a little common sense, exercise foresight and courtesy and stick to the rules of the road while in charge of a properly functioning vehicle, all road users can share the highway in perfect harmony.
Make sure your bike's both operational and legally compliant
For cycling around Brussels, bikes have to be fitted with a number of compulsory items, such as:
- a bell
- working brakes front and back (children's bikes only have to have one brake)
- a white or yellow-coloured front light and a red light at the rear
- a white reflector showing forward and a redone showing to the rear
- reflectors on the pedals
- reflectors incorporated into the wheels or, alternatively, tyres with reflective outside walls.
Children's bikes, racing bikes and mountain bikes need not be fitted with reflectors unless during the hours of darkness.
In addition, it is always worth arranging to have your bike serviced or maintained at least twice a year.
Make sure you're seen in traffic
The first line of protection is making sure that other road users see you coming! On top of all the lighting and reflective equipment required by law, you also need to pay a thought to:
- wearing brightly coloured clothing (alternative or additional to a reflective vest)
- positioning yourself in the forward zone set aside for cycles at intersections
- avoiding cycling near lorries and buses whose drivers might not notice you due to you being concealed in a blind spot
- keep on a straight path
- gives clear signals when changing direction
- maintaining eye contact with motorists at roundabouts and crossroads (while being prepared to give way if insisting on your right of way could put you in danger).
Do all you can to ensure protection in the event of a fall
Losing control (on a slippery road or a tram rail, for example) or physical contact with another road user with virtually always result in a fall, the aftermath of which can be sore. Even if they're not compulsory (yet), we strongly advise you to wear a helmet: a lot of accidents result in head injuries. Similarly, try and dress in sturdy clothing that covers the full body and wear gloves.
And try to always maintain a one-metre safety zone between you and vehicles parked on your right so that you have time to react if a door should suddenly open ahead of you.
Obey traffic laws
Cyclists bear responsibility for having a vehicle in their charge just like any other road user and, as such, have to obey the same rules as people in charge of other vehicles. Moreover, the traffic laws contains a number of provisions that are specially aimed at cyclists.
If you remember only two of them, they're these: the rules on restricted one-way streets and jumping red lights.
Many of the one-way streets in Brussels can be ridden down by bikes contrary to the general flow of traffic provided the no entry sign has a subsidiary plate beneath it showing a cycle. Once you start to ride down a one-way street contrary to the flow of traffic, you have the same rights as any other road user. That includes priority from the right at unmarked crossroads Bear in mind that vehicles from the right could enter your street without thinking to look left. In the same way, oncoming traffic vehicles may not always anticipate the possibility of a bike coming down the street towards them. Any restricted one-way street must be treated with the utmost of caution.
Riding through red lights (when turning right or continuing straight ahead) is only permissible in the presence of signs permitting it (see above). Here, too, the fact you're permitted to pass the red light doesn't mean it is always safe to do: it's an exception that few motorists are aware of.
And note that riding the wrong way down a fully fledged one-way street and jumping a red light without permission is an offence of the 'third degree' under Belgian road traffic law, and that will cost you the tidy little sum of 165 euros.
You can look at the entire rights specific to cyclists by reading the article devoted to this subject published by Touring (French or Flemish).
And, did you know?
It is prohibited to ride on the pavement in a built-up area.
Other than children aged under 9 riding a bike fitted with wheels whose diameter does not exceed 50 cm.
Getting your kids to cycle alongside you on the pavement is a great way to teach them how to ride in town and appreciate the hazards of doing so.
Choose your route carefully
The shortest route is not always the safest. But what is certain is that choosing a good route can save you from many dangers and traffic jams (heavy traffic, dangerous roads or roads forbidden to bicycles, etc.). A tip to establish the best home-office route? The VAB cycling route planner (only in Dutch). Do you have to travel a long distance? Opt for a cycle highway (only in Dutch). These cycle lanes without traffic jams and without cars are for the moment mainly present in Flanders and around Brussels but Wallonia should soon be equipped as well.
Insurance gives even cyclists that little bit of added protection
Cycling in town is never going to be a no-risk option. So, be ready for every eventuality and ask KBC Brussels about its special insurance policies for cyclists.