For Björn Mathys, choosing between bicycle and car is easy. Together with five friends – all former cyclists working within the Brussels region just like him – he shirks stress and traffic jams by bridging the 30 kilometres between his home address in Denderhoutem and the capital in a commuter cycling group.
“I can recommend it to anyone”, starts Björn, a 39 year old KBC Bank employee. He even has trouble understanding that there are people who do not follow his example. “To start with, I am faster at my work than if I would take the car. I never suffer from traffic jam stress. And I have my daily share of physical exercise. Because you have to stay focused on traffic the whole time, you are not preoccupied by other stuff. The stress of my own job and life seems to slide off of me when I am on my bike. In short, it’s a real win-win situation.” But also his friends are for Björn enough reason to choose for the bike. “I really love the social contact. It creates a bond when you get on your bike together every day, the whole year round. We have different jobs and backgrounds but feel connected with one another by our joint daily ride.” And it never gets boring: “Depending on the weather and what we feel like doing, we take another route.”
The argument that the weather in Belgium does not lend itself for commuter traffic by bicycle is easily dismissed by Björn. “The actual number of days that I really get wet can be counted on the fingers of my both hands”, he explains. “Days with non-stop rain are rare. By pre-consulting apps with weather forecasts, I usually succeed – even on a rainy day – in riding in between showers. Leaving a quarter of an hour sooner or later can already avoid getting all wet.”
Still, Björn is aware of the fact that this is a luxury position that not everyone can enjoy. “My employer is pretty flexible and bicycle-minded in this regard. We also have plenty of shower facilities and have disposal of a secure bicycle shed behind lock and key.” By the way, Björn’s enthusiasm has already infected a couple of his colleagues with the cycling virus. But with Björn, this virus has much deeper roots. Apart from his daily trajectory Denderhoutem-Brussels-Denderhoutem, Björn is in his spare time a passionate member of cyclotourist club TSG. The club, which is named after the sponsoring company of one of its members, has about 20 members who, like Björn, used to be active in cycling competitions. “Fortunately, we’ve kind of lost this competitive drive”, says Björn, implicitly denouncing the behaviour of some other cyclotourists and groups. “Within TSG, we always cycle 2 by 2.
If we would want to race, we would reapply for a license with the cyclists’ federation,” criticises Björn the behaviour of some ‘cycloterrorists’. “This doesn’t mean we ride slowly at TSG. Because we’re all in pretty good shape, our average speed is rather high but this is never a goal in itself. You’ll never see us take any risks.” TSG wants to set an example to other cyclotourists and clubs within the area. “With our background as cyclists, we are concerned with the image of cycling, which is all too often besmirched by individuals or small groups ignoring all rules. We try to improve this reputation by behaving courteously in traffic and by always sticking to the rules”, boasts Björn.
FALSE FEELING OF SAFETY
“Sometimes, cyclists are fully unaware of the situation they are in. All too often, cyclotourists in group have a false feeling of safety. They automatically assume that as a group they are properly visible. Yet, everyone who rides in a group once in a while knows the typical overtaking manoeuvres of motorists, which at best end well only just, with no small effort and invention of all parties involved. Such situations can often be avoided. Although it seems in first instance to be the motorist’s fault, as a group you can still do your part to avoid accidents.
When wearing visible fluorescent and/or reflective clothing, you ensure that car drivers are better able to assess the size and speed of your bunch.” The fact that Björn fell only once throughout the 17 years that he is commuting to work speaks for itself. “And that happened because I had to brake as hard as I could for a careless motorist. Result: my wheel slipped and I fell to the ground.” According to Björn, accident prevention mainly involves two things. “Anticipating traffic is crucial. I can honestly say that I have a very defensive riding style. I will never take my right of way cost what it may, even if I would be entitled to do so. Secondly, it is essential to be seen. The more bright colours, reflective strips and lights, the better. Not only on my clothes, but also on my bike and on the backpack that I carry. In the jungle of stone, asphalt and concrete, cyclists must – for their own safety – make sure they stand out”, explains Björn. “Also for designing the clothing of cyclotourist club TSG, visibility was the no. 1 criterion. Our summer gear consists of bright yellow-green jerseys that are visible from hundreds of metres.” For our winter uniforms, we had to work out a compromise, if only for practical reasons. “The base of these jerseys is black because mud splashes and dirt are less visible on it. As such, these jerseys continue to look good, even after several cyclocross tours and rides in bad weather. But here as well, we chose for large white letters to increase our visibility”, adds Björn, feeling almost guilty.