Brussels Cycling Community Thanks Terrorism
Today Brussels has a cycling community, and we should all thank terrorism for it. An interview with Brussels newest cycling Bar ‘Café Kring’ tells us a little bit more about how the citizens of Brussels reacted after their beloved hometown got pulled apart. Also about how the city finds itself in the midst of an ‘urban revival’ and how they are trying to get something positive out of a negative thing.
On March 22 2016 our city had been shredded to pieces, by men who had exchanged their ‘french-fries-filled-mitraillette’ for real ones. Several weeks after the attacks Brussels remained shocked. Not only did we experience an emotional breakdown, but also endured an enormous economical one. Brussels reacted to all the troubles with a project named: Make.Brussels. This project became a success: communities rose again as they had once risen. One of the winners of Make.Brussels encouraged people to go ride their bikes again ‘en masse’. So here we are today: Café Kring, the only café where you can just walk in to get a coffee, then walk out with a full-carbon frame. Chase interviews Charles, co-founder of Café Kring, and his regulars from Krème Brussels about the urban-cycling community.
How did you come up with the idea to open up a Bicycle/Coffee-shop?
Charles: "Actually I didn’t come up with it. This idea already exists in places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona and other European cities, which we went to visit to conceive our own project. Cyclists wanted a place where we could feel at home, to relax and hang out, but also to talk about cycling and meet others who share the same interest. We wanted to be the first to create a meeting place for cyclists in Brussels, since we didn't have one yet."
And so, after you participated in Make.Brussels, what happened afterwards?
Charles: "We filled in the forms, introduced our project name to the list. A few months later we were chosen as the project for the Dansaert-region. They donated € 30.000 in subsidiary funds to start our project, and here we are. The only obligation we had, in exchange for getting those funds, was that our project needed to be up and running before December. It is now November, and we’ve been open since October. We quickly found other fundings.
What are those fundings?
Charles: "First of all, you need to know that we don’t get involved with a bank, which is our biggest strength, I guess. Second, we get our money from ‘public funding’, in this case: The Minister of Economy who oversees Make.Brussels, and the Minister of Mobility, Pascal Smet."
What’s your vision for this project?
Charles: "We want to make a community place, where people can go to and hang out, have a coffee or rent a bike. We want to be the rendez-vous for everyone who’s interested in cycling. Families and older people, everyone should ride a bike! We want to be available for everyone. That’s why, here in Kring, you can actually come in, grab a coffee and rent a bike for over 4 months. That way you can feel if it's the one for you. We believe that buying a bike shouldn’t be done in a hurry, bikes should become part of us and our lifestyle. We also would love to create a cycling mentality, which practically doesn’t exist in Brussels. This couldn’t be done without smaller groups like Krème. These guys are urban engineers!"
What is Krème Brussels?
Krème Brussels: "Krème Brussels is a Brussels based team of fixed-gear riders. What is fixed gear? It looks like a regular road-bike, except that you don’t have a freewheel nor brakes. You can’t stop pedalling, unless you are ‘skidding’, blocking your pedals until your back-wheel stops, which results in a complete stop of the bike, burning some rubber. But what do we do? Create events, group-rides bi-weekly, alleycat-races, and train younger fixie riders regularly. KB started as a group of high-school friends meeting weekly. Our growth shows the healthy mindset to go get yourself a bike and to stop using a car. Especially in Brussels. Traffic, constantly being stuck throughout the day, however consumers buy a €20,000 car. ‘Why is this?’ is the question within people’s minds."
So with projects as ‘Café Kring’ and ‘Krème Brussels’ you want to educate the citizens of Brussels that a bike is the new thing?
Charles: "Yes, exactly! We are organising events, including one with Minister Pascal Smet who will visit our shop for a debate and discuss a better mobility plan in Brussels. Also, famous Flemish cyclists are coming to ‘Kring’, like Eddy Merckx for instance."
Why is it that Brussels is the last city to open up to those ideas? Because Antwerp, Ghent, and other cities already have those kind of projects. Why is Brussels so late?
Charles: "I think that Brussels lacks a community spirit. In Antwerp and Ghent, cyclists recognize each other and there’s a community spirit that eventually resulted in those projects. They really wanted their own place to hang out in. In Brussels? There are two different sides of the problem: 1. There never was a cycling community, 2. People are frightened by cycling in Brussels.
The traffic is dangerous, or people perceive it as dangerous, and this eventually has the same result. Nobody rides their bike. Even cycling once a week, for fun, is not done in Brussels. Parents send their kids outside of the cities' borders to cycle, that’s why we want to create a popularity around cycling again. In Flanders, cyclists are heroes. Eddy Merckx, Van Avermaet, Tom Boonen,... They’re all Flemish. Does Brussels have famous cyclists? No, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Nobody can relate to cycling, it’s just not popular enough. That’s why we’ll also organise grouprides, like Krème Brussels, but with our Flemish cycling heroes, and as I mentioned before, Eddy Merckx will come to café Kring and ride with us!"
So how do you two groups/projects look to each other? Relate to each other?
Charles: "Krème Brussels surely is on the right side of history. I can already tell you now, that in the coming years Krème Brussels will expand like never before. This will make you feel so great about what you're doing right now, just be patient. I see you guys as the upcoming pioneers from Brussels. People like you guys, young people with a dream, are the future of western cities and urbanisation. I would even say, to some extent you are militants/activists. You guys are urban pioneers!"
Krème Brussels: "Since we've started riding, we've been waiting for a place like this! Instead of taking a break from cycling in the cold, we can come over here and meet other cyclists over a coffee. You meet new people, ride with new people,... This project is awesome! And I thinks it is safe to say that we’ll be here every weekend."
Thank you for this interview, it was really interesting! A lot of success with the projects.