2023 UCI Mobility & Bike City Forum: Flanders the ideal host
Where better to talk all things bicycle than in the heart of the Belgian cycling mecca, Flanders?
The fifth UCI Mobility & Bike City Forum will take place in Bruges, part of UCI Bike Region Flanders, in Belgium, on 25 and 26 October.
“Co-hosted by the City of Bruges and EventFlanders, the Forum is a direct legacy of Flanders’ organisation of the UCI Road World Championships’ 100th anniversary in 2021, when Bruges was the finish city for the time trials”, explains Geert Bruynseels, Event expert Sport from EventFlanders.
Flanders has produced some of cycling’s great champions, not least Johan Museeuw, Eddy Merckx, Tom Boonen, and hosts some of the world’s greatest bike races, such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen – Tour des Flandres (Tour of Flanders), Gent Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, Dwars door Vlaanderen – A travers la Flandre and many more…
But cycling in the region goes much deeper than that, explains Geert Bruynseels.
“Flanders is full of cycling craziness and enthusiasm, but above all, we try to find the bridges in cycling cooperation between sport, mobility and tourism. That’s why we really wanted to attract the UCI Bike Mobility Forum. Cycling is in the DNA of our region and we want to share our passion, policy and inspiring initiatives with the rest of the world.”
CYCLING AS A SPORT: POPULARITY BORN FROM IDOLS
Cycling is the second most popular sport in Flanders – after football – when it comes to club membership, counting more than 236,000 active members with one of the Flemish Federations. Radio journalist Carl Berteele has a simple explanation for this popularity: “Cycling is a sport of the people. The riders are not stars that you have to watch from a distance in a stadium. Cycling takes place on the street. You can touch the riders, even before the start, and ask for an autograph. Sometimes the peloton even passes in front of your own door.”
Historian Dries De Zaeytijd, a scientific staff member of the Cycling Museum at Roeselare traces cycling’s popularity in Flanders back to Karel Van Wijnendaele, a former cycling journalist, who also organised the first Tour of Flanders. Van Wijnendaele began writing for the Flemish newspaper Sportwereld in 1911 before becoming its editor and then owner: “Van Wijnendaele described and glorified bike racing. The newspaper made gods of ordinary boys, and that appealed to people,” De Zaeytijd explained in a recent radio show.
The idolisation has continued, according to Flemish sports reporter Karl Vannieuwkerke: “Riders have become real stars, and viewers love that.”
CYCLING FOR LEISURE AND TRANSPORT: A NATURAL SPINOFF
Geert Bruynseels explains that Flanders builds on that popularity to encourage cycling among the population of Flanders.
Sports Flanders’ slogan #Sportersbelevenmeer (#athletesexperiencemore) was highlighted in a campaign during the 2021 UCI Road World Championships.
“Sport is about pushing your limits, sharpening your technique, improving your best time and achieving that extra percent. But perhaps even more than that, sport is about the pleasure and satisfaction you get out of it. There are many more reasons to exercise than physical performance.”
The Flanders population got behind the campaign, sharing their exercise experiences on social media using the hashtag #Sportersbelevenmeer. The result has been more than 215,600 posts so far.
Meanwhile, a major focus in Flanders is encouraging more people to use their bikes for transport. In 2023, the Minister of Mobility and Public Works published a Bicycle Ambition, with 27 bicycle-related goals leading through to 2040. Twenty-five of these ambitions support or contribute to one or both of the two core objectives to be reached by 2040:
- a 30% modal share for bicycle trips (currently 18%)
- no more cyclists or pedestrians dying in traffic accidents.
For this, huge investments are being made in the construction and improvement of cycling infrastructure. A total of 330 million euros in bicycle investments were committed in 2022, which will result in 415 kilometres of new and improved cycleways. This has been boosted in 2023 by another 318 million euros’ bicycle investment.
In parallel with offering safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure to encourage citizens to cycle more often, a bicycle allowance of 0.25 euro per kilometre – exempt from income tax and social security contributions – was introduced in May this year for employees who cycle to work. This allowance will be increased from 2025.
CYCLE TOURING: ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES
Quite apart from cycling as a sport and a means of transport, Geert Bruynseels is not short of words when asked to give reasons why tourists should explore Flanders by bike: “The largely flat landscape with quiet and rustic countryside, the great diversity and proximity to tourist attractions, the wide range of paved and safe cycling roads via the high-quality cycling junction system make us easily cyclable. Everything in Flanders is within a relatively feasible cycling distance of each other, so the distances can be calculated in terms of cycling minutes.”
He points to themed, signposted cycling routes for holiday-makers wishing to indulge in itinerant touring as well as day trips or tours of just a couple of hours taking riders through the most popular parts of Flanders.
And of course, cycling lovers and fanatics can tackle Flanders’ (in)famous bergs and cobbles along signposted routes based on the Ronde van Vlaanderen – Tour des Flandres, Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields and more.
The possibilities are endless….