Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy Steals the Bike(lime)Light

Ok, so this weekend, I attended the FABB Bike Summit at George Mason University and met a number of people doing all kinds of things to make biking better in our region--not just in Fairfax. I have sooo much material..and then Sandy hit. She'll have me (figuratively speaking) under water for a while, but as soon as I can, I will get you the FABB stories along with the effort to make Pennsylvania Avenue safer for everyone: cyclists, pedestrians and yes, drivers!

But for now, bear with me as I test the waterproof properties of my outerwear and report from the rainsoaked roadways at WTOP.

And tell me how you all are doing out there: are you hunkering down at home? Do you have to get in to work? Dealing with the Capital Bikeshare closings? Do tell. And really, stay safe. I've covered a lot of storms and messy weather stories over the years---this one is really dangerous.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Remember the time...?

...when I told you the story of the train delay that caused me to be an hour late to the airport, and how the staff at the gate scolded me for "choosing to take such a late train"?

Well, that's the short version. And--spoiler alert--the Brompton (I really am going to have to give this little gem a name) made it home safe and sound--and so did I. More on this later.
That's my baby, the second from the foreground, headed down the conveyor belt towards home. See how it's actually smaller than some of the other cases on the conveyor belt? Just sayin'. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Can Your Rail Station Do This?

Hey Kids, Get off Those Bikes Part II:

What makes a transit system work? How can some cities and countries appear to keep everyone moving--no matter how many wheels they roll on? Watch the ballet of movement illustrated here in Leuven/Louvain Belgium.

On a Roll: From Station to Station By bike from Kate Ryan Reports on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hey You Kids! Get Off Those Bikes!

No riding those bikes in the tunnel under the station here in Leuven. The transit cops will get you. 

Friday in the university town of Leuven means a packed train station. Instead of staying on campus or in town, students high-tail it home for free meals, cash infusions and no-cost laundry facilities provided by Mom and Dad. 

It's tempting to zoom down the spacious ramp into the station on your bike, but just a bit insane with the crowds here. I don't know what the fine/penalties are for failing to get off your bike, but steep enough it seemed to get most people off and walking their bikes into the train station.

Leuven is also known You know Stella-Artois I bet, but there are some others here that should be investigated. WTOP's Beer of the Week host Brennan Haselton would be disappointed in me: I did not get to these tours. Too many to choose from, too little time. 

I'll get you out of this tunnel and up to the suface in my next report. Now it's back to Ghent (here it's Gent) for more time on the bike.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lane Change for Maryland

Get a look at what The Washcycle has spotlighted: Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration has launched a public education campaign aimed at motorists. Note the tone here: it's not telling cyclists to be more careful, it's directing drivers to adhere to the (relatively new) law.

What's also interesting is the inclusion of something that cyclists know very well, but that drivers may not think about: the need on the part of a cyclist to quickly shift position to avoid a pothole, raised pavement, or buckling in the roadway. Here's the You Tube link to the PSA.

As I cycle in DC, I often think about how drivers may not realize it, but cyclists are your allies in many ways. Drivers and cyclists both want smoother, safer, better road surfaces. Just a thought.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hitting the Streets in Antwerp: Part II

Ok, remember how I said biking in Brussels was not nearly as tough as I'd heard? True.

So I get to Antwerp, where the very kind woman at the tourist office said I might find the streets less-than-bike-friendly until I got to the areas that are car-free. Once up from the parking garage at the Antwerp train station, (Antwerpen Centraal) I found marked bike lanes. Sure, they drop off at points (just like in DC, just like in Brussels) but they were easy enough to find and where they exist, they are clearly marked. So far, so good.

If you saw the previous post, you'll see I pulled out the iPod Touch to catch the flow of bike and pedestrian traffic along the way to the Grote Markt and the bike path along the Schelde. So far, so good.
"Real" Belgian weather. My friends here joke I've seen the fake stuff, since it's been mostly sunny in previous visits.

Then it's time to put away the camera, and cross the roadway to get to a lovely ride along the Schelde. The rain is easing up, and I am really looking forward to a nice, long ride. I start to ride through an intersection (it's busy, afternoon rush hour is well underway) and I feel a slight tug on the rear wheel. I'm not on a cobblestone surface, but I've hit a bump in the road where the paving stones that serve as the white center line have popped up a bit. I feel the bike list to the left, push hard to see if I can pull out of it and--it's no good. That rear tire simply slides out from under me and down I go. Hard.

 Belgian roadways: hard. Belgian cobbles: also really hard. I fell on the roadway. Ego bruised along with body parts.

I've alarmed one driver who rushes from his car to assist me and ask me repeatedly if I'm OK. I didn't pop up immediately, so it probably looked worse than it was. But I can feel that through my coat and my jeans, I've got road rash and impending technicolor bruising blooming on the left elbow and knee. I assure him I'm fine and thank him for being so kind. I'm mostly embarrassed as I limp across the intersection.

I get over to the curb and take a moment: my knee is really sore, and I've got that just-been-slammed- onto-a-hard-surface-reverberation going through my body. I know I'm going to be sore and stiff, but dammit, I'm here in Antwerp with a chance to ride a lovely route, so I get on the bike and ride it off. I probably look like your grandma as I ride along--stiff-legged and imagining the gore I'll find when I get home and peel the clothing back, but soon I'm just enjoying the ride.
 Along the Schelde, Antwerp.

I was wearing what's been billed as a helmet alternative, something called the "Ribcap". It's a German-made hat with protective material sewn in, and has a merino wool cover. Is it as protective as a helmet? No. Ribcap's own website makes this clear.  But it does purport to prevent injury, and you might put that in the "something is better than nothing" file.

But in this fall, it seemed helmet-vs-no helmet was not an issue. I couldn't help checking my cap for signs that my head hat hit the deck when I fell, but I have no indication that happened. (I figured dirt on the cap would show up, or a big wet spot, since it was raining.) I can tell you I took it in the knee and the elbow, and the left side of my body, but it seems the head wasn't involved.

I'm not saying a helmet isn't a darn good idea. But I've often thought about my own bike spills in my childhood: I recall bruising and scrapes and that awful jarred feeling, but never head contact with the ground. I'm one of nine kids, and thinking back to our collective childhoods, don't recall any head injuries from biking. (One brother had a spectacular spill from a skateboard while shooting down a relatively steep hill near our home. Another chipped a tooth after riding his bike down a neighbor's steps on a dare.)

Again, this is not saying that helmets are not necessary or at the very least a good idea. I routinely wear mine at home. I've covered my fair share of tragic incidents and have seen the results of serious and often fatal, collisions. But those who say helmets are not necessary like to point out in car-bike collisions, the helmet really isn't effective; that it's made for a fall (probably like the spill I took) and not the impact from a vehicle. I suspect the laws of physics are on their side. Still, most everyone I know, including police officers who have to deal with the aftermath of crashes, has at least one story of a life being saved or serious injury averted because the cyclist was wearing a helmet.

I also think about how the Brompton, with it's smaller wheel, does handle differently. Their website even mentions the extra care needed in the rain and on irregular surfaces.  Cyclist Stephane LeBeau, who I met here in Gent, talked to me about how a smaller wheel has less surface contact with the road than a full-size bike--he was curious about the Brompton's ride as well.  I'm not a risk-taker by nature, so don't push beyond my own abilities or the limitations of any bike, and I tend to pay attention to little glitches when riding and I'd noted how the Brompton isn't like my full sized bikes. Still, I had my little fall.

So what's the takeaway?  I'll let you decide. But one fall won't keep me off the bike, just as a fender bender--even one that leaves you injured--wouldn't necessarily keep you off the roads.

Hitting the Streets in Antwerp: Literally

I admit it; the first time I visited Antwerp I was not so impressed. I've no idea why, but it left me a bit cold. I think it was the main streets out of Antwerp Central station: lined with chain shops with buildings that reminded me of some of the suburban NY downtown shopping centers I used to frequent as a high school kid--blocky and chilly.

But Antwerp is Belgium's fashion capital,  it has a vibrant art scene and there is a Manhattan-like feel to the place. Get outside of those blocky shopping strips, and you find the good stuff. And Antwerp's main train station, Antwerp Centraal, is a gorgeous spot on its own.

On arrival to the station, you see this:

The interior of the station retains its grandeur:

But in recent years, they've made it more multi-modal friendly and added coffee bars and shops. One thing that struck me: a Starbucks. With all the good coffee found here in Belgium (Mokabon in Gent is my particular favorite) I was surprised by this. But one girl in a local Antwerp coffee shop told me she liked their coffee and that they had the best muffins. Go figure.

But the real standout in the station for cycling visitors: the immense parking facilities. There are elevators to bring you down to the bike parking area. I asked one fellow Brompton user for a little guidance to the bike parking/rental area. We both hopped on the escalator. Here, you'll come to a hallway that features a little artwork.

Then it's down the corridor towards the garage. To the left, you see two women heading upstairs to the street level.

You'd think hauling a full-sized bike up the stairs would be a huge pain, but check out the design feature included in this access to the street:

That small groove makes a big difference. Bike users don't have to clog escalators and elevators to get up to the street. So they didn't have to build a special access just for bikes. They just had to tweak the design for a staircase used by most everyone.

The garage is sprawling. Security guards and cameras keep an eye on your bikes:

And instead of packing you in to impossibly tight spaces, each bike slot allows (in theory) plenty of space for your bike, without the need for untangling a mess of handlebars. I say in theory because when I came back for my bike, I found I had to finesse it out of its spot thanks to someone who just jammed theirs into the slot next to mine. Our handlebars had established a level of intimacy that meant I had to tear them apart, poor things. My bike told their bike: "It's not me, it's you. You're too clingy. I have to go." I think the other bike took it ok.

One thing I liked about the garage was how well-lit it was. And when I spent what must have looked like an inordinate amount of time getting my bike locked up, a security guard checked on my progress. I've noticed this before. At Gent Dampoort, when I was snapping photos of the bikes, a security guard came out to ask me what I was up to. I was happy to see that anyone who seemed to need help or looked suspicious, would not be ignored.

So now it was my turn to hit the street, which I did, literally, but more about that later.

I had checked in with the tourism office, and they suggested the most bike-friendly routes. At first, I was told the immediate route to the Grand Place, the Groote Markt, was not so bike-friendly. I actually found it very bike-friendly, but it just shows you how relative that can be.

Wending my way towards a bike path that is just off the Grote Markt and puts you along the Schelde, I shot some footage of one of the streets that is closed off to auto traffic.

Antwerp on Two Wheels from Kate Ryan Reports on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sometimes, It's Personal...

Seeing this bike made me want to exclaim, "Dear God! Tell me, who did this to you!" and give it a hug.
And it got worse:
I mean really, who does this to a bike? How angry do you have to be?

Still, I thought maybe it's a little bit nuts to have the thought "Awww, poor bike", as you walk by an inanimate object.

Turns out I may not be so crazy after all. While securing my beloved Brompton outside a cafe this week, two women walked right up to me to advise me to lock it very carefully, even pointing out what they thought might be the best place to lock it. Turns out one of them had her bike stolen just weeks before. She talked about how mad it made her. I commiserated, having had one stolen and another vandalized. We agreed, when someone steals your bike: it's personal.

Then I had breakfast this morning with a couple from Montreal, and the man told the story of going by a bike that had been left on its side, and how he could not keep himself from going to set it right. Turns out, he works for Opus, a relatively new bicycle manufacturing company. Check out their line. It also turns out, he's a pretty big deal. Go back to that Opus page, scroll down and meet Stephane LeBeau, repeat World Master Track Champion. And super nice guy.

Once again, I stumble into interesting people who have a shared interest who just happen to be really cool people. Bikes and biking: sometimes it really is personal.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brussels (Sprouts) Bike Lanes

Brussels is the worst--when it comes to traffic congestion. That's not my opinion, that's the ranking from Tom Tom, the GPS manufacturer. The last time Tom Tom checked,  in June of 2011, Brussels topped the list of European cities with the worst traffic congestion. Though there are indications that's changing.
You might guess all that traffic congestion would translate into nightmare conditions for cyclists. You'd be right--and wrong. Listen to what Chloe Mispelon and Julian Ferguson, members of the communcations staff at the European Cyclists' Federation had to tell me when I visited their office in Brussels.
Listen to Julian's amusement when I start by telling him after my biking trip to his office, riding in Brussels wasn't so bad. I was surprised by the bike lanes stretching up from Brussels Gare Centraal, but as Julian explained, they are, as in many American cities, a patchwork affair. Chloe and Julian explain how the gridlock can--oddly--benefit a cyclist.
Julian is right: you'll spot great cycling infrastructure like this, (note the red path and bike light ahead) then blocks later, you're back on to the street where you might or might not find sharrow markings, or you're forced onto unmarked cobblestones (cobblestones lose all their charm on a bike like the Brompton). You could also be herded into construction zones where you'll have to hop off your bike and walk it through narrow chutes as pedestrians struggle to avoid getting hung up on your handlebars.

Still, it's a big difference from the Brussels I remember on my first trip here in 2006--one that makes cycling in an unfamiliar city much less daunting. And yes, that is a giant golden mussel that appears to be perched on my handlebar. This is Brussels, after all.

Row! Row! Row!

Biking back from a nature reserve (Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen) along the Coupure just outside Ghent. Can you see the megaphone on the man's back? He's  coaching a women's crew team. You'll see them in the final frames here.
Done on a Bike from Kate Ryan Reports on Vimeo.
Taken with my iPod Touch. I'm not sure, but was he telling the women to work harder?
Sounded that way to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bikes and boats and beaches...

This Marconi-centric journalist is still just flirting with the video skills, so bear with me as I practice, but here's a little something from today on the many places you may find a bike in Europe. In Belgium and the Netherlands, they're parked all over in giant clusters, and on the many boats that line the canals.

Here in France, in the area known as Pas-de-Calais, if you're headed to the beach, why not bike it? As a matter of fact, if you want a workout, ride along the beach. But mind the tides: time it right by heading out on a weekday in October, and you have a huge expanse of hard-packed sand pretty much to yourself. Get it wrong, and you'll be riding waves on your bike. And depending on how buoyant  you and your bike are, it will either be exhilarating, or a water rescue in the making.

Note in the video the riders are wearing helmets. Not a common sight in the smaller cities here in France/Belgium/Netherlands, but increasingly so in Paris and Brussels where congestion that rivals DC's fuels short tempers and bad behavior. On everyone's part.

In rural areas like this one, you'll find sport-cyclists using helmets. The logic being they'll hit high speeds, crashes (between cyclists who often ride in club packs) are possible and the riding takes place on narrow roads without shoulders and plenty of blind curves. But for utilitarian riding, you still see most folks going without the headgear. 

I note this because I spotted Gypsybug's column "You Wear a Helmet, Don't You?" and I understand her frustration. That question is kind of like when your Mom/roommate/boyfriend/husband/partner might have asked you:  "You're wearing that to go out?" A guaranteed conflict-starter. And the helmet question does seem to feed the notion that the cyclist who opts not to ride with a helmet has a death wish or thinks they are somehow invulnerable. 

As a reporter speaking from my own experience here, I'll give you my take on the inclusion of the helmet-or-no-helmet detail. A crash--any crash--happens. The questions start rolling: Was there alcohol/speed involved? What were the weather conditions? Was the driver/victim wearing a seat belt? Was the child in car seat? Was that car seat properly strapped in?

We, like the listener/reader are looking for the cause. It's human nature. "How awful, but I wear my seatbelt, so that probably won't happen to me..." I suspect that just as there is lots of head-shaking when it's found someone wasn't wearing a seatbelt, the same thing happens when we hear of crashes involving cyclists. We---and I don't just mean journalists here, I mean we as in people in general-- ask about that helmet. We like to think as long as we have one on, we'll be ok.

But here's the thing, and it's something that Gypsybug hit on (no pun intended) in her post. While we've all heard the stories about the father of nine who averted disaster when his helmet bore the brunt of his crash (I made that up, but you get the idea) some of us have wondered: are the fatal/critical injuries always head injuries for cyclists? A helmet won't prevent a ruptured spleen courtesy of a dooring, but you'll hear those "Tsk, tsks" when someone is injured that way. "See? He should have been wearing a helmet!"

It's fodder for another study and analysis. Put it on my to-do list. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Caution: Working Dog at Play

Meg, the Wonder Dog.

Actually, she's an English flyball champion. I met Meg, and her very nice owners on the beach not far from Calais in France. She didn't stop to talk. Like most Border Collies, she had one thing on her mind. Working. Which for Border Collies, is the same as playing. Except for they are deadly serious about both.

The Brompton Has Landed

Ok, so after all the obsessing and agonizing over how/whether to bring the Brompton along for the ride during the trip to Belgium, I did it.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you how I wore them out with the should-I-or-shouldn't-I-bring-the-bike question. Hamlet had less trouble making his much more permanent decision than I did. Many thanks to all of you who put up with that.

Tipping the scales:
Because I knew I'd blog about it, I decided, yes, go ahead and do it. If disaster struck and the poor little Brompton met a horrible fate by being stolen/damaged/just generally messed up, at least I'd have a great story to tell and some useful info to pass along.

Hard case vs soft case vs no case at all.
Erik at Bicycle Space has travelled far and wide with his Brompton. He kindly shared his experience with me.

Erik's naked take: Once with a B-bag, once naked. And by naked, I mean the bike was naked except for some straps to hold it in place. He was asked what it was, and described it as a personal mobility device. End of story. No challenges, no quizzing. No damage outside of some scratched paint, but hey, you can get that when you park/lock it.

Soft case:
Alex Baca has shared her experience on an epic journey to Eastern Europe in which she racked up some serious mileage and found the B-bag to be just the thing. Thanks, Alex.

Hard case:
I found at least two people who had happily travelled with the hard case made by B&W, which is not a Brompton product. Here's a video demo of the case, a nice look at how the thing looks/feels. I opted out of this due not to the expense (ouch) but due to the bulk of it. I knew I'd be traveling by rail and renting a car once here, and felt that the bulk of that case was just too much bother.
For the best account of how things went for one hard-case user: check out Lovely Bicycle's blogpost here. And just check out her blog. Lots of helpful info.

Ah, the elusive B-Pod. It was going to be Brompton's answer to the needs of its fans. A protective shell that was as portable as the bike itself. But it was not to be. There were/are varying accounts of how long it had been in design phase, and how it was put on hold. Brompton at first reported that there was a problem with supply/manufacture. Then I heard that sometime in 2012, Brompton would resume production. But it was not to be. I sent an email to the company, asking about it, and got a prompt, but disappointing response. Bottom line: Brompton is out of the luggage business, at least for now. They don't outright recommend the B&W hard case, but that's only because they say, they haven't tested it themselves.

Final Decision:
After all the pricing, measuring, consulting blogs and airlines' luggage restrictions, I chose the B-bag. I did have some reservations: it has two wheels, not four. That in my experience, makes it a bit tippy. and you have to turn it in the right direction to benefit from those two wheels. No spinning or backing. And while it's not heavy on its own, it seemed to create a bulky, heavy package when the bike was stowed inside. Still, it seemed the best option outside of a Dutch-made rig that I considered. (More on that later.)

Here's what I'm carrying. Taken near the baggage carousel in Brussels.
My experience:
Right down to the morning of my departure, I was still waffling. It would be sooo nice to travel light, with just two bags, a small roller and my carry-on. (I have recurring fantasies that some day, I'll be so organized, I'll need just a clutch as my purse, and my go-kit at work--the one with mics, cords, laptop, phone charger, various connectors, will be reduced to a slim, stylish briefcase. Ah, to dream...)
So one part of me thought, forget this madness. Just rent a bike when you get there. But the other part of me thought I'd be kicking myself for not getting the chance to test all that I'd learned.

Jamie, my colleague and my go-to person for watching my home and my cat when I travel, watched with some amusement as I continued to debate until seconds before hopping into the taxi to the airport. Even as I hauled the bike in the bag down the steps of my building, I was thinking "I sure hope I know what I'm doing."

Checking in:
I didn't check in via email, but waited until I got to the airport. I headed to the check-in counter, and was waiting for the challenge. I'd heard and read so many stories about how it all went badly for some travelers: getting dinged with fees for a full-sized bike, getting dinged for oversized luggage, etc. So I braced myself. I would be polite, but firm.

Immediately, I thought there could be a problem. There was a young couple in front of me, giving the check-in clerk a tough time over their very, very big bag. And by very big bag, I mean a bag that looked to contain a body. Maybe two.  ("Hello, FBI? I think I found Jimmy Hoffa. He's not alone.") It stood about 4 feet tall when plopped on the scale, and I have no idea how much it weighed. Certainly more than 50 pounds.

The young man was polite, but insistent that he should not be charged for more than one bag. The clerk struggled to explain he was not being charged for an extra bag, but for a bag that was over the 50 pound limit. Both sides were polite, but firm. Finally, something was worked out, and the young couple got ready to board. So I stepped up, aaand--a new clerk walked up. Uh-oh.

She looked like a supervisor, directing other people to the counter, handling questions on the fly. Had she been sent over because I looked like trouble? Did my bike bag look so suspicious? Nope, it was just break time. So I put the bag on the scale, and then instead of putting the bag on the conveyer belt behind her, she directed me to an area where the TSA was checking in the bags. No questions, no raised eyebrows, no challenges. The bag does fall within luggage restrictions and certainly weighed well under the 50 pound limit. I'd put it at around 35 pounds with my lock an some added items.  So no questions.

Yet she sent me to the TSA area. Did my bag really did look suspicious after all? I figured I'd been singled out as a problem. I figured wrong. Every single bag was sent to this area. When I got past the large partitions used to cordon off the area, I could see what looked like acres of luggage. And I figured that my poor little Brompton would be squished to death, but it was too late now. I'd have to see if my cardboard-reinforced Brompton bag would protect my ride.

At the airport in Brussels, I was fortunate enough to see that my bag was among the first to pop out of the chute and onto the conveyer belt. And voila! No damage. At least none that was obvious. I'm not even sure they opened the bag.

Ok, so now I had to go from the airport to the train, which at the Brussels airport is two levels down from arrivals. Normally it's a question of taking an escalator down, but as tired as I was, and having to handle my roller and the bike bag, I thought I'd take the elevator. No problem. They've got a number of large elevators for those with oversized luggage.

But once I bought my rail ticket to get me from Brussels to Brugge, where I'd be picking up a car, I had to get down one more level to the trains. In the six years since I started making annual trips to Belgium (it's an addiction) I've noted how they've updated air and rail stations with more escalators. Escalators I must add, that never seem to be out of order. I had about 4 minutes to get to the platform when I spotted another elevator to platform level. Perfect!

Next challenge: Train from the airport to Brussels-Midi Station
I'd have to transfer at Brussels-Midi/Brussels-Zuid to get the local train to Brugge. I'd arrived at the airport at around 7 a.m. on a Monday morning. By the time I got to the transfer point, it could be well inside of rush hour. But I lucked out, the stations were busy, but not jammed.

Next challenge: Brussels-Midi Station to Brugge
I had to figure out what platform for the train from Brussels-Midi to Brugge. I looked for, but didn't find an escalator here. I could have been wrong, but I just didn't find it.That meant going downstairs, into the station, heading to an area where the departures were marked and then having to haul the bike upstairs to another platform. As I began the descent I was beginning to think bringing the bike might be  a really stupid idea. There weren't too many steps, two flights of between 15-20, but it was awkward. I had a carry-on that clips onto the Brompton, the roller with my clothing, and my Brompton in the B-bag. I had to take a few steps at at time before re-organizing. One man very kindly raced back up the steps after hauling his own luggage down and gave me a hand. He was American. I note this because I've seen over and over again how, when someone here struggles with bags, it's generally the American in the crowd who offers a hand. I'll let you all draw your own conclusions.

I find my connection to Brugge. I look for the platform and find I've got an up escalator. Because I'm headed up, it's easy to tip the Brompton bag slightly (it's got two wheels, not four, a design flaw I hope they'll address someday)  and hop on. Thanks to the rear wheels on the bottom of that bag, I can glide off at the top of the escalator.

The platform for the Brugge train begins to fill. It's Belgium's most popular tourist destination, made even more popular by the movie "In Bruges".  Soon it's crammed to the gills with kids on field trips, adult tour groups (they have matching jackets--there are dozens of them) and regular commuters. The tourists outnumber the commuters by far.

The train rolls into the station, and I luck out..the door to this car opens right in front of me. I hop in quickly and find that the seats nearest the interior door are vacant and the train is not crowded.

In Bruges:
Once in Brugge, I find that the station, updated in recent years, has plenty of working escalators and even elevators. Now I have about 3 hours before the rental car has to be picked up. I did that on purpose since I wanted to spend a little time in one of my favorite places anywhere.

I decide to take advantage of the station's lockers (4 euros for the biggest one), and take my Brompton out for a ride. It's a sunny day. In Belgium, when the sun shines, you get out and enjoy it. Plus, this is my first chance to take my time and examine the bike to see how it fared on the flight.

I unzip the bag and take out the cardboard inserts I'd crafted. (The b-bag  has a thin steel plate on the bottom--but is soft-sided and offers little serious protection when tossed into a plane's luggage compartment or when sliding down a chute to a baggage carousel.) Both cardboard inserts have areas where the cardboard had been punched through--areas of the bike that stick out just a bit--at the pedal points for example. While packing for the trip, I thought it was kind of goofy to have to reinforce a bag designed to protect the bike, but now I'm glad I bothered to add them.
Now, it was off to play in sunny Brugge. From the first, I am thrilled that I brought the bike along. Belgium has great bike infrastructure and as I ride I notice a bunch of folding bikes---many of them other brands: Bike Friday, Tern, etc. At one point, I pass a father with a toddler who's on a "starter bike" the little push-bikes without pedals used to prep children for the transition to a the real thing. (You don't see trikes here for children. You do see them for adults. I'll have to ask in a bike shop about that. ) The dad, a Brit, spots the Brompton and says to his child "Look, a lady on a little bike!" I'm pretty sure that kid is gonna be bugging Dad for a Brompton before too long.

I decide I need coffee and a little food. I have to say here that the airplane meal of chicken was the single most awful thing put in a foil packet--ever.  I truly have not a clue what it was supposed to be, but there was rice, a few veggies suffering from freezer burn and the rapid microwaving that followed, and a disgusting concoction of something with a barely identifiable meat-like substance in a toxic sauce. I'm not a picky eater, really I'm not, and I know airlines aren't in the restaurant business but man, that was criminal.

On a side street, I find a cute little shop where I get a tomato/mozzarella sandwich. Two girls behind the counter blink for a second when I trail the folded bike in rather than lock it outside, but I tend not to lock a Brompton when I don't have to. I think it's too appealing to thieves.

Out for another ride before picking up the car.  I note how in areas where you ride with traffic, (as opposed to having a fietspad--bike path) you ride as traffic. That doesn't mean that cars don't come closer than you'd like--they sometimes do. But they do it at a rate of speed that likely won't kill you. And you just don't hear cars honk at cyclists. That would constitute harassment and I suppose, bring a fine.

Call Me Miss Multi-Modal:
In 24 hours, I flew, walked, cycled and drove. Well, the pilot did the flying, but you get the idea.
In all my travels to Belgium, I've never used a car. In most cities, they are--as in the U.S. --more trouble than they're worth. The streets here are quite narrow, grid patterns are not common, parking is a hassle and an expense, gas is pricey and I just hate the inconvenience of wondering: what do I do with the car once I get to my destination? But this time, I'd be traveling to an area not served by rail and the hotel has parking so I figured, eat the cost and rent a car.

In Belgium, as in the U.S., you drive on the right side of the road. Drivers here are heavily fined for traffic violations, so that tends to cut down on a lot of bad behavior, but I will say, when aggressive drivers want to push you on the highway, they really press their luck. Any speeder's a danger when they're coming up on you at god-knows-how-many-miles an hour, but here, it seems they hurtle at you in a way that suggests they have no brakes and there is no way either of you will survive. Twice I had drivers accelerate so hard, and come so close, that I think I could have given you the serial numbers on the bulbs in their headlights.

I took advantage of adding a GPS as part of the rental (I don't own a GPS since I don't own a car) and found it incredibly helpful. Since I hadn't driven here before--road signs, road markings differ--I figured the last thing I needed to do was take my eyes off the road to consult maps. If you're at all anxious about driving in a new place, it's one less thing to sweat.

Bottom Line:
So far, so good. I'm glad I brought the bike.

And now, since I've been blogging, it's time to get out and explore.