Written by Jacy Meyer
With mild weather and relatively flat lands, plus some mountains for the hardcore amongst you; the Czech Republic is excellent biking country. The landscape is criss-crossed with well-marked and maintained biking trails, allowing you to go as far or as near as you desire. A bike-friendly atmosphere surrounds the country; albeit sometimes it doesn´t seem that way in Prague or by road-hogging cars. Never you mind, strap on your helmet and take off on an exhilarating ride through the nature.
Czechs are a bicycling bunch; with the AVPK (Association of Manufacturers and Dealers of Bicycles) reporting that more than 350,000 bikes are sold each year in this country. Research done by the AVPK also found that 19% of Czechs report cycling as their favorite leisure time activity, over swimming or hiking. Funding for biking infrastructure continues and the country can now boast 1,000 kilometers of safe bike paths plus 20,000 kilometers of bicycle routes - which includes city streets.
One of the most well-known long distance bike trails is the Prague Vienna Greenways. This is a series of linked paths that allow you to bike from Prague to Vienna. Don´t worry, you can do it in sections, or just parts for a fun day, or weekend trip. The Greenways are maintained by the Czech Environmental Partnership (www.nadacepartnerstvi.cz.) In addition to their biggie, there is also the intense Moravian Wine Trails, as well as other cross border trails - the Krakow-Moravia-Vienna and the easier to manage Dresden-Prague which runs along the Elbe River. Three other river greenways follow the routes of the Morava, Bečva and Ohřa.
The Moravian Wine Trails is a cooperative project with nearly 300 winegrowing cities and other interested partners. Each of the ten wine-growing regions in the area is connected with its own trail loop, with all trails connecting to the major line. This allows for customization of your own personal wine biking adventure from the 1,200 kilometers of available trails. South Moravia in general has received the most influx of newly built bike trails in recent years. Overall information can be found at www.jizni-morava.cz; highlights include the Lednice Valtice area and Podyji National Park for a forested biking experience.
The Prague-Vienna route seems short - 470 kilometers - when compared to the Wine Trails route. However there´s a multitude of side trails for easier day trips - including the Rožmberk Heritage Greenways, the Lichtenstein Heritage Greenways and the Handicraft Greenways. Maps for all these trails and more can be downloaded from www.greenways.cz, Czech only. It´s a good idea to get a hold of these maps before you set out - they are filled with information on what to see, what to expect, emergency phone numbers and information on the distances and altitude changes along the way. Greenways also arranges group bike rides, and information about these can be found there as well.
South Bohemia (www.kraj-jihocesky.cz) is another popular riding destination. With a varied landscape, folks of all skill levels will find something to accommodate. Laidback riders will appreciate the flat lands amongst the region´s fish ponds and along the Vlatava, Lužnice and Malše Rivers. Mountain bikers can head toward the Šumava or Novohradské hory ranges. Mountain bikers should also visit the Krkonoše (www.krkonose.eu) or the Beskydy (www.beskydyinfo.cz) Mountains.
There are local companies that arrange bike tours as well. Ave Bicycle Tours (www.bicycle-tours.cz) offers trips as varied as a Karlštejn Castles Tour and a Bohemian Heritage Bicycle Tour. They offer both guided group trips, as well as self-guided independent ones so you can be adventurous as you´d like. They offer a bike tour starting every week through the summer, as well as one-day tours. Top Bicycle (www.topbicylce.com) offers both independent and guided bike trips throughout Central Europe. In the Czech Republic itineraries include parts of the Greenways, as well as a “Gothic Trail” from Brno to Prague and a challenging tour in the Šumava Mountains. They also offer family vacations so perfect if you´ve got the whole brood on bikes.
Bicycling in Prague is frankly, scary. Information about cycle routes in the city can be found at www.praha-mesto.cz/cyklo and tourist information centers offer a 1:50,000 cycle map. The city currently has about 130 kilometers of mostly shared trails. If you want to help make Prague a more bicycle-friendly city, contact the folks over at Auto-Mat (www.auto-mat.cz.) Their goal is to help reduce car traffic, increase bike traffic and develop additional forms of sustainable public transportation. They are involved in a couple big events - including European Mobility Week (September 16-22) which includes World Car Free Day on September 22 in which citizens are encouraged to leave the car in the garage and find alternative transport modes for the day. They are also the local Critical Mass organizers in Prague - you can join them for a ride every third Thursday of the month from náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad.
Czech Railways (www.cd.cz) is helpful for those part-time bikers who don´t want to make the commitment of actually owning two wheels. Six different regions, for a total of 14 train stations across the country rent bikes on-site. These include South Bohemia, Czech Paradise and near the Beskydy Mountains. In order to rent a bike, you´ll need two forms of ID, pay a 500CZK or 1000CZK deposit (depends on the station) and bike hire costs are cheap; only 50-200CZK for the day. On selected train lines, you can transport the bike for free, and you don´t have to return the bike to the station you picked it up at, making it easy to plan a long distance day trip. Links to the participating stations can be found in the “bike hire” section of Czech Railways website.
If you are planning a multi-day excursion, spend some time at www.cyclistswelcome.eu before setting off. Cyclists Welcome is a network of bike-friendly establishments throughout the country. They were chosen and certified in conjunction with the folks over at Greenways. Here you´ll find hotels, hostels, pensions and campsites that have important biker amenities like bike storage places, repair tools and clothes drying facilities. But day trippers need to check this out too as they also list tourist attractions and restaurants that cater to bicyclists. They have a handy search engine and FAQ´s so you can easily find what you are looking for. All certified organizations will bear the Cyclists Welcome logo - a green and white smiling bicycle.
We asked the experts at Greenways for some additional biking tips which they were quite happy to provide. First, always carry with you at least basic tools like a repair kit for flat tires, a pump and a couple of wrenches. It´s good to know how to repair simple flats and other breakdowns on your own; and having a small first aid kit isn´t such a bad idea either. Be prepared for all types of weather so be sure to have a raincoat, waterproof pants and an extra pair of shoes. Padded bike shorts come highly recommended, especially if you are new to riding - if you ride regularly or have a super nice bike seat you may be okay without them.
If you are interested in learning more about biking in the Czech Republic you can check out the Ministry of Transport´s National Cycling Strategy at www.cyklostrategie.cz or visit the European Cyclists Federation at www.ecf.com.