Prague, often dubbed as the 'hundred-spired city', has much to offer for almost every inhabitant, be it for tourists, for locals, or for the considerable international community. For those living in Prague and looking to actively pursue some sort of physical activity, the amount of possibilities is quite wide. Do you like sports, enjoy a challenge, or love to travel by means other than the public transport system, car, or motorbike? If you have answered yes to these questions, then read on to find out more. Yes, we are talking about cycling, which could well be divided into two categories: the first would be primarily for travel, and the second would be for sports. Cycling as a mode of transport:
Travelling in Prague on bicycles has many positives and negatives which need to be considered. First of all, Prague, unlike other European cities, does not have a fully developed cycling infrastructure. Efforts to improve this are relatively recent and it will be some time before Prague offers comparable possibilities to Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and other bike-friendly European locales.
London’s mayor Boris Johnson, for one, is a perfect example of a cyclist who uses a bicycle to travel to and from work and is an advocate of alternative bicycle transport. In London and other cities, the ideal infrastructure is already there and has been actively developed over extensive periods of time; drivers have learned to expect cyclists, and essentially, bicycles are considered an integral part of the city transport system.
This is often not the case in Prague. Luckily, however, there are numerous benefits to traveling on bicycles here aside from the beautiful scenery and unique architectural wonders.
With the morning and afternoon peak hours often paralyzing Prague’s transport on the roads, cycling to and from work offers a more direct, healthy, refreshing, and fun way of spending your travels in contrast to the often not so rosy (literally) public transport system. It is, of course, a much cheaper mode of transport and requires very little financial input following the purchase of a bicycle.
Various organizations exist to improve, among other things, the conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. The Auto*Mat initiative, as an example, is well-known for aiming for sustainable modes of transport, for better conditions for pedestrians/cyclists, and for ensuring a reasonable future transport policy. Prague’s recent public transport strike demonstrated just how much a city can change without so many cars on the roads. Thousands upon thousands of cyclists (549% more than usual) took to the streets. Many traveled to work on bicycles, while others took the opportunity to see the capital city reborn and quiet. So quiet indeed that it was hard to believe this really was happening.
June 16th 2011, a massive strike forced thousands to head to work on bikes
Some may have probably noticed that in Karlín, for example, the “green” bike pioneer project has recently introduced bicycle stands, where bikes can be rented and parked. The dock stations are solar-powered, further introducing and strengthening a concept not yet observed in Prague. These bicycles can be used to travel in the area or on the neighboring bicycle paths. This brings us much closer to the next topic, which as has been indicated earlier is the use of bicycles for sports.
Cycling as a sport:
Transport aside, cycling for recreational and sport purposes is by far the more popular of the two. Many of us own bicycles and are happy to cycle around the city over the weekends or in the afternoons after work. But where can you go to cycle? This is where the biggest problem could surface when planning possible trips or locations to travel to. Luckily, there are numerous resources available for people to use for reference. Prahounakole.cz is one of the most popular maps to be used for cyclists in and around Prague. It offers color-marked routes including current disruptions and construction work so characteristic of Prague’s summers. A similar and perhaps more graphically pleasing alternative can be found on Cykloserver.cz.
Prague’s council has an online version that also offers a good map for you to use. For those who prefer print, a free paper version is available at most Municipal Offices. Although Prague offers a significant amount of routes, some have been more popular than others. You can travel by the Vltava River towards the North to Troja, where you can cross the river on a ferry, an exciting diversion from your ride, then perhaps choosing to continue on to Roztoky/Kralupy.
Alternatively, you can travel by the Vltava River to the South, going as far down as Zbraslav. This route goes through Podolí, by the Žluté Lázně resort, and offers an amazing scenery along the way. What’s even better is the fact that for a considerable amount of journey, you are surrounded by trees and nature, which further enriches the already rich experience.
Places not far from Prague also offer unrivalled cycling routes. Many people turn to the Labe (Elbe) river and its surrounding areas. There are numerous routes along the Sázava river, in the Český Kras (Bohemian Karst) and throughout the entire Central Bohemian region. A very close destination could be the Brdy mountains about 30km from Prague’s city center. Further, Beroun and the surrounding landscape is also a highly frequented destination. For some specific inspiration on possible routes, you can also visit MapMyRide.com.
One important detail to mention is that bicycles can be brought into the Prague metro (last carriage) or onto trains. The Czech Railways have strengthened their support for cycling and have become a popular method of transporting bicycles for a price as low as 30 CZK – 60 CZK for the entire day depending on whether you use the oversized storage space or a dedicated carriage with bike “hooks” to hang your bike during transport. Finally, Czech Railways also offer a bike rental option at select train stations, bringing us closer to the next topic of rentals, subsequent servicing, and DIY maintenance. Rentals, Servicing, DIY maintenance:
Regardless of where and how you use your bicycle, you need to have one in the first place. Not all of us have a bicycle or have the space to store it. For others, the seldom use of bicycles makes renting a bicycle a more appealing option. There are, yet again, many options available. Praha Bike and Okolo Bike Rental are some of the expat-friendly bike rental agencies; the company Czexplorer arranges day-long bike trips through areas outside of Prague, from Krkonoše to Southern Bohemia. By renting, you usually have the comfort and benefit of having a well-serviced transport/sport bicycle.
A well-serviced bicycle is essential in terms of safety, reliability and functionality. Old bicycles and worn-out components surely do not make the journeys a pleasure that they could be and could jeopardize an otherwise amazing day for you. Prague offers numerous servicing options. If you are looking for an expat-friendly bicycle service company, one to definitely consider may well be Hot Dog Cycles. It is operated by an American who is a bike enthusiast and himself an avid bicycle fan. When the bicycle is tuned and oiled, it will run smoothly and make a difference during your travels, be they for transport purposes or for sport. A short mention of the Auto*Mat and Bajkazyl DIY workshops is also necessary. Bajkazyl, situated, for example, at MeetFactory’s complex, offers a unique opportunity to fix your bicycle on the spot, talk to other cyclists when doing so, and a chance to learn how to better understand your bicycle with all the technical bits most of us leave to others to fix when complications occur. Who knows, maybe you too will become a DIY guru.
Regardless of your preference, Prague and its surrounding areas offer countless options for cyclists. With the season still very alive, there is no better time to grab a bicycle, plan a trip and enjoy the speed and freedom that a bicycle ride can offer. As John F. Kennedy once said, ““Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” To conclude, wear a helmet to stay safe, gather some energy and head out to discover the world around you from a different and exciting perspective.