Biking off the Cobblestone Path

Top tips for renting a bike and staying on it

 By Allen Peng

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Riding on a Whack-a-Mole board. Courtesy of Perry Ya.

I sat on my newly rented bike overlooking the Vltava River, blowing on my hands for warmth. It was mid February.

On my right side, trams and cars whisked back and forth under the rising morning sun. The winds clawed my apple red hands and jacket in brief gusts. On my left side, the river wound through light and then shadow, its currents grumbling along to the city’s morning commute.

I was the only bike on the road.

Only one percent of Prague residents rode bicycles to work in 2014, according to a report by the Technical Administration of Roadways of the Capital of Prague, but there are an ever-increasing number of rental bikes on the roads and alleys in the summer, despite the city’s reputation as bike unfriendly.

“I think tourist biking is quite popular, but there aren’t many cycle paths so it’s hard to get around,” said Jiri Motyl, editor in chief at Prague By Bike, an online biking publication. “So they’re usually with a guide, not by themselves.”

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, received over 5.5 million foreign visitors in 2015 according to the city’s tourism office; 31.6 percent came during summer.

“Our customers are mainly tourists,” said Sasa Ivsa, a tour guide with Praha Bikes, a year round bike rental and tour service. “Even if locals come, they’re usually with their friends who are visiting.”

During the winter months rental shops are either closed or by appointment only.

Back on my rental in the Old Town, I passed by large masses of tourists and on narrow streets. So Old Town Square’s open spaces seemed so very promising. That is, until I actually rode onto them. The cobblestones constantly jolted my bike up and down, as if I was riding on an endless whack-a-mole board.

Road rage? Limited bike paths are an obstacle for cyclists.

Courtesy of Perry Ya.

I could have been arrested. Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Prague has more than 250 miles of marked cycle routes out of approximately 2,461 miles of total roadway. Of those, 101 miles are protected, marked and recommended for cyclists according to the 2014 Technical Administration survey.

Vlastimil Kotyk, a manager at Ave Travel & Hotels, said that most of the bike trails are located out of the city center, far from tourist favorites such as the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square.

“The historical center has too many cars and people, and the streets are narrower,” said Kotyk, who has been a sports events manager with Ave for eight years. “Even though some streets are marked for bikes and every year they add more, the network of cycling paths is not good enough.”

More than 70 percent of Prague residents like to cycle and want to cycle more according to a 2014 survey by Instant Research, an online data collection tool. Fifty-two percent cycled for sports and 29 percent for leisure. But this cycling is largely done on weekends outside of Prague.

“No politician in power will risk removing a parking space”

The city’s bike paths are known for the “puzzle,” disjointed style of construction, said Motyl over email. He specifically pointed out the political volatility of parking spaces for cars.

“No politician in power will risk removing a parking space for cars, even a single one,” Motyl said. “So wherever you need to sacrifice a parking space for a continuous cycle track, they will choose to end the cycle track, not to remove the parking space.”

For example, Motyl pointed out the problem with allowing cyclists to bike both ways on a one-way street, specifically on Stepanska Street. Parking spaces on the street would have to be removed for that to happen.

“Even though the city plans to allow cyclist to ride both ways on the street in the long-term, the planned reconstruction won’t change the current state of the street,” Motyl said. “So it will remain one-way for all, even after the reconstruction.”

Meanwhile, riding your bike on the sidewalk is illegal in Prague even if there is no bike lane, unless the space for riding is so close to cars or tram that it would be impossible to safely cycle. You can, however, walk your bike on the sidewalk.

There are other obstacles cyclists should consider when renting.

Czech drivers are notoriously hostile to city cyclists according to numerous articles in the local press over the years.

Courtesy of Perry Ya.

On my way to the Jewish Quarter. Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Cyclists should also be aware of slippery surfaces such as the striped pedestrian crossings and pressing both brakes simultaneously to stop, not just one.

Where to go?

Narrow streets, parked cars and sidewalks reserved for pedestrians result in less space for bikers in the city, but this doesn’t mean you can’t bike in Prague.

For example, the Jewish quarter of the Old Town has no cycling path, but has few pedestrians and cars according to Michael Hladik, owner of Okolo Bike Rentals. If you do choose to bike in the city, Hladik warned to cross tram tracks perpendicularly and not diagonally.

Ivsa recommended riding in the bike lane along the Vltava River to the Prague Zoo, Botanical garden and Troja Chateau, all of which are close together.

“From there you can continue to Stromovka Park, which is the biggest park in Prague,” Ivsa said over email. “It’s great for picnics, grabbing a beer and some sports activities.”

My favorite place to bike was the A2 bike path following the Vltava River. The path isn’t difficult and is a very smooth ride. Going down the river in the morning provides a magnificent view of the bustling city and the calm waters, as well as Prague Castle up on the hill. It gives a nice side view of the entire city from the river banks.

For a complete map of the city’s bike paths, check out this interactive map which also displays bike maintenance shops around the city, as well as alerts.

For more tips and tutorials, related updates and an active biking community, visit Prague By Bike, which is associated with Auto*Mat, a biking advocacy organization. There are also several active Facebook groups concerning cycling in Prague: CrowdSauce, Biking Prague, Bohemia and Moravia, Cycling in Prague and BikePrague.

Reviews

Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Clockwise from top left: Green Lemon, Okolo Bike Rentals, Praha Bikes, and Ave Bicycle Tours. Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Green Lemon

This place was definitely a bit hard to find at first, because it is actually part of a hostel called Mosaic House. The sign is on one side of the building, but the entrance is around the corner.

After making a reservation ahead of time via email, I headed to the receptionist desk to confirm my reservation. The receptionists all spoke English, so the process went smoothly. I was out on my bike in minutes despite the crowded lobby.

They only offer retro bikes (pictured), but for the casual biker, that shouldn’t be a deterrent. It was my first biking in at least a year since I don’t bike in New York, so I was definitely excited!

The building is conveniently located near the Vltava River and the Jirasek Bridge. There are bike paths located all along the river, and further South you will encounter the A2 bike path, one of the most famous and well-used paths in Prague.

Green Lemon
Location: Odboru 278/4, 120 00 Prague 2 – Nove Mesto
Types of Bikes: Retro Bikes
Cost: Starts at 270 koruna/4 hours ($11)
Accessories: Helmet, bike lock, chain, basket (free)
Walk-Ins: During season (Mid-April to mid-October)
Appointments: Year-Round

Okolo Bike Rentals

Okolo is located within a courtyard, so you’ll have to do a little searching. Once you enter the corridor (pictured), there will be a sign directing you to the left where you’ll find the shop.

It was definitely nice to have a map strapped to the bike in a holder on the handlebars, as well as the bungee cord to attach my photographer’s camera bag. The owner took some time to go over the map with me, giving me directions and a general sense of where to go.

Another thing I appreciated is that Okolo offer bikes for tall people. I’m about six and a half feet tall, and I had to lower the seat to get more comfortable with my bike. It’s not that the bikes at the other rental places weren’t comfortable, but if you have friends who are taller than me, I would definitely recommend Okolo!

I walked my bike across the street straight into a passageway and out into a quiet, empty area. While it was a cobblestone street, there were few cars driving about giving me plenty of freedom to ride around the twists and turns as I pleased.

Okolo Bike Rentals
Location: Revolucni 1082/8, 110 00 Prague 1-Nove Mesto
Types of Bikes: Mountain, touring/trekking, city cruiser, electric, tandem/recumbent tandem, kids
Cost: Starts at 150 koruna/hour for mountain bikes, conditional; Discounts for large groups/long rentals
Accessories: Helmet, bike lock, cycling map, bike lights, tools, pumps, puncture repair kits, basket, water bottle holder (all free)
*Panniers and/or handlebar bags or backpacks extra 50 koruna/day
Walk-Ins: During season (March-November)
Appointments: Year-round
*Also offer bike delivery and pickup

Praha Bike

Praha Bike is one of the few bike rental shops – if not the only one – that is open year round, which means anyone can walk into the store and rent out a bike without a prior reservation. Also located in a courtyard area, the process was very straightforward. The employee recommended some biking routes and even offered me gloves since it was a bit chilly that day.

Praha Bike is actually located a few minutes away from Okolo Bike rentals, so location-wise it’s the same. Praha Bike definitely seems to be a little more family friendly, especially with the tag along, which allows kids’ bikes to be attached to the back of their parents’ bikes.

While heading out I noticed a large object draped over with a giant tarp. I assumed that was the seven person bike that Praha Bike offers.

Praha Bike
Location: Dlouha 708/24, 110 00 Prague 1-Stare Mesto
Types of Bikes: Mountain, trekking, kids, tandem, electric, team
Cost: Starts at 200 koruna/2 hours for mountain bike; conditional discounts for large groups/long rentals
Accessories: Helmet, bike, lock, cycling map, rear child seat, tag-along or child trailer, bike lights, rear bike bag
Walk-Ins: Year-Round
*Offers bike delivery for a fee and free emergency roadside service

Ave Bicycle Tours

Out of the four rental shops my photographer and I tested, only Ave Travel was across the Vltava River in Prague 5. Ave Travel’s starting price is the best out of all the shops we tested. Since the rental rate was 250 koruna, flat. We could’ve stretched our money to just over 35 koruna, or less than $2 an hour, if we kept the bike until 4 pm.

Before beginning our trip the employee took us down to the bikes and demonstrated the gears, brakes and shock absorbers without us asking.

He also took the time to pump up the back tire. They normally don’t offer bungee cords, but he took the time to find one for us on a shelf anyways for my photographer’s camera bag.

He recommended some routes that would take us south and to the Vltava River, but it was freezing cold and the route didn’t seem as friendly especially with all the ice on the ground, so we went the other way around and ended up on a pedestrian bridge overlooking train tracks. Normally I would have attempted the route, though it may not be as friendly to beginners. While the other side does have stairs on the way down, the roads are flat, wide and are fairly bike friendly relative to the starting side where cars were constantly streaming back and forth.

Ave Travel
Location: Pod Barvirkou 747/6, 150 00 Prague
Types of Bikes: Mountain, trekking, cross road, tandem
Cost: Starts at 250 koruna until 4pm same day for mountain bike (doesn’t matter how early you start)
Accessories: Helmet, handle-bar bag, lock, repair kit per group (pump, spare tube, tools)
Walk-Ins: During season (May to September)
Appointments: Year-Round

 

Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Do not try this at home. Courtesy of Perry Ya.

Allen Peng is in the College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2017. His hometown is Fremont, California.

Perry Ya is in the Stern School of Business Class of 2018. His hometown is Germantown, Maryland.

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Categories: Spring 2016 Issue Number 1, Travel

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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