Imagine this sweet little street scene: There are bustling markets, sidewalk cafes where stylish patrons linger over coffee, shops spilling flowers out the front, fragrant bakeries with tempting pastries, and a glorious frommagerie. The Amelie theme song is the soundtrack, and you — you're pedaling along, sporting a cute little navy striped top, while treasures from your stop at the market peek out of your basket.
Okay, so the reality of cycling in Europe isn't always this idyllic. Horns blare as you swerve out of the way of speed-demon motorbikes, hellbent taxis, and swearing business types hurtling to work. Watch out for that slow-strolling grandma on the sidewalk; no tongue lashing can compare to the one you'll get from her if she catches you on the sidewalk on your bike (comprehension of her language not required!). Your brain also feels scrambled from jostling up and down the cobblestone streets.
So, yeah, there are perils and pitfalls to the bike shares found in cities across Europe, but I'd still argue that there's not a better (or more economical) way to get around.
Bike shares are incredibly budget-friendly (think around $2 a day in Paris, for example, with unlimited 30-minute free rides), allow you an up-close-and- personal look at neighborhoods you'd otherwise miss in motor vehicles or underground metros, and are just plain fun.
5 Bike-Share Tips for Europe (or Wherever)
Ready to give it a whirl? Having covered many miles (kilometers?) on two wheels in Paris using their fantastic Vélib' bike share program, I can share some tips for staying alive, and making the most of your moveable feast.
1. Give your bike a good once-over.
Let's talk safety first. To start, be sure to give your bike a good once-over before you take it. I'm not much of a cyclist back home, so it's not like you need to be an expert here. But look it over and make sure it seems solid, that you can adjust the seat to your height, and the wheels are in good shape. These things take a beating and sometimes you get a dud. Just swap it out at the next station if it's no good.
2. Stay off the sidewalks.
Not only will you get yelled at, but you could also plow through people like my friend did her first time out solo in Paris, nearly causing a minor international incident when a kid ran in front of her and they crashed in most dramatic fashion.
3. Do not try to make the light.
There is no grace period at stop lights! If you aren't 100 percent positive you can get through a light, wait it out. Motorists, I swear, will run you down without so much as flicking the ash off their cigarette.
4. Return your bike when making a long stop.
Have one stolen (despite locking it!) and pay for it just once and you won't make that mistake again. There's always a station nearby. Also, keep an eye on your phone battery so you don't get caught out with dark falling and no way of finding a station with available drop slots.
5. Bring a heavy-duty paper bag.
Your basket is probably going to be a reasonable size, but the hazard is having little bits of this and that go flying out when you hit a massive bump or slam to a stop when a dog runs in front of you.
The solution: Bring a fairly heavy-duty paper bag along (or shop with that in mind) and stash your items in the bag. Using your grocery store bagging savvy, load the heaviest items at the bottom with your delicate items up top. Wedge the bag into the basket and strap it down with the provided anti-theft cable (at least it's good for something!). Or be on the safe side and bring a bungee cord from home (it won't take up any room in your suitcase, and hey, you can use it to strap your suitcase shut when you've crammed it full of souvenirs).
What's your favorite way to navigate European cities?