On my 3+ week trip in Europe, I visited a lot of big cities. I traveled by air, train, car, foot, and bike! I biked in 3 major cities — Munich, Barcelona, and Paris — and found this the most enjoyable way to be a tourist. It’s super easy and cheap and you get to see way more than you can ever see walking on foot and taking public transit (which in many of these cities runs underground). Biking is also just easier, and you feel much more a part of the city as you wind your way through medieval streets, and in and out of traffic. Here I am on the Fat Tire Bike Tour bike in Barcelona.
There are many ways to use a bike in Europe. I had assumed that travel around Europe by bike, meant traveling from village to village solely by pedal, choosing a small region to get to know intimately (Luxembourg is distinguished by its copious, well-maintained bike routes. Normandie and Brittany in France are also great ares to bike from village to village.). But this is not the case. More and more European cities are offering state-sponsored bikes for hire (even for free for a short commutable time period). Munich, Barcelona and Paris all offer such city bikes, which you can pick up from various locations in the city and then drop off at another location. In Germany, the bikes are rented by the German train company, Deutsche Bahn (DB). In Barcelona, the city seems to be sponsoring the bikes, and in Paris the mayor’s office offers the Velib bikes, a brand new program designed to curb traffic. It’s unclear to be whether tourists can rent these bikes on a short-term basis. Both the Barcelona and Paris bikes offer a 1-year membership plan, which isn’t so tourist friendly. The kiosks in Paris (they are in multiple languages, including English) list a 1-day pass as an option, but when I tried to choose this option, I got a message that it’s not available from this particular kiosk. I tried 5 or 6 kiosks before giving up. Friends of mine in Paris guess that the program is so new they may not have implemented all the features at the moment.
So, are the other options for travelers to rent bikes? In Munich I used a friend’s bike, which is the cheap option, of course. In Barcelona, many hotels offer bikes for free or for rent. We took a tour of the city with Fat Tire Bike Tours. The four-hour tour was a great way to get a sense of the scope of the city and see the highlights. They also have tours in Paris and Berlin. In Paris, we rented bikes from the mayor’s office and Roue Libre. I only found out about this because my friend who lives in Paris told us about it and was able to direct us to the very hidden location of the rental shop in the Les Halles shopping center. This is a really good deal. Four hours for 10 Euros. What a steal. Biking in Paris has been made much easier since they made the bus lanes into bus+bike lanes and added directional signage just for bikes. My friend in Paris was very concerned about biking on the busy streets of Paris. But I found it very easy and the traffic incredibly friendly to bikers. Of course, I live in L.A., the most unfriendly bike city ever, so it’s all relative!