Europe is being overtaken by bike hire schemes. Everywhere one goes, there are long rows of matching bikes. Outside metro stations, near popular public monuments, and in famous parks, bicycles sit waiting. They are waiting for anyone that has a need to get from one place to another, wants to get a bit of exercise, or desires to experience a new way of sightseeing.
There are businesses in many European cities that have long offered cycling tours or bike rentals of some sort. But the new bicycles in Europe are sponsored by the cities themselves, and are an alternative mode of public transport. Meant for short trips around the city centre, they are becoming an increasingly common sight across the continent.
New cycle hire schemes are constantly popping up all over Europe, and have become a very popular way for people to get around. The first cycle program was the pioneering Velib’ cycle hire scheme in Paris, which is now an institution in the City of Lights. Many cities have followed suit with programs of their own. From large cities like London, Rome, and Vienna to smaller cities like Poitiers, Bordeaux, and Avignon, bike rentals have spread quickly across the continent.
Cycle hire is a system in which racks of bicycles are placed at popular locations throughout a city centre. People can take the bikes out for a period of time–usually 30 minutes to a few hours–to get around the city. They are a popular alternative to walking long distances or dealing with crowded buses and subway cars.
How does it work?
Cycle hire is both an inexpensive and effective way of getting around. While many cycle hire schemes are promoted as being free, there is actually a small cost involved. Usually a new user must pay a nominal registration fee of around 1 euro, after which 30 minutes of cycling time is free. Long-term visitors and residents can often buy an annual pass that allows them to cycle for up to 30 minutes at no cost.
Once the 30 minutes are up, an additional fee applies. Usually people don’t need the bikes for more than that amount of time, though. If they do, the cost is often still only a few euros, and can be less than a 10 minute metro ride.
Are there any other costs?
Some cycle hire schemes also require new users to put down an initial deposit to insure the bike against theft before they can take a bike from the docking station. Each scheme has slightly different rules, so it is important to read the instructions carefully when initially taking out a bike.
New cycle routes
In order to make cycling attractive and user-friendly, many cities are creating cycle “superhighways” to make it easy to get around. For example, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and an avid cyclist, has seen to it that London has a program for developing cycle superhighways to encourage people to use the cycle hire program. These cycle superhighways and streets with dedicated cycle lanes make it easy to get to popular sightseeing destinations as well as locations that are not well-served by public transport. Pop into a tourist office and pick up a map with the city cycle routes, this way you can plot your own bicycle tour. You might even discover some nice bicycle trips that head out of town.
Where can I pick up a bike?
Many cities have placed docking stations in strategic locations to help people find bicycles. Rome’s cycle hire scheme has cycles docked at popular areas in the city centre such as the Piazza del Popolo. The scheme in Poitiers, France has cycles conveniently located right outside of the main train and bus stations in the city, allowing passengers to transfer seamlessly from one mode of transport to another. In Avignon, there are cycle racks placed around the outside of the city walls, letting visitors that want to explore areas beyond the historic city centre reach destinations further afield more easily. Even Aix-en-Provence, with its imminently walkable city centre, has cycles for hire for those that want to ride around the area. If you can’t find a docking station, cities like London have iPhone apps to help you locate the nearest station with available bikes.
Cycling in a foreign country
If you choose to cycle around the next European city you visit, make sure to brief yourself on the city’s traffic laws and familiarize yourself with common road signs. If you use a cycle hire scheme in a city where cars and cycles drive on the opposite side of the road than you’re used to at home, be especially attentive.
With so many cycle hire schemes launching across Europe, someday people might be able to ride across the entire continent by hopping from one scheme to the next. For now, consider trying out a cycle hire scheme as an alternative to walking long distances or taking public transport or taxis. You’ll look like a local, get some exercise, and above all, experience Europe in a new way.
If you are planning a trip to Europe find cheap accommodation and stay in a hostel.