19 September 2012

Rio grand: Cycling in Madrid

I've just come back from Madrid. As the pleasant young man in Tourist Info confidently told me when I asked for a bike map, there isn't such a thing. Nobody cycles in Madrid.

Last Sunday (top right and bottom right) I rode past several thousand of those nobodies, on the new 10km riverside cycle path and in the vast parklands of Casa de Campo.

In the centre of town, true, cyclists are as rare as a vegetarian bullfighter. There are no cycle lanes at all, and virtually no cycle parking. And I thought Manchester was bad.

This is a typical scene (right): intrepid bloke on bike wondering whether to risk riding up the main road, or weave in and out of strolling pedestrians on the footpath. Or just give up and spend all afternoon with beer and tapas.

But a few cyclists do ride around the old centre. It's not only possible but, in the mazy backstreets, actually quite pleasant. If you've cycled in London, and certainly Manchester, central Madrid will seem no more challenging.

So I hired a bike from the excellent Trixi Bikes - only 8 euros for four hours - and spent a blissful Sunday afternoon on two wheels.

The few miles of that riverside cycle path, Madrid Rio (right, see map of path), and Casa de Campo, were absolutely stuffed with cyclists. Clearly a lot of people have bikes, and a lot will use them if the facilities are there.

Facilities such as bike-friendly bars and cafes: Casa de Campo was full of them, their bike racks full with Sunday riders enjoying a one-euro-fifty glass of beer with free tapas (right).

As I blogged in May, Barcelona turned itself from a cycle desert into a cycle oasis in a few years thanks to sheer political will.

There's nothing to stop Madrid - whose main roads are gridlocked with motor traffic despite good public transport - doing the same.

Despite the fact that, as the Tourist Info man said, nobody cycles.

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