17 November 2009

Bike hire cities 2: Krakow

Hmm. Nice-looking bikes they've got here: good, sturdy, step-through frames, saddles that adjust for all sizes, smooth hub gears (?five), back rack, front basket and city map (below right), dynamo lights... and some handily located hire stations round the city, such as right outside the main rail and bus terminus (right).

Trouble is getting to use them. The pattern for modern city hire schemes seems to be this: you register online with your credit card details, paying either a one-off fee or some periodic rate, for a day or week or year; then you can take out a bike from the automated unit at the bike hire station, using that same credit card, and checking the bike back in at the same or some other station. Short periods of up to half an hour are free or very cheap, perhaps a pound or less; but the price jacks up so that a full day would be about the same as commercial bike hire, perhaps £15 or more.

Krakow's scheme is no exception, and that means going to the bikeone.pl website to register... which is in Polish. There are a couple of English language pages (you might find the 'ENG' link hidden down at the very bottom right) but not for the vital bits of registering. If you know someone who speaks Polish then maybe not too much of a problem (and if they can fix a chronically stiff bathroom tap, give me their number). Otherwise, you may find the information that, for example, three miesieczny is an okres waznosci of 90 dni and a cena of 50 pln, less than helpful. It hardly encourages you to start entering your credit card details into forms you don't understand.

So that's a lesson for London: make the booking process as easy as possible, make the website foolproof, and don't make it available only in the local language, or we'd end up with an Ess-charry Inglish site saying 'Ar long jer wonna rint it for?'.

And so I didn't manage to rent a bike in Krakow, but it doesn't really matter because everything you'd really want to see in the city is within walking distance anyway. There are a few bike lanes, and people do cycle around the vast and pleasant main square (right) where you can sit and sip a Tyskie or Zywiec and listen to the hourly trumpet call to the four points of the compass echo around the historic facades.

And actually there aren't too many promising bike tours from Krakow, though you might possibly cycle along Route 4. This roughly follows the Vistula river (above right) from the city centre, where it snakes round the iconic castle of Wawel, out west for 50km to the town of Oswieczim - known to most of us, more soberingly, as Auschwitz (right).

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