The temptation to take to the cycle routes of Europe is hardly surprising, thanks to how deeply ingrained cycle culture is on the continent. Whether you’ll be urban commuting or following the route of a Grand Tour on a road bike, it pays to know what you’re doing and if you’re doing it safely.
In this post, we’ll run through the dos and don’ts of continental cycling in both the cities and the countryside, making sure you’re well prepared whenever you decide to embark on a two-wheeled adventure.
A typical European city center will have plenty of cyclists going about their daily business at speed, elegantly weaving between pedestrians and traffic, using dedicated infrastructure where appropriate. Joining this delicate ballet can be daunting, as an inexperienced cyclist might feel a little out of place.
Knowing the rules of the road and basic cycle etiquette will serve you well. For example, most cities will require a white light at the front and a red light at the rear of your bike when cycling at night, and police are quick to issue fines for non-compliance.
Another important thing to remember when cycling in Europe is that the pace is a lot slower and you might find yourself in cycle traffic – so keep your distance, be respectful of other riders and don’t forget to clearly signal left and right.
You might think that an essential accessory for a European cycling trip is a helmet – yet you’d be hard pressed to find very many people wearing them in major cities. Wear one if you feel comfortable, but they often aren’t compulsory.
However, reflectors, the aforementioned lights, and a bell are – simply to keep you safe while riding at night and to alert pedestrians that you’re coming through, vital on narrow cobbled streets.
If you’d rather get out of the city and hit the countryside for something a little more rural, then you’ll need some essential cycling equipment that you can transport while on your road bike. A couple of spare inner tubes, a pump and a multi-tool to adjust your bike are all necessary for a smooth ride through the countryside.
If you are in a spot of bother and require assistance from the locals, then you should treat it as a language-learning opportunity – as immersion is the best way to learn and you may well surprise yourself on how well you speak when trying to explain a mechanical problem on your bike.
An increasingly ubiquitous sight in European cities, cycle-share schemes offer a super-easy way to ride your bike in an urban environment. Barcelona has its Bicing bikes, Paris has Vélib’ and London has Santander Cycles. Alongside these are dockless, smartphone-based bike hires companies such as Mobile and ofo.
In order to use these services in a safe manner, make sure you aren’t under the influence of alcohol when you hire them, be sure to leave them in an appropriate place for other users (either in the allocated dock or in a sensible place if dockless) and take it steady when riding, as they won’t be as familiar as your own personal bike. Remembering this will help you live in harmony with the locals when living abroad, an essential aspect of a successful trip.
Follow these tips and respect the rules of the country you’re in and you’re certain to have a great time exploring Europe on two wheels – just like the locals.
Alex Jones is a featured writer for Start Fitness – providers of running, cycling, gym, football, and outdoor products.