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On your bikes, get set…

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Despite its reputation as a cyclist’s worst nightmare, Prague has seen a slow but steady increase in the number of bikers. Last spring I finally decided to join them and got myself a new bike. Not new exactly…it was an at least 20-year-old, slightly rusty silver beauty, bought for CZK 800 at Prague’s Kolbenova flea market. Its tyres weren’t 100% airtight, but it came complete with mudguards (somewhat bent out of shape) and a functioning dynamo light. It even came with a lock but no key. “They don’t come with keys,” the man selling me the bike said, and I tried not to speculate too much as to what exactly that meant. Half the things sold at Kolbenova appear to be of dubious origin. The point was I had a bike and was prepared to hit the streets of Prague, ready to weather thick traffic, careless drivers, bumpy cobblestones and steep hills. What I didn’t anticipate was that one of the biggest frustrations would actually end up being bicycle paths.

Every year, city representatives present information to show how much they’re trying to make the city more cycling friendly. Prague now has more than 330 km of pink bike paths. For this year, Mayor Pavel Bém promised to create 33.5 km of new paths, as well as setting up 200 new bike stands – another feature that is lacking in the capital. You can even take your bike on the metro at no extra charge. All this sounds encouraging, until you start trying to follow some of the routes.

Many of the pink markings puzzlingly end without warning on a busy road or in the middle of a bridge. Just try cycling across Štefánikův bridge or riding up the hill on Letenská street. It’s a poor system for those cyclists who have yet to master the art of teleporting. Prague City Hall might as well have painted the city over with pink dots – surely, they could add up to hundreds of kilometres of paths that Prague representatives could boast about – progress, see?

Despite initial frustrations, cycling in Prague can become a joyful experience, especially as you begin to discover various shortcuts and, most importantly, the quickest way out of town.

For me that ended up being a route that passed from Žižkov to Holešovice, and through Stromovka to Troja, where you can get on a path that runs along the Vltava. From here you can bicycle unhindered by traffic – and by illogical pink markings – all the way to Germany. I ended up only getting as far as Kralupy nad Vltavou, but, despite the tall stinging nettles that ran along the route, it was a pleasant trip. One of the advantages of biking in the Czech Republic, is that the country is crisscrossed with railroads and, for a fee of CZK 25, you can take your bike on the train. So if you run out of stamina on a long trip, you won’t get stranded.

For up-to-date information on cycling paths in Prague, traffic regulations and rules for taking your bike on public transport, check out the city’s website Cycling in Prague.

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