Using a Folding Bicycle in Europe- Finding Your Bike Adventure
Bikes in Europe
Riding a Folding Bike in Europe
Last year, I was in Europe for five weeks. I mastered the bus and public transportation system, but there were times when I simply did not want to be with a bunch of other people.
Add to that the wonderful foods that Europe is famous for, and I realized that I had better do something in order to keep my waistline in check. In Europe, bike riders are far more prevalent than here in the United States.
Having already rented an apartment (also called a flat) I decided that I would get a bicycle to see parts of the city that I had not seen, and to get in some much needed physical activity. What was left was to determine the type of bike that I would get.
Apartments are very small in Europe, so I knew that a full sized bike would not work for me. It would be too cumbersome to get up and down the stairs, take up too much room under the stairs, or, if I had to, lugging it up from the basement would be a nightmare negotiating it around the washer and dryer that was down there. It was then that I started looking at the folding bikes that I saw so many people with.
The top of the line models can set you back several hundred dollars, even into the thousands, depending on just how fancy you want your bike to be. All I needed was a bike that was easy to fold and unfold, that was easy to pedal, and, most importantly of all to me, easy to navigate up and down the stairs if I needed to cart it up and down every day.
Save the Box if Your Bike Came in One
You may be thinking that you will leave the bike when you leave the country. I thought the same thing. By the time that I left Europe, I had fallen in love with my bike, which I named Flower. The thought of leaving her in Europe made me really sad. Shipping our bikes home was one of the best decisions that we made. Yes, it was a little expensive, but we could not have found a bike in the United States for the price we paid that was as well built as the ones we bought.
Even if you are not certain, save the bike boxes. We asked the store we purchased them from to save the boxes for us, and we explained that we would be back the following day. They did not understand, thinking that we wanted them to dispose of the boxes for us.
Lesson learned, so when you buy the bike, take the boxes with you then.
What to look for in your European Bike
If you are buying your bike new, search through all of the ads in the paper. Look at sales online in the country that you will be traveling to before you go to get an idea of the market prices.
Certain countries even have a strong online presence on sites such as Craigslist. Look and see what pricing looks like. In looking around, I discovered a great sale at a place in Brussels called iTraffic. They had a sale on folding bikes for 99.00 Euros. (At the time, about $180.00 USD) The bike was the cheapest that I had seen for what I wanted, so we went and got two of them.
Thankfully, the person I went with is mechanically inclined. He assembled everything right there. Which brings me to an important point. If you are not mechanically inclined, either make sure that the place you are buying from will piece it together for you, or only buy a bike that is assembled.
Some of the things to check on your bike before you leave are the brakes, the height, and the handlebars. This can only be done by riding the bike, so take it for a spin in the parking lot, or similar. At the store we got ours from, they were amused to see both of us circle on the bike, make an adjustment, circle again and repeat. However, this ensured that we had safe bikes that fit each of us.
Get Safety Gear, a Lock and a Basket
Just like in the United States, you want to protect your body in the event that you hit something, or something hits you. Get a helmet. I don't care if you think it makes you look silly. I would rather look silly than be brain damaged or killed from a preventable brain injury.
Make sure that the helmet fits you. If the shop won't let you try on the helmet, find a shop that will. I choose to use riding gloves some of the time, but not all of the time. In the fall, I want full finger gloves, in the summer, fingerless. No matter which style you choose, make sure that the palm of the hand is at least lightly padded. If you tip over on your bike, you want to have something to protect the skin on the palm of your hands. Road rash is awful. Pulling tiny bits of foreign matter from your hands is no picnic, either.
When you are choosing a lock, don't get the chain locks. They are easily defeated with large bolt cutters. Get the lock that is a solid piece of metal and looks like the letter U. It is a pain to remove by a thief. It was no joy for me to lock it and unlock it, but my bike did not get stolen.
You don't think that you need a basket. You do. Even guys. Why? Biking around, you may see a little market. They may have something that you need. Are you going to pass up the deal? How about if you decide to come back and get it? Or what about if you decide to take the item, the bike, and yourself on public transportation? Oh, what a nightmare. Easily remedied with a basket. Plus, it gives you a place to store the clunky lock.
How Much Fun was the Bike, Anyway?
The bike is one of the things I smile about when I recall the time I spent in Europe. No longer was I tied to the public transportation schedule for simple, short trips. I was able to take my bike to a friends' home for dinner. Before the bike, it would have been an expensive cab ride home.
Getting a small amount of groceries was a snap, too. I got an extra large basket, and that allowed me to throw a backpack in it, bring my purchases from other stores into a store without worry of them being stolen.
I spent the extra money (about 5.00 Euros) for a bike headlight, in case I was going to be riding at dusk or in the dark. I also invested in a good city map, which proved to be valuable. If you do get a city map, take the time to mark with a highlighter pen where you are staying.
Experiences with the Bike
When others would see me folding the bike and locking it, it was a conversation starter. Many people would begin to speak to me in French, assuming that I was a local. From that alone, I learned of many local experiences that I would not have otherwise had. A delightful older woman in her eighties at least, told me of a beautiful bike trail that went by an orchard and a fruit stand.
I took the trail, and it was such a wonderful surprise to see the trees and flowers so near to me, but I would have never discovered the place that the woman told me of on foot or on the city buses.
A man and his children were commenting on the bike one evening, and they told me about places to park the bike, and places to eat on bike trails. Again, I would never have found these places.
Having a bike in a place where car rentals are very expensive is the answer to short distance transportation issues. It is also fun, and a good way to keep ahead of the calories from all of the wonderful foods.
I am happy to report that when I returned home from Europe, unlike many Americans, I did not gain weight from my stay, but instead, lost eight pounds!
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