Shooting round the streaky bends
I hear a conversation in my head
Thinking of a place to be
I sing a little melody instead
I won't argue with myself
Today my legs are getting some help
-Mark Ronson "The Bike Song" from Record Collection (2010)
Someone once asked me what my favorite place in the world is. Without hesitation, I replied "anywhere on a bike." So, you can imagine how excited I am when the the weather is nice and there's a new city to explore on two wheels. And thanks to Madrid's BiciMAD bikeshare program, I did just that during my summer in Spain's capital city.
Unlike my bike rides in Rotterdam, Edam, and Zagreb, I had enough time in Madrid to make signing up for a bikeshare program worthwhile. (Some bikeshare programs, like nextbike, will only register you through an SMS message, not convenient if you don't have phone service in that country.) BiciMAD bikes can be rented on the spot for one to five days (no SMS messages involved) but I chose an annual subscription for 25 euros ($28). Unfortunately, a BiciMAD subscription isn't "all inclusive" and users pay per trip, with short trips costing about 25¢. Over three months, I used 40 euros ($50) worth of credits, making this a rather pricey bikeshare program. Which brings us to the million dollar question: was it worth it? Yes. Why? Two words: electric bikes.
Madrid is a fairly hilly city, and combined with Spain's brutal summer sun, you can understand why riding around town on a motorized bike is a welcome mode of transportation. Not only could I dress nicely and not have to worry about arriving at my destination drenched in sweat, but I could also focus more on the passing scenery and less on pedaling. There are three speeds for the bikes, and boy could those puppies go fast. There are stations all over the city, although there could be more. The downsides to BiciMAD are that the bikes are clunky, don't have a front basket, are sometimes loud, and half the bikes you check out are in too bad of shape to ride.
Biking in Madrid was a fairly pleasant experience as there are many protected bike lanes and car-free areas for safe cycling. I found some of the major avenues to be daunting as a cyclist, even with their sharrows (it drives me crazy when planners use these flimsy pavement markings in lieu of real, separated bike lanes). For example, on busy Paseo del Prado, taxis and buses are in the right lane and cyclists are in the middle lane, where I felt very uncomfortable being sandwiched between fast-moving and large vehicles; the one time I tried riding in the far right lane, where I felt most comfortable, I was immediately reprimanded by a taxi driver who slowed down to tell me to move over. Hmph.
Overall, biking around Madrid this summer was a great experience thanks to BiciMAD's electric bikeshare program. So, a round of aplausos to the City of Madrid for providing this lovely service and making my summer much less sticky.
(To sign up for BiciMAD, you can go to any of the kiosks -- they are all over the city -- and sign up there. The kiosk will issue you a card. To check out a bike, approach a bike and there is a black slot on the docking station to the left of the handlebars to insert your card; it took me an hour to figure this out because it was so different from other bike share programs I've used. Bikes may not be reserved for check-out, but spaces may be reserved for check-in. Bikes can be checked out for an hour or more. The BiciMAD app could use a lot of help, but its station map was useful. I'm not sure if bikes are available year-round but would assume yes.)
Casa del Campo
Casa del Campo, or "Country House," is a massive park west of downtown Madrid measuring 4,324 acres, or 6.8 square miles, making it one of Europe's largest urban parks. The park is best explored by bike and there are plenty of lanes and trails (although some paths are more suitable for mountain bikes, not clunky BiciMAD bikes with low batteries). Prepare to be blown away by the park's ruggedness, from towering pine trees to dusty red-clay hills. Although Casa del Campo originally served as a royal hunting estate, the grounds are now open to the public and include an amusement park and gondola to Parque del Oeste across the river.
Elsewhere in Spain
All over Spain, I was happy to see lots of protected bike lines and bikeshare programs. As I mentioned before, riding a bike in Barcelona was a bit challenging, but riding in Valencia was much more pleasant. With Valencia being home to a beach and Turia Gardens (aka a dried-out river bed turned city park), I felt the city was more welcoming of and accommodating to cyclists. At the City of Arts and Sciences, there was a great photo exhibit with lots of space for pedestrians and dismounted cyclists to get closer to and enjoy the display; I appreciated this little planning detail. But while biking in Spain still has a ways to go before beating out ultra bike-friendly countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, it still has reason to be proud of its current biking facilities.