I have always been a fan of slow travel. Traveling shouldn’t be a race. Quality over quantity wins 100 percent of the time, with Bike travel being one of my preferred traveled methods. I usually break slow travel down into two distinct forms.
Time spent traveling
One – Is truly taking your time to really get a feel for the place you are visiting. Exploring the city, meeting locals, taking in the culture and getting a taste of what day to day life would be like if you actually were to live in this city. Whenever I read something about how someone visited. 100 countries in a year, or other ridiculous speed travel feats, I literally want to throw up. To each their own, and if you just want to speed through your travel like its a competition go wild. But I ain’t about that life.
The speed at which you travel
Two – The mode of transportation is extremely important for me. Usually the slower the better (to a certain degree) Now I am not saying I will always take a bus over a plane, or a bike over a bus, but I do like to make my way by land if possible. I am just wrapping up a 6 month trip through South America, where I have only take a flight twice to advance in distance. Everything else has been by bike, bus, or car. If you are constantly flying from city to city, you’ll often miss so much in between
One of the best and cheapest ways to see a city is to travel by Bike
One of my by far favourite ways to travel and get to see is a new city is by exploring by bicycle. Pretty much any city you go to will have a place where you can rent bicycles. For bike travel, I usually acquire a bike rental in four different way.. From friends, from a hostel, from a bike rental shop, or from the city bike system.
If possible, try to sign up for a city bike subscription
Many major cities around the world, especially in developed countries, will have city bike rentals. Often time travelers and backpackers don’t think of the city bikes as a viable option, but most often they can actually be the best option for getting a bike while traveling.
City bike systems are wildly popular in Europe, but can be found all over the world. If you are unfamiliar with these bike systems, the concept is actually quite simple. Docking stations are set up all around the city, generally in higher traffic areas. They are usually located on street corners, parks, or main boulevards. There will be a small terminal at the station where you can navigate your rental.
Although all cities and systems are different the general concept is as follows: You will be able to rent the bike for a certain amount of time, for a certain price. Sometimes this means you can rent a bike for up to 30 minutes free of charge. Other times it may mean that you have to pay 1.50 every 30 minutes for example.
With the free bike systems, a lot of times even though you can only use the bike for free for under 30 minutes, all you have to do is swap out the bike before the 30 minutes is up and your 30 minutes restarts. It’s freakin awesome.
However, a lot of bike systems are different so I would always recommend reading the guidelines about how it works. If you are at the terminal and you don’t understand the language it’s in, you can always snap a picture of it with google translate, highlight the text, then translate it to your language of choice. (this will only work offline if you have downloaded the languages to your phone) You can also jot down the website and look it up online, that’s what I usually do.
The process for renting a bike is generally broken down into three categories.
With a credit card (debatably the most common)
This can be done right at one of the terminals at a station. Typically you insert your credit card and you will be asked for basic information like name, phone number, a pin you want to use to access the bike, etc. Afterwards the machine will verify that you want to give a deposit for the bike, usually ranging from 150 – 350 Canadian dollars. Once you confirm you are usually good to go. You can use the bike, access it with the code it gives you, and any fee’s incurred will go straight to your credit card. The most important thing here is to record the code you are given (I generally take a picture) and to make sure the bike is securely locked away when you return it to the next station.
Pros: relatively fast and easy, doesn’t require Wi-Fi
Cons: takes a deposit from your credit card.
With a membership card (most difficult)
Another method is going to a local office that operates the city bikes. Depending on the city you are in, there may be multiple scattered across the city. I believe this is generally the most difficult option. If the city you are in doesn’t have the greatest level of english, or you don’t speak the language, this might be quite confusing. You may also need to provide information you don’t have readily available. You will probably have to pay a small fee for the card as well.
Although this is probably the hardest option to have success with, it definitely is possible, it just may take some perseverance.
Pros: Easy and fast once you have the card, doesn’t require Wi-Fi
Cons: Can be a real hassle to get the card
With an online app (most efficient)
My favourite way to rent from city bikes is by using their online app. Although not all city bikes systems have one, most generally do. Usuall,y you can navigate everything through the app. Finding nearby locations, renting and returning a bike, looking at your expenses, past trips, it’s usually all there. The only problem is to do this, you will need Wi-Fi, which you may not always have if you are backpacking. Some stations may actually have a Wi-Fi connection at them just for the purpose of connecting to rent a bike, but I definitely wouldn’t count on this.
Pros: Navigate all your needs with the app, quick use.
Cons: Generally needs Wi-Fi and a smartphone to operate
Renting a city bike versus renting from a local shop
Whether renting a city bike or renting from a local shop while traveling, both have pro’s and con’s.
Reasons why city bike rentals are BETTER for bike travel
- On average cheaper, sometimes quite significantly
- You can drop off and pick up at multiple locations
- If the bike breaks on your trip or has issues, you can just find the nearest station, whereas, from a local shop, you may be stranded.
- Usually 24/7 Access
Reasons why city bike rentals are WORSE for bike travel
- Some bikes straight up suck (be careful while picking them)
- Can have technical issues with taking and dropping off the bike (forgetting to lock it up properly)
Reasons why local bike rentals are BETTER for travel
- You will be provided with protective equipment, i.e a helmet.
- You may receive good advice on where to go on your bike trip
- Usually better maintained/functioning bikes.
- You are supporting a local business
Reasons why local bike rentals are WORSE for bike travel
- Set time to pick up and drop off the bike
- Generally one set location
Why you should rent a bike when you travel
I don’t even know if this paragraph needs to be included, but I will throw it in there just for anyone who may not be as pro bike travel as myself.
First off, a bike is typically 3-5 times faster than walking. If you are in a large city and really want to check out different neighborhoods, a bike can be the best way to do it. If you see something you are into, you can always park the bike and set off on foot for a bit. Plus if you are anything like me, you are probably indulging in the local cuisine and perhaps you’ve noticed your pants getting tighter while traveling. Biking is a great form of exercise that can help prevent some of that extra weight you may be putting on while traveling.
What if you get lost?
When traveling in a new city, you are bound to get lost. You would think after all my travels my orientation and sense of direction would have improved, but I don’t even know if that’s the case. One of my favourite and most used travel apps is an app called Maps.me. All you have to do is download the location you are visiting, and afterwards, you will be able to use the maps offline. You can save locations, and check routes to destinations. It really comes in handy. Plus its 100% free to use. Check it out if you’re looking for a decent travel map solution.
Explore a city by bike next time you travel
All in all, I will usually opt for the city bike option if possible. But I would recommend researching the options available to you in the given city you find yourself traveling. Many times people don’t even think about city bikes, and just assume they are for locals. Although this can sometimes be the case, a lot of cities also allow tourists to rent the bikes.
So go out, rent a bike, see more, and make sure you use the bike path if possible and the “right” side of the road for that matter.
P.S – Give me a follow on Instagram if you want to stay up to date with all my latest travel tips and adventures!