Cycling in the Czech Republic

Last week I spent some time abroad. It is always good to step out of your normal routines and why don’t we do it in this blog as well. In my summer holidays I visited friends in the Czech Republic. First in the capital Prague and later in the eastern regions of Moravia and (Czech) Silesia. Although I was on vacation I couldn’t help noticing what cycling in the Czech Republic was like. All my friends there cycle, but only for recreation, not for their daily commute. That is in line with what I observed in the streets. The bikes and the cycling environment are indeed more suitable for recreational cycling. Most cycling infrastructure, away from through traffic, is to be found in parks or in the mountains, not on routes people would use for their daily business.

Cycling in the Park in Olomouc
Cycling in the Park in Olomouc in the East of the Czech Republic looks very enjoyable and relaxed. The solid white line indicates the difference between the areas for walking and cycling.

The historic city center of Prague has a lot of car free or car poor areas and the area is also expanding. Just last April a large part of the important Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) became car free and the asphalt will soon be gone when the square is rebuilt to the needs of pedestrians. Information I got from signs on the square, telling the public this conveniently in English too. In these pedestrianized areas many people cycle. But to me, the rest of the streets of the Czech capital did not look very inviting to be cycling in. Most arterial roads have multiple lanes with fast moving motorized traffic. An environment in which cyclists seemed trapped. Most of the cyclists I did see were young and fit. I found out the modal share of cycling in the Czech Republic is 3%. Given the number of cyclists I saw, I would have expected it to be higher, but Summer always is the best time to see people cycling of course. Incidentally the Czech website “Cyklostrategie” does state a much higher figure of 7.3% but I didn’t find that higher figure acknowledged anywhere else.

Ostrava - Poruba
Good cycling infrastructure in the suburb Poruba of Ostrava along the arterial road into the center of Ostrava. With dedicated traffic lights for both pedestrians and cyclists. With my Dutch eyes the cycle track seemed a bit narrow for two way traffic at first, but it is really right for the amount of cyclists there.

In the towns and cities I visited in the East, things were slightly different. More people seemed to cycle for their daily business. I saw fewer helmets and more shopping baskets. The streets looked a lot less hostile for cyclists and the cyclists were considerably older. I saw some very good cycling infrastructure in the cities Ostrava and Olomouc. But I could not judge whether it was a complete network. Cycling on the country roads between the cities and villages looked simply terrifying. Motorized traffic speeding up to 120 km/h, where 90 is allowed (or 75 in a 55mph road) on roads where cyclists have to turn left or cross freeway-like exits and entries was scary to witness. Yet there were many cyclists on such roads.

Kouty nad Desnou
In the cable lift at Kouty nad Desnou mountain bikes can be transported up into the mountains by a special hook. (The kid’s and the other guy’s bike were hanging on the previous and the next hook.)

In the Moravian mountains I saw that everything was catered for the mountain biker. Clearly marked trails on and near the slopes that are used for skiing in winter and hooks for mountain bikes on the cable lift so you could start on the top and work your way down. It leads to spectacular videos. Large facilities for mountain bike repair and rental and many people using mountain bikes were even more confirmation that cycling is really a passed time activity in the Czech Republic.

To sum it all up, looking around the Czech Republic with Dutch eyes these things were striking to me:
• A very high number of people choosing to ride with helmets (even without general helmet law)
• Almost no children cycling (since 2006 there is an obligation to wear a helmet for the under 18)
• Almost everyone cycles on some sort of ‘mountain bike’
• Many people ride on the sidewalks
• People dismount to cross streets and to go through larger junctions
• There is only little infrastructure for bicycles
• The infra that is there ranges from very poor to sometimes very good
• There are supplemental plates for traffic signs to exclude cyclists from one way streets
• Cycle routes (albeit through ‘normal’ streets) are well signposted
• Cycling on country roads looks very dangerous
• Smaller towns and cities seem to have more utility cycling
• Most cycling is clearly done for recreational purposes.

25 thoughts on “Cycling in the Czech Republic

  1. Nice article. I live in Bucharest and is the founder of an organization that promotes cycling as an alternative means of urban travel. I think it’s a fantasy for you if you know that our mayor says, quote, “I do not want to draw bicycle lanes on roads that do not want to count cyclists died.” Although we are in the top 10 in Europe in the number of sales of bicycles, most choose this way just for pleasure, while the city choked by cars and pollution. Cyclists rights militant organizations are few and very poorly funded and the level of public visibility are equal to 0. You Dutch people, are our inspiration in everything we do as an organization and try, as we can with limited resources, to influence the authorities to open their eyes and look to the grim reality – we get sick every day without having power to react -. No vision of building a civilized city and, unfortunately, no probike militants are not organized to put pressure on the authorities. What can we do to change this situation that seems to have no solution?
    I’d be happy to work in this area by tips and suggestions about how we should act.

    Flisc Daniel
    Association BIKE TO LIFE

  2. I have to say, In Prague the public transport system is so efficient that I stopped commuting by bike. The lack of bike friendly infrastructure is huge. It’s getting better but it is still really lacking nice flat lines.

  3. Nice article. I used to bike all over the place in Prague, and don’t remember it being too difficult. I also biked from my flat, near Namesti Miru, to Karlestein castle… a tough ride for me, and yes the drivers went very fast on those roads. It is a good thought about the mountain bikes… i picked up a great Cannondale mountain bike my 3rd day there for only about $100 US. These days I ride primarily 3 speed city bikes in the U.S., and would be curious how that would feel there. I am contemplating going back not too long from now. Also it was about ten years ago that I was there. Things might be different now.

  4. have a group that would like to bike in western czech rep, ie, around the Bads of Carls, Marian and
    frantiskovy. can you help in trip planning? i would be happy to give you details of interest.
    thank you

  5. I’d name some factors which have shaped cycling in Prague (don’t know much about other cities):
    1) Most of the streets in the center are covered with horrendous cobblestone. It’s in the video too! Riding without some sort of suspension is out of the question. A durable frame also helps.
    2) There’s a LOT of hills around here. The only way to ride level is to follow the river. Everywhere else is either 7km/h uphill or 50km/h downhill. Single speed bikes? Fixies? No way, unless you’re Pantani-fit. Which leaves the rest of us in need of a properly geared mountain bike (also see no 1).
    3) Riding in Prague IS a sport. An adrenaline sport at that. You get to fight for space with cars that often ignore you. Only the young and fit can keep up. Darwinian selection in action.
    4) There’s a very strong “yes helmet” lobby here. I guess it also makes people feel better.

  6. Well, you have certainly hit the nail on the head, however… You can choose any dirt road to ride on in the countryside (unlike in Slovakia because of their environmentalist laws). It’s safer and without exhaust gases. Just follow trail signs. That’s one reason for mountain/trek bike, another is hilly terrain which happens to cover most areas of my country.

    If I had to commute across town I would prefer bicycle over car. 30 minutes by foot is no reason for taking a bike. It’s sad fact there are some people who prefer car over other means of transportation despite short distances (and no week shopping in their time schedule). It’s not like I don’t like bike (on the contrary, Moravian Slovakia is nice place to ride across on a bike), but the things some people do…

    The one thing I strongly dislike are cyclists on the sidewalks or cyclists spread across the whole lane. It’s also against traffic rules. Well, bicycle users are called names thanks to these empty heads (cyclef** being the most common).

  7. Great article! The only thing missing is perhaps the reason for such a poor number of urban cyclists in Prague: Prague has great (and I mean really great) public transportation system. Metro, trams and buses circulate sharply according to the timetable, and monthly passes are relatively cheap.

  8. At 2:22 why do you think those pictograms are poor infrustructure? Here in Budapest pictograms are spreading where there is not enough space for cycle lane or in narrow one-way streets to indicate bidirectional traffic of cyclists for example. I think it’s a cheap and perfect way of cyclist integration to traffic.

    Anyway it was interesting to get to know the differences of cyclist situation between Czech Rep. and Hungary. I think situation here is much better, especially Budapest is going through a massive development. Although I can see also a lot of people wearing helmets and technical stuff, there are many cyclists with upright bicycles in normal street outfit (or even elegant clothes) and the majority use their bikes for everyday commuting.

  9. If you ever find yourself in my hometown, Malmö, it would be interesting to hear your perspective.
    Malmö, Sweden is interesting in its infrastructure because despite its proximity to Copenhagen, intersections are handled like like Dutch intersections– with buffer islands to maximize separation. Unfortunately, typically streets only have bidirectional cycle tracks on one side of the street; that is, there is only infrastructure on one side of most major streets in Malmö. I wonder why Malmö’s infrastructure developed as it did. The city continues to add bidirectional cycle tracks on one side of the street and continue to develop intersections with that buffer island. This is something I’ll have to look into…

    1. I was in Malmö as a child. Would be interesting to see what changed in almost 40 years. Two way cycle tracks are very normal in NL too. More and more so. It is easier to unravel traffic flows that way with fewer crossings that can therefore be tunnels. From what I saw and read about Malmö it is way ahead of Copenhagen!

      1. I suppose my complaint of Malmö’s bidirectional cycle tracks is that they’re too narrow. In any event, I absolutely loved my experience there last year. Cyclists really are separated from motorists most of the time and the under-crossings and general “unraveling” of modes was great. It was such a pleasure to cycle and even when I cycled out of the city center and got myself lost I managed to use the city’s wayfinding to get myself back to the center. I’ll hopefully be visiting in the winter, if I do, I’ll certainly document and share on my blog. I’m glad that what you’ve read and seen agrees with my personal bias towards regarding Malmö as a better cycling city than Copenhagen 😉

  10. Your list that sums up what you observed for cycling in the Czech Republic is very similar to the situation in Los Angeles.

    A bicycle count late last year by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition at 33 intersection found:

    30% of cyclists were riding on the sidewalk
    42% wearing helmets
    17% of riders were women
    Approximately 5 times more pedestrians than cyclists

    Those under age 18 have to wear helmets in LA
    Few people ride upright bikes
    About 75% of the riding is recreational
    Little infrastructue, although Los Angeles has put in about 10 times more bike lanes on primary streets in the fiscal year ending this past June, compared to the average in previous years.

    Besides not providing a low-stress cycling route, unprotected bike lanes in Los Angeles disappear at many of the potential conflict points with motorized vehicles, such as driveways, freeway on and off ramps and at least 100 feet before a intersection.

    Its exasperating to see these baby steps made to improve cycling in Los Angeles. The United States is way behind in bicycle infrastructure design at least partially due to antiquated engineering standards. To change anything in the traffic engineers bible, or Manual of Uniform Control Devices (MUTCD) as it is formally called, would take experiments, studies or research for arguments to support changing a required design element. Fortunately, the U.S. leads the world in academic research and there have been at least 100 research reports published so far this year in the U.S.:

  11. That’s the same exact impression I got from Prague on my visit last year. I didn’t see very many cyclists and all the ones on the streets were young, fit, wearing helmets (some high-vis), riding mountain or road bikes and none had a rear rack. The streets don’t look particularly inviting to bike on, but I will say that the drivers there seemed way more courteous than what I’m used to here in the US, so I’d probably take cycling there over my own city. Interestingly, I remember some of their recreational bike paths were the red asphalt.

  12. Hey Mark, your observations from CZ are 100% correct 🙂 We are trying to change that in the hilly cities thru the ebikes rollout.. you may see quite some on the streets of Prague and Brno. Basically sometimes its faster for me to cycle in Prague than in Amsterdam, where I have to stick at the bike lane, but here, with poor infrastructure I change the modes from street to predestrian way as needed 🙂 Best..

    1. If I read the Independent article word for word I don’t see Wiggins calling for helmets. He may have said so but is not quoted. So can we conclude that it’s the Independent which is calling for obligatory helmets?

      1. Correcting myself: other news sources confirm that Wiggins indeed thinks that helmets prevent you from being killed when you are hit by a lorry (a bus in this case). So “the Government should be legalising helmets to make them the law to wear”. His actual words.

      2. Unfortunately, I regularly read comments on the Daily Mail website. Regret it every time. I comfort myself by saying it serves a purpose to know what the rabid mob is ‘feeling’. And it’s really unfortunate that that sentiment is not far off the general public’s.

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