On the morning of my last commute of the school year a driver on a one-lane street in the north of Madrid shouted some nasty things (“¡Bicicleta de mierda! [expletive, expletive] … ¡Esto es España!) apropos of nothing. My response was that he ought to try riding around because it would be a good way to calm down. His last exclamation left me truly dumbfounded. Did he mean that this is a country where people don’t ride bikes? Ha.
The bici and I have been going to work together for twelve months now. Overall it’s been a really positive experience. Below are some random thoughts on bike commuting in Madrid.
It’s important to foster a mutual respect between cyclist and motorized vehicle driver. Stop at red lights. Ride to the right in multi-lane streets, but not in the bus lane. Use lights when it’s dark out. Signal whenever you can. In Madrid drivers aren’t used to seeing cyclists, but if you treat them as you’d like to be treated, everyone should be happy. In the past year, I could probably count negative experiences with drivers on one hand.
Remember the two-legged folk! Don’t ride on the sidewalk, and definitely don’t ring your bell at them as if you have the right of way. Stop at crosswalks. We are all pedestrians.
I was a novice cyclist when I took to the streets of Madrid. I’d probably done most of my previous riding as a kid around the neighborhood. It helps to have an experienced person show you the ropes. Follow said person on routes around town. Hook yourself up with the friendly folks at enbicipormadrid. Go to Bicicrítica. And when you’re ready to go, plan your route. Leave me a message—I’m happy to help!
People have asked me how many months a year I’m able to bike commute. In this town, cycling is a year-round activity. If anything, I worried about overdressing in winter—pedaling generally gets you nice and toasty. A windproof layer, good gloves, and something to cover your ears are the most clothing I’ve needed this year (which, admittedly, had a mild winter).
Beware of auto-pilot. I got so used to my route that sometimes I’d find myself thinking of other things and miss a turn or not signal. It’s great to be able to disconnect, but important to stay alert of what’s going on around you.
I appreciate the metro more than before because I normally choose when to use it and it allows me to do other things while traveling. Usually I’m dying to get back on my bike afterward.
I use a helmet. It’s a no-brainer for me.
People often say, “Oh, you’re so brave” or “I could never do that.” Neither of those statements is valid—anyone can become a bike commuter in Madrid if they want to.