Friday, July 2, 2010

Bicycling in Bucharest: Herăstrău Park

I am happy to report that since my previous post about Bucharest, I have actually cycled here - twice. The catalyst was a visit to the Herăstrău Park - a sprawling green space with lakes and alleys and rose gardens and too many other nice things to list.

Herăstrău Park and its surrounding neighborhoods seem to be the place to be for those who want to ride a bike in Bucharest. To a large extent, the culprit of the cycling frenzy is the Green Revolution bike-share, which is free and easy to use.

"I ♥ Velo"

In a prominent spot in the park, there is a bicycle lot and a staffed booth. You come up to the booth, fill out a very short form, leave an ID (my US driver's license was fine), and get a free bike for 2 hours. If you are gone for more than two hours, you get charged a small fee. That is all. The people in the booth are very friendly and speak English. I was on a bike within 3 minutes of stumbling upon the booth.

What I now understand about bike share in Bucharest, is that it is "de-centralised". That is, there are different companies that offer bike share in various parts of town, under different conditions. What I like about the Green Revolution programme, is that it (1) is approachable and easy to use, and (2) is run by people who clearly care about bicycles. And it seems that I am not the only one who feels this way; they are enormously popular with locals.

It was interesting to observe the attitudes towards cycling among those who use the bikes. On the one hand, it is definitely perceived as a leisure activity: the bikes are taken out for fun, not for transportation.

But on the other hand, they are not perceived as a form of sport: 90%+ of the people cycling are wearing their everyday clothing. It is a form of outdoor entertainment, like strolling and eating ice-cream, but not an athletic activity.

There are bike paths throughout the park grounds, and they continue outside the park, connecting to the paths in the city center. However, locals tend to interpret the paths creatively. Directional arrows are ignored, cyclists make sudden stops and u-turns, and non-cyclists can often be found on the paths. As long as you go slowly, that's all fine, but speeding up is pretty much out of the question.

As for the Green Revolution bike itself: It is a modern, welded U-frame is a dark silver colour. Single speed, cruiser handlebars, easily adjustable saddle, coaster brake, front brake, fenders, cardboard dressguards, wire front basket.

The basket is narrow, but deep - just big enough to fit my laptop bag if I squish it in sideways.

The ride quality is sufficient for slow rides in a mostly hill-free and car-free environment, but I don't think these bikes were meant to withstand much beyond that. Of course I was so happy to be riding a bike again, that it hardly mattered.

Taking a much-needed break from work, I cycled aimlessly around the park grounds, delighting in things like these ridiculously beautiful benches and trash receptacles.

Another gorgeous bench design.

There are boat rides and outdoor cafes, sculpture parks and fountains, playgrounds and pony rides, and even peacocks. This park is truly amazing.

There were many others on bikes around, but one particularly lovely cyclist stood out and I could not help but approach her for a picture.

Her name is Ana, and it turns out she was test-riding a special edition Electra Amsterdam from the Ciclissimo bicycle shop nearby. That is the owner of the shop with her, George Pop, who is riding a Strida.

We had a brief conversation about the bike situation in Bucharest. Ana and George think that it is improving - with more interest in cycling and a growing popularity of classic bicycles. The Ciclissimo shop carries Pashley and Brompton, among others. I wonder whether these will start appearing on the streets soon.

In the meantime, it is nice to see that at least in some contexts people in Bucharest are clearly enjoying cycling as a simple and casual activity.

It is time for me to leave now and I want to sincerely thank all the locals who contacted me after my previous post. It was so wonderful to hear from you, and I regret that the nature of my trip did not allow me to organise any meet-ups. Please keep in touch; one never knows when fate might bring me to Bucharest again. And if you are a lone cyclist here who is looking for advice and resources, please visit: bikeblogbucuresti.blogspot.com, velobello.wordpress.com, www.portocalamecanica.ro, and simplybike.wordpress.com - I am sure they'd love to hear from you!

16 comments:

  1. What is the story with the green lanes? Some seem to be riding in them and others next to them. Is that some of the local creative interpretation?

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  2. The Electra is in the Amsterdam line. Very nice bike for the price, but I don't know how well it holds up over the years. I test-rode a frillier version recently, and my LBS sells a lot of them.

    Gorgeous park! It must have been wonderful to bike there!

    So, no Lycra and people were biking slowly for fun, not fitness. Not sure how to ask this--did people seem in relatively good shape? Healthy and all? Just wondering if people there are like those in other countries where the general population is in better shape than the U.S., but the culture doesn't emphasize athletic prowess as much we do.

    Have a lovely time!

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  3. Hey, I love the bike scene in that park! Good to see people getting out and just enjoying being on a bike, lycra-free. So glad you got to join them and have some two-wheeled fun!

    Love the skirt guard on Ana's Electra - very funky.

    Green Revolution looks like a fab idea; whether the free bike system would work in the capitalist countries I'm not sure though ;-)

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  4. Bliss Chick - Young people are mostly a healthy size here. There is a great deal of variety in body shape and bone structure, but very few could be called overweight. Among people over 50 there is more heaviness, but still nothing compared to the US.

    Carinthia - In Vienna, paid bike rentals will give you the bike if you leave your ID with them, and you only pay for the bike later. Either in Vienna or Bucharest, I don't think anybody would take off with one of these bikes without their passport or driver's license, and getting fake documents for this purpose seems like too much work :))

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  5. Steve - Yes, exactly : )

    Thanks scruss, I will update the info.

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  6. Hello! We are from Brazil and like to bicycles. congratulations on the blog. beautiful picture.

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  7. Good to know, I'd really curious to see Bucharest now. Btw, love the picture where the guy on the bike is holding on to the statue's nose :).

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  8. Yes, the "head garden" was really something! Picture is surrounded by landscaped rose bushes and fountains : )

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  9. Hello,

    I think this is not a "bike sharing" platform, and it looks more like a bike rental, if you have to bring back the bike to its original place.

    IMHO a bike sharing platform looks like the one used in France (Paris - velib.paris.fr/), where you as a citizen can take one bike from its station located near a cinema and go across the city and park it in another station near a mall, etc. and when you've finished your job you can take another bike from the rack and go elsewhere in the city, completely free of charge.

    So Bike Sharing is when you can take a bike from a station, and go park it where you want after you're done useing it (of course, in the special racks provided all over the city - stations).



    And a bike rental is when you can take the bike, go for a spin and when you're done you habe to bring it back to the same place. In this case, the first 2 hours are free of charge (for now) and then you pay a small fee. In other cases you have to pay for the entire day.


    And i thing that for marketing reasons they don't name it Bike Rental.

    So, i guess the post needs a little bit of adjustments regarding the "bike sharig" ;)

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  10. Geza - I understand your point, but I think this is open to interpretation. The way I see it, the central tenant of the "sharing" concept, is that the bikes are not individually owned, but - well, shared with a group. The idea of "sharing" does not imply specific rules about multiple locations. For example, a business could have a bike share for its employees, where there would be 10 bikes available to the employees to use during the day for transport around the city, then return them to the common bike-pool.

    Also, as far as I know, city-wide bike shares often involve payment. Vienna's bike share is free only for the first hour, after which point one must pay increasing fees on a climbing scale, so that in actuality it can get quite costly (see my post about it here). One must also pay an initiation fee for the city-wide bike share in Vienna. Other cities' bike share programmes involve similar fee structures, or else yearly or monthly membership fees. So if we compare them purely on monetary terms, the Green Revolution programme in Bucharest is actually less of a rental and more of a bike share than these city-wide programmes...

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  11. Velouria, great post! Thank you for the detailed report and photos, this makes me so excited to try the Bike Share out on my next visit to Bucharest. And thanks for the shout out, I would be happy to discuss visiting Romania or cycling there with any interested readers.

    S.

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  12. I love those pants Ana's wearing. The skirt guard on her bike is cute, too.

    Why can't we have benches like that here in NY? (That's a rhetorical question.) And a peacock in every park--hey, if somebody ran for office on a slogan like that, I just might vote for him/her!

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  13. Someone should do a study of how different countries and communities develop the attitudes they have about cycling.

    You've said that in Bucharest, cycling seems to be a leisure-time activity rather than a sport or a means of transportation. I've never been there, but I know, from my experience, that Romania never developed a tradition of bicycle racing that nearby countries like the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and East Germany--not to mention Western European countries like France, Belgium and Italy--have had.

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  14. Justine - Pictures don't do those pants justice. The flowers are embroidered, not printed, and in person they have a wonderfully textured, tactile look.

    That is an interesting theory re Romania and the lack of racing history. I wonder what the locals' take on that will be.

    Incidentally, Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania apparently has a "cycling scene" as well, for anybody going or living there:http://www.reactieinlant.ro.

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  15. There is a bike revolution in the making in Bucharest.

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