Sep 022014
On Two Wheels: New Long Distance Cycle Tracks in Małopolska

Poland has never been a magnet for cyclists – perhaps with the exception of the Germans, those cycling nomads longing for their heimat. Some adventurers explore eastern Poland, near the Ukrainian and Belarusian border, but few dare to explore Małopolska on a bicycle. This is not without reason: Poland’s roads are bad, and even those getting better are overcrowded with heavy trucks and speeding cars, often very steep and without hard shoulders. Poland has, however, allocated 50 million euro for a two-thousand-kilometre ‘cycle highway’ in Eastern Poland. This is not for real yet – the project has suffered serious delays and many believe it is plagued by quality issues as well – though you may already have seen a few ads for it on TV. More interesting for us Cracovians, Małopolska’s regional authorities have recently allocated roughly the same amount of money (200 million zloty) for quality cycle routes connecting Krakow, Zakopane, Oświęcim and Nowy Sącz. […]

Jun 262014
On Two Wheels: Victory for Cyclists!

Last month, I was pretty anxious about the local referendum, which included a question about the desirability of more cycle paths in the city. Now, I am proud and happy: we made it! More cycling infrastructure was the clear (if slightly unexpected) winner, with more than 85 percent of voters approving the idea. The metro got just 55 percent support and 70 percent said ‘no’ to the Winter Olympics bid – the main reason for the referendum. The 175,000 votes for cycle paths were a heavyweight 53,000 more than the current Mayor of Krakow, Jacek Majchrowski, received in the mayoral runoff vote in 2010 that won him a third term in office. That’s a big shift and a political earthquake with long-term repercussions, especially since there will be elections to the Krakow City Council this autumn. While this earthquake has not yet produced any visible results (they will come), voting was a cycling experience in itself. […]

May 232014
On Two Wheels: The Bike Hire Soap Opera

Krakow was the first city in Poland to operate a bike hire scheme, even before London or New York for that matter, and then it became the first to lose one. Now it’s setting a new trend with the development of it’s own genre: the bike hire soap opera – a dramatic and hysterical tale of barely believable reversals of fortune. The BikeOne rental scheme started in Krakow in 2008, with a few understandable teething problems. The project was funded by the EU and BikeOne was contracted to operate its humble fleet of 120 bicycles from twelve or fourteen docking stations. It was small, it was incompatible with the municipal smart card, it closed for the winter, but it was there, and long before Wrocław or Warsaw launched their successful bike rental schemes. When BikeOne’s contract expired, the city accepted a new tender from a company called RoweRes. Soon, it was discovered that RoweRes had inherited […]

Apr 142014
On Two Wheels: Do It Yourself Sanctions Against Putin

This month, I’m going to be political, ideological, partisan and agitating. The bicycle is a benign device – helpful, simple, silent and humble – but it has an enormous strength: it does not run on oil. I am not going to be green or leftist here, instead I am going to explore a rare political crossroads on a bike. Precisely, on a Ukraina bike. The Ukraina bicycle was produced for more than two decades in the Soviet Union in the city of Kharkiv – now part of Ukraine. It was a cheap, sturdy, heavyweight sit-up-and-beg clunker – the Soviet equivalent of the Dutch omafiets (or the British Pashley, if you prefer). Unlike in Western Europe, it was used mostly by rural peasants or sovkhoz workers in the countryside, rather than people with or aspiring to urban sophistication. The XB3 Ukraina B-134 roadster And while the comparison with the Dutch omafiets or the British Pashley is basically […]

Mar 222014
On Two Wheels: Spring Cycling

Perhaps I shouldn’t write about cycling in spring, lest spring never come. In January and February, I wrote detailed advice about cycling in winter and the temperature immediately rose, snow instantly thawed and winter disappeared. Since I changed my studded tyres a few weeks ago, and it did not automatically bring a return of snow and ice, perhaps it’s safe to carry on. Springtime is all about cycling. Even non-cyclists are tempted to have a go. Krakow’s public bicycle scheme seems to be on the verge of collapse, with the municipality having made a u-turn on its policy of tendering for private companies to run it (which may have taken several months). The only choice now is to buy a bike, if you don’t already have one. Spring is, of course, the most expensive time to spend money on a bicycle – the choice is huge, but so are the prices. My advice is to try […]

Feb 032014
 On Two Wheels: Winter Cycling in Krakow, Part 2

Finally, winter has arrived. A month or two late, with no polar vortex like in the US, but with heavy snow and lots of ice. By the time you read this, it may well have already vanished, but if you haven’t stopped cycling – following my advice from a month ago – you now know everything you need about winter cycling. A few days with icy roads, slippery ruts and heavy snow is more than enough to learn. However, if you stashed your bike in the cellar, and still want to try it (and winter still is with us), don’t be afraid. In the early 1990s, when I first discovered cycling, there were so few of us in Krakow that, in winter, I could tell who was out and about just from the tyre tracks in the snow. One winter day, cycling with friends, we discovered unknown tracks – a fellow cyclist we did not know! […]

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