How to cycle in Prague

       Coming from Canada, I have always been a little on edge about driving in Europe. The “Autobahn” is fun, of course, but cities are different. There is something very unsettling about driving in European cities when you are used to grid-like road systems, with 90% of them being limited to 30km/h and a stop sign every 50 meters!

Here in Prague, although it is not as crazy as “Les Champs Elyse” in Paris, things can get hectic quickly. I bet we can all relate to the fear of being in a taxi and fearing the driver will either hit or be hit by someone else. Let’s not forget about trams; they are big, imposing and the drivers have no chill what so ever! Having said that, my biggest fear while travelling around Prague has been crossing a street as a pedestrian. Despite what the law says, cars will not always slow down unless your foot is on the road and you are demonstrating that you are going for it. At first, we all had the same question popping in our heads: Did he see me? Is he going to stop and let me cross? Even after all these years, I sometimes feel that using a crosswalk is like taking a leap of faith. But, like many before us, we have to go through the process and adapt. Eventually, we gain confidence; crossing the street is no longer a source of stress and anxiety… until you jump on a bicycle!

I have no words to explain how scared I was to jump in the road jungle and fight my way to stay alive while cycling among those engine beasts! The first few rides were uneasy; the hard-working police would give me trouble and threaten me with fines because I was on my bicycle on the sidewalk. “Rules is simple, bicycle is for only road”. I tried my best to explain to them that I was scared to cycle on the street among the cars on Vinohradská. The way some drivers use the road is scary. Of course, they did not care; and they were right. I believe it is my responsibility to learn and follow the rules and adapt to the local ways.

Eventually, I got used to it. What’s the trick? Commit to your intentions and use the road intelligently. The city is very well adapted for cyclist. Most of the main roads have cycling lanes, and drivers are usually ok with it. Actually, the drivers are pretty respectful to cyclists. But there has to be mutual respect for the relationship to work. Of course, you will encounter some Neanderthals from time to time. Do not worry about them; they are not worth your time or feelings. If you are in the right, you are good; smile and keep cycling. What I really want to say is, do not cycle with entitlement or breaking traffic laws like burning a red on I.P. Pavlova!

Today, I can say that, as a cyclist, I have no issues with car drivers. It turns out that they are very empathetic. I believe that having traffic mindfulness’ is the key to cycle safely in this beautiful city.

For example:

  • Instead of using the whole lane for your bicycle, unless you are the only one on the road, hug the curb, so you do not slow down the traffic. Cars will appreciate your mindfulness and will repay the gesture by keeping a safe distance from you.
  • Look out for blind spots, not only yours but for the cars around you. Do not change lanes so quickly; make sure to look around to make sure you can make the change safely. In many cases, the driver in the other lane might not have seen you if you are rolling in its blind spot, do not put yourself in a vulnerable position.
  • Demonstrate your intention; unless you have blinkers on your bike, learn the signs to turn left or right and use them! Pay attention to the dynamic around you. Look out for your safety first. Remember, even though you have priority, stuff happens, and a car can hit you in heavy traffic and some people still get hit by trams.
  • Having a bicycle means that you are more flexible in your movement and decisions. Do not get me wrong, I’m not saying to break the rules; but if you decide to bend them, be conscious of your safety and others safety, and show some common sense.

At the end of the day, we all have different confidence levels when driving and cycling on the road. Some have too much, some not enough; the best is to have enough self-confidence to get on the road and not put yourself in a vulnerable position.

In conclusion, I’ll share my instructor’s best advice when I was doing my motorcycle license.

“Too many idiots on the roads, they have a big car, and you only have a helmet. Do not jeopardise your safety. When you make a move, do the thinking for both you and for them.”

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