Most of you are aware that I am a very famous and influential blogger – at least you know that I regularly tell you that I am. It should be no surprise to you then that my duties recently took me far from home.
To Madrid, Spain, to be precise.
I was hoping to steal a quick bike ride while I was in town for four days, but my business schedule did not permit. However, I did pay close attention to the “cycling scene” over the course of my stay and I will therefore provide summary judgments based on a snapshot look of the city without any sense of humility. It is this basic formula that got this blog its loyal fan base (numbering in the high single digits) and I have no intention of changing things now.
My hotel was in the northern portion of the city about equidistant from the airport and the city center. Each evening after a hard day’s work pretending to be a civil servant, I had an opportunity for a stroll about the town. I planned on intently following the flow of cycling traffic as it moved through the city. It didn’t take me long to realize that this would be a more difficult proposition than I imagined. You see, Madrid has very few bicyclists.
On my first night, I wandered south on Calle de Serrano (which is most likely translated as “Street Without Bicycles”) looking at the upscale shopping along the way. I saw many joggers on the wide sidewalk as well as people enjoying a pleasant stroll. I noted there was no bicycle lane in the street and patiently waited to see a cyclist. After awhile of not seeing cyclists, I noticed something at my feet:
A bicycle lane! I was walking in a bike lane and didn’t even realize it. The lane was actually in the sidewalk, not the street. The purpose of sidewalks in Madrid seems to be somewhat at odds with the American idea. Note the presence of motorcycles parked and moving along in an area normally (in my experience, anyway) reserved for pedestrians.
Eventually, I saw some cyclists. They were always solitary souls in street clothes, not wearing helmets and meandering along in a fashion which suggested to me they were not traveling very far. I retired to my hotel and pondered the meaning of what I had seen (or not seen to be more accurate).
The next evening I walked to Retiro Park, which is full of fascinating diversions, even cyclists. There were dozens (scores?) of them in the park, which is very large and the former property of Spanish royals, who built “getaway” palaces on the grounds. Most of the palaces were destroyed in one uprising or another, but a couple still stand. The cyclists were usually riding mountain bikes, again without helmets, and were moving in a very casual manner. My guess is they were recreational riders just having a fun pedal about the park.
While riding the bus to work at a site on the outskirts of town, I looked for cyclists. Over a forty minute trip I could count all the cyclists on one hand. One brave soul is worthy of mention. He was on a major road with no shoulder, fully kitted out in road cyclist regalia. He almost met his Maker when the car he was following stopped abruptly at a roundabout. The cyclist stared at the driver as he passed and continued pedalling ferociously.
On my final day, I had a little more time and took an excursion into the heart of the city to take in the sites. I won’t turn this post into a sort of holiday photo montage and will stick to cycling. I was present during rush hour and once again found almost no cyclists. I found a nice bike lane on Calle de Alcala (which means, “Absolutely No Cyclists, Thank You”) that was at first depressingly empty of cyclists. Eventually several showed up in dribs and drabs. I saw perhaps twenty over the course of a half hour.
So there it is – I wandered Madrid over several hours on three separate days with pristine summer weather and came across a smattering of cyclists. What gives? It’s hard to say for sure, but I do see a pattern developing. In my limited experience, it seems to me that warm weather cities have poorer cycling cultures than cold weather towns. This makes no sense to me as the warmer climates have all the advantages, but the evidence is compelling. In the U.S., Minneapolis and the Pacific Northwest have stronger reputations than almost any southern city except Austin, Texas, and the home of Lance Armstrong has to be given an asterisk when considering why cities behave the way they do with cycling. London had many many more cyclists than Madrid and Boston was far more populated than Tampa.
There’s a PhD in group psychology just waiting to be written on this subject. Sadly, I am too busy dominating the cycling blogosphere to do the topic justice.
With a tip of the cap to Tootlepedal, I shall share with you a shot of the Spanish bird life, taken outside the Crystal Palace in Retiro Park. This fellow seemed to understand Spanish about as well as I do.