Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Bike-celona and the cycle tour jam

Por: | 10 de septiembre de 2015

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As I write this it is approaching 12pm and I can see an annoyingly bright light out of the corner of my eye. 

It comes not from divine inspiration - more’s the pity - but from the street outside, where a cycle hire shop has recently opened, peddling fixed gear bikes and longboards to Barcelona’s more fashion conscious tourists.

There’s nothing so remarkable about that, you might think. And yet this shop, its sign ever aflame like an understated oil rig, is one of four cycle hire shops within a 200m radius of our house to have opened in the last three months.

Such radical inflation in cycle hire is unlikely to last in the long term, however much the four shops may work their respective niches. But as anyone who has been forced to run fleeing from a line of wobbly, weaving tourist bikes down one of Barcelona’s tiny side streets will tell you, the last few years have seen these bike tours bounce from minority concern to holiday staple.

It looks like fun, tootling on a bike around the gentle streets of the Catalan capital. But, as their numbers visibly grow, tourists on bikes have become one of the chief points of complaints among Barcelona residents, who are generally piqued by the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting the city. 

Much of this has to do with the cyclists’ visibility. It’s pretty hard to miss a line of 20 gigantic Americans thundering down the street on oversized orange bikes. That makes them an obvious point for local ire. More generally, a lot of people - for whatever frustrated reasons - simple don’t like cyclists.

Then there are a number of specific complaints I’ve heard angled at cycle tourists: it’s not safe; they ride on the streets; they take up too much space etc etc etc.

In many ways, the complainers have a point: I’ve lived in Barcelona for four years and still feel pretty anxious cycling round the streets, even with abundance of cycle lanes and personal practice. For someone with no experience, the combination of angry Catalan motorists, frantic motorbike riders and - for British and Australian - riding on the “wrong” side of the road could be perilous indeed.

As for the streets, this seems to be something of an area of confusion. As far as I know, cyclists are allowed to ride on the Barcelona pavement, as long as it is five metres or wider (something that rather surprised me, as a cycling Brit). 

But, frankly, who measures the width of the pavement? More importantly, within Ciutat Vella, Barcelona’s old city centre, it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what is pavement and what is road, the two fading into each other like chewing gum melting in the summer sun. When you add into the mix some pretty narrow streets, this creates confusion and often ill feeling, as pedestrians and cyclists face off over who has priority.

Despite all this, Barcelona remains a very pleasant city to cycle in and you can see the logic behind the sudden expansion in cycle tours. Not only is Barcelona flat - the dual hills of Tibidabo and Montjuic can wait for another day -  it is relatively small and sunny. (There’s a reason cycle tours aren’t very popular in London). Then there’s the 200-odd kilometres of bike lanes, which prove very useful indeed, if a little prone to cutting suddenly off in a petulant dead end.

So why do I think that Barcelona cycle tours may be heading for a crash? There’s the simple economics, for a start: no city can sustain such an extreme oversupply of cycle shops as is evident in my neighbourhood. A lot of these bike shops are set to crash and burn, with the cost of hiring a bike for the day, or going out on a two-wheel guided tour, likely to fall in the meanwhile, harming even the more established operators.

I can’t help feeling, too, that the more cyclists head out on Barcelona cycle tours, the more these tours risk becoming hopelessly unfashionable. Some of the appeal, surely, of a cycle tour - as opposed to being whipped around by bus - lies in tackling the city like a local. And if tourists on bikes only see other tourists on bikes then the sheen of local knowledge evaporates.

More seriously, there is the backlash from locals to contend with. As the recent documentary Bye Bye Barcelona so eloquently demonstrated, Barcelona residents are getting pretty sick of the booming tourist trade, which has seen the number of visitors to the city more than quadruple, from 1.7m in 1990 to 7.5m in 2013. Cycle tours are a very visible symptom of this and it would be little surprise to see some local action taken against the two-wheeled hordes.

This could fall to new Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, who has set out her intention to do something about mass tourism in the city. Admittedly, it is hard to see how she could legislate against bike tours without targeting cyclists in general. But legislation of this kind could prove a cheap political win.

In a way it would be a shame: I’ve grown quite fond of the grinning cyclists that hover around my local streets. But if it stops that bloody light from shining all night long, then it might not be too bad.

 

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Barcelona, una ciudad muy linda para visitar en bicicleta, para descubrir lugares donde un auto no puede llegar

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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