What to Expect from Spanish Bikers

Dear German,

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

I know that Dani has already talked about what to expect from Spanish drivers, but what about Spanish bikers? As someone who now uses my trusty (thrift-store) bike to get around town at least a couple of times a week, I have a pretty good idea of what it is like to ride around Granada and find it to be a great way to cross the city quickly.

However, before you grab a set of wheels and start pedaling, there is probably some stuff you should know:

Biking is a serious sport (or only functional): There are two main types of Spanish bikers—those which act like ‘professionals’ and those who use it to look cool/for transport. Non-profession but professional-like bike-riding is a big thing in Spain and a lot of people invest heavily in good bikes and other equipment, and spend afternoons and weekends riding into the countryside. Therefore, it is important to know that, due to certain laws in Spain, they are allowed to ride three or four abreast on roads if they so desire (this is to make drivers think twice about passing bikers when there is not enough space or they are going too fast—essentially to decrease the amount of accidents). As a foreign driver in Spain, this can be shocking the first time you see it, but don’t worry, it will soon become normal.

Bikers are happy to ride the wrong way down the street: No matter the type, bike riders seem to be able to do whatever they want, and this includes riding their bikes the wrong way down one-way streets (or on the wrong side of the road). Personally, I try to avoid this approach as much as possible because the highest number of bike accidents happen when riders are going the wrong way, but it is something I see all the time. If you are a driver, keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of activity because you never know when a bike will appear out of nowhere.

And to ride on sidewalks: In addition to riding bikes the wrong way down the street, people often ride on sidewalks. While I do this on occasion to avoid riding my bike the wrong way down the street, it is the second highest accident-causing tactic, so I don’t understand why people ride on sidewalks when there is a perfectly good road next to them. Still, many bikers (although not the ‘professional’ ones) take this option when it will potentially save them 10 seconds. Therefore, it is also important for pedestrians to be aware that bikers are happy to hop on the sidewalk when it is convenient for them.

Bikers are immune to traffic signals: As Dani mentioned, running red lights is a bit of game in Spain—if you know how to play, you won’t stop any longer than you have to (if at all). And this rule seems to be multiplied by 10 for bike riders. While I get that stopping and starting is a big use of energy while on a bike, I am one to wait the light out. At the same time, most bikers seem to have no qualms about blazing on through stop signs or lights. So even when you think you are safe (both as a pedestrian crossing the street and as a car pulling into an intersection), don’t be surprised to see a bike appear in front of you.

 Don't expect rent-a-bikes to come with helmets...although they should come with lights!

Don't expect rent-a-bikes to come with helmets...although they should come with lights!

Bikers don’t take necessarily take precautions: Even though cities are well lit, you won’t find me without my lights as soon as the sun starts to go down (even if it is a bit of a pain to carry them around with me). I think that riding without some sort of light identification is irresponsible, but I would venture to say that about half of bikers I see around town don’t agree with me. It is not uncommon for me to see a bike “appear out of nowhere” because there is no warning in the form of lights. This makes it especially hard to be respectful to the other bikers because you cannot see them until they are basically on top of you.

At the same time, I will admit that I don’t ride with a helmet (like the majority of bikers I see around town). While I consider myself to be a relatively responsible rider, I know that using a helmet would make me safer. However, don’t expect to rent a bike and have a helmet come with it either—that is just not how it works here.

In general, bikers disregard the rules of drivers: With the exception of the first point, most of the others show how bikers don’t really follow the ‘normal’ driving rules. This means that Spanish drivers are accustomed to having to adapt to the unexpected. On one hand, this makes driving as a foreigner in Spain more difficult. On the other hand, it means that drivers are looking out for you and, even if they don’t like what you do, they are pretty safe when it comes to bikes. Or at least that is how I feel when I am riding around.

 

Although bike riding isn’t as integrated into Spanish city culture as it is in places like the Netherlands or Germany*, it is still something that drivers are aware of. Riding a bike around a new city is always a bit of an adventure, but as long as you are aware of the rules and don’t try to be in too much of a hurry, you should be okay.

Sincerely,
Spain

 

*In comparison, my bike experiences in northern European countries have been… relatively safe and definitely interesting—from riding around on the back of someone else’s bike to careening through the streets to riding home drunk, I would say that my normal bike-rides around Granada are pretty relaxed in comparison.