So you’re living in Poland, and probably using public transit to get everywhere. Let me get straight to the point: If you’re thinking about whether or not to get a bicycle in Poland, go for it!!
I’ve been a leisure cyclist (one that doesn’t wear a fancy bike suite or a helmet) for the past 8 years here and it’s been fantastic.
If you’re in my neighborhood, you’ll easily find me cruising along with my cap on and one ear bud in my ear, wearing a light softshell jacket. Sometimes during the dead of the Polish winter, I’ll also cycle to work and back, meaning I’ll have a suit jacket hidden under my winter coat, heels donned as well as thick mittens. If you’re dressed for the weather, it’s never too cold to cycle.
Let’s get into some of the ins and outs of cycling in Poland.
Why cycle in Poland?
If you go to work everyday, why not go by bicycle instead? Cycling as a way of commuting to work is a win win situation:
- Saves time – no sitting in traffic jams and you can know exactly how long it will take you to get to work to the minute.
- Saves money – no need to buy gas
- Saves the environment – reduces CO2 emissions
- Better health – you get your heart pumping with more exercise which means you’re happier and have more energy.
Whether it’s summer or winter, if you have less than a 45 minute commute, I absolutely recommend that you give riding to work a chance.
Cycling Infrastructure in Poland
Cycling in Poland hasn’t always been as easy as it is today. Up until about 5 years ago, there just weren’t that many dedicated cycling paths. Within the past 10 years, initiatives have been instigated, petitions have been submitted and the rights of cyclists to share the road has been fought for.
And we’ve largely won the battle 😄
It’s honestly amazing how many cycling paths have been constructed and continue to be built around Poland every year. Even outside the cities, you’ll find cycle paths interconnecting rural towns and mountain villages. In cities, they’ve opened up car-congested public spaces so that inhabitants can freely get from place to place on a safe cycling path.
All of Poland’s large cities have implemented a public bike sharing system which are all extremely cheap and convenient. All you need to do is install an app on your phone, connect your bank card to it and it will lead you to the nearest available bike station.
Unfortunately Poland hasn’t yet jumped onto the fad of “dockless” bike sharing, so you’ll need to use your app again at the end of the ride to find a station to park your bike, or else you’ll pay an extra fee. Bike stations are located all throughout the city so it’s relatively easy to find a place to return the bike to. It makes for eco-friendly, cheap, and easy mode of transportation within cities; without even having to own your own bike!
Check out our article on the Top 20 Apps to Improve Your Life in Poland for our recommended bike sharing apps.
Cycling Laws in Poland
Poland is very much a society that follows rules, and where rules are enforced “by the books.” And cycling is no different. As an expat, it is extremely important to be aware of the rules of the road for a cyclist before jumping on your bike – don’t expect the police to let you off just because you’re a foreigner and “didn’t know.”
Although many bikes don’t have bells or front and rear lights, these are required by law, so it’s a good idea to get some. Or else you may get a ticket.
A helmet is not required to cycle in Poland if you are over 18.
This is a big no-no. Cycling after drinking is strictly prohibited by Polish law and you can be sentenced for up to one year in jail if you get caught. And this is enforced. You’ll frequently see police officers setting up checkpoints to randomly breath-test cyclists coming out of party hotspots on weekends.
The permissible level of alcohol in the blood is 0.2ml in 1 liter of blood, which is very low, even by European standards. For comparisons sake, the limit is four times that in the United States for driving a car, let alone a bike.
Unfortunately bikes do get stolen here, so be wary of where you park your bike. Make sure to use a good quality bike lock (a proper chain is always the best).
If your apartment building has some sort of enclosed courtyard, it’s usually far safer to leave a bike there overnight as opposed to the street. But that doesn’t mean it’s a flawless plan: A couple friends of mine have had their bikes stolen when locked inside their apartment building. So you can never be too careful, always keep your bike locked up no matter how safe you think the place is.
Some of us may be lucky enough to have buildings with special bike rooms or a bike rack with 24 hour camera surveillance. If you can avail yourself to one of these sorts of security options, that’s definitely the way to go. Alternatively, some people keep their bike on their balcony, in their living room, or hung up decoratively on a rack on their wall or from their ceiling.
Leaving a bike out in the city center overnight is never a good idea. Sure, there have been times where I’ve cycled into town for some drinks with friends and then took a taxi home leaving my bike to be collected the following day. But this isn’t the best idea; don’t do this unless your bike is not of much value. I have two bikes, so it’s the old one I take when I know I’ll want to leave it out in public for any extended periods of time.
Rules of the Road
Although it’s perfectly safe and legal to bike in the street with traffic, I always recommend sticking to cycling paths whenever possible. Polish drivers have a horrible (and unfortunately, very true) reputation for driving dangerously and recklessly, so if you’re biking in traffic, get used to cars honking at you and passing close by at high speeds.
Check your maps to find the best cycling lanes. A good app for doing this is mapy.cz or Alltrails. Within these apps you can find others recorded trails and routes, see what their length and elevation are and record your own.
Whether you’re on a road or in a bike lane, always remember to use hand signals when turning and give a quick look behind you to make sure no one is about to zip by you as you’re planning to turn. The hand signals are really a must; Polish drivers may be crazy, but they at least want to know what you’re doing!
Traveling in Poland with a bicycle
Trams, buses, and trains have recently become useful for cyclists by offering offering bike racks and, on certain trains, even a dedicated wagon for bicycles. I have used these on many occasion and they’re really fantastic.
There have been times when I’d cycled to work only to find and afternoon rainstorm when I left the office, so I was ever so glad to be able to jump on a tram home with my bike to avoid being soaked. I’ve also taken long distance trips via train to another city and been thrilled to be able to bring my bike along for just a few extra zloty (as a special ticket needs to be purchased for it). Combining this with Poland’s humongous rail network, the possibilities are truly endless.
Another great option I’ve used while visiting other cities is a bike rental. One day will cost you from 40-50zl, or you can rent by the hour as well. Just remember to be prepared to put down a cash deposit of around 150-200zl.
To find the nearest bike rental, simply google “wypozyczalnie rowerow,” click on the Google Maps image and take a look to see which store is closest to your location.
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I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Stay tuned for more soon to come – “Top 5 Cycling Trails in Poland”.