How to safely commute on a bicycle around car and pedestrian dominated Madrid

Bicycles in Casa de Campo

Having been raised in Copenhagen, bicycling for me isn’t just a way of transportation; it’s a way of living. Back when I was still living in Denmark, I would ride my bike just about anywhere while doing every possible and impossible activity including applying makeup or texting people, and transporting everything from friends to furniture. I’d ride it in rain or shine, or even snow storms.

So imagine the culture shock I was facing when I moved from bicycle-loving Copenhagen to the city jungle that Madrid is known to be when it comes to traffic. At first, I saw no opportunities to continue my green life style among roaring cars and inconsiderate pedestrians. I figured bicycling was one of the things I had to give up in my attempt to integrate and adjust to my new home.

But slowly, after having learned to navigate around small scale Lavapiés to the mega road of Gran Via (and with just one single crash so far – knock on wood) I feel comfortable riding my bike around the city and so will you when following these words of advice and reasons I have collected for anyone that loves to ride their bicycle.

The advantages of choosing the two wheel drive

Going by bike lets you enjoy the hours and hours of sunshine that Madrid has to offer all year round. Instead of being stuck in the underground metro, you could be up there taking in rays of sun while getting around in a jiffy for free!

Bicycling will also help you become better acquainted with your new surroundings and you will be able to show off your great orientation skills when your friends from back home come to visit you. And finally, if you have fallen straight into the trap of a daily dose of jamón y vino bicycling will prevent gaining those extra kilos.

How to get around

Be alert, be visible and don’t go bicycling when it’s raining. Madrid is still quite new to bicycle traffic and both cars and pedestrians are continuously adjusting. That means paying attention to just about every element you meet in the Madrid traffic, including cars doors suddenly opening in parking lines, people on the sidewalks not even considering to let you pass by (or pushing you off your bike, simply because you annoy them, as it happened to me once) and vehicles not managing very well in the rain, because it rains so seldom in Madrid.

If you are new to bicycling in Madrid it’s also a good idea to steer clear of the biggest streets and take the small streets instead to avoid any stress, even if the bike ride might be 10 minutes longer.

If you are not sure how to go around see this map of recommended bicycle streets in Madrid or ask En Bici Por Madrid to help you find your way around the city – just let them know your desired point of departure and arrival and they will figure out the smartest route and even ride along with you the first time to guide you through the city.

Before you set off, it’s a good idea to go to a taller de bici urbana that the city provides on the weekends. The workshop is for people who already know how to ride a bike but want to use it as a means of transport in Madrid.

Where to buy it

Madrid doesn’t hold many bicycle shops and the selection of bikes is still limited, but it is possible to get your hands on some good quality frames and wheels.

Decathlon sells everything from light foldable bikes easy to carry up the stairways in your building to heavy duty mountain bikes ready to ride in both the city and nature.

Ciclos Noviciado in Malasaña is a specialized store where aesthetics plays just as important a role as practicality. The bikes sold here are for connoisseurs that are willing to spend a little extra to show off that beautiful bike.

In Lavapiés, FixiDixi offers a good selection of both expensive and also more affordable frames, wheels and everything else that you need. They also sell vintage racer bike shirts for the really dedicated cyclists.

Take some time off

Bridge on Anillo Verde

Bridge on Anillo Verde

Riding a bike should be enjoyable from time to time. Give yourself and your bike some time off from the sometimes crazy traffic that fills the streets of Madrid and go for a joy ride. The giant Casa de Campo park is closed off for cars on weekends, so you will have loads of pavement space and green nature to yourself and your fellow bikers.

The Anillo Verde, the green ring that embraces Madrid in one 60km long bicycle path is a great way for you and your bike to get out and about.

Even though it goes through forests, along rivers and over bridges this circular path is paved with asphalt, so don’t worry if you don’t own a mountain bike – a city bike will do as well.

The beautiful Madrid Rio that was renovated some 10 years ago is now dominated by a riviera with people strolling quietly, children having fun at the playgrounds and cyclists weaving in and out of the lazy crowd. Don’t go here for testing your acceleration skills though, as the Madrid Rio is mostly for slow Sunday rides.

With these tips you should be fully equipped for a eco-friendly cruise around town. Now go ride your bicycle!

Mona Hoelzer

About Mona Hoelzer

I am an anthropologist turned music producer turned full time knit and craft nerd, for business and pleasure. I love exploring cities in quirky manners and hope to guide you through hidden treasures and adventurous paths in Madrid.

Image Credits: alvy

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