Getting Around Valencia – On yer bike!

In the seven years I’ve lived in Valencia I’ve used the bus three times, the Metro four, taxis a mere handful, and my car stands in the street outside my flat gathering dust and bird droppings. I live almost in the centre of the city, so until I acquired a second-hand bike last year, I went everywhere on foot.

Valencia is totally flat, in fact the only time I need to change gear on my bike is when I go up or down the ramps onto the Turia. Not only is it flat, it’s also very compact, and for visitors, walking is an ideal way to both see the city and enjoy the wonderful weather – as well as find odd little rincones – the hidden corners that don’t appear on tourist maps, and there’s plenty of them!

The most obvious way to get around is by bike, and there are a number of hire companies well publicised throughout the city centre. For a bit of novelty I took myself to the Barrio del Carmen, where Leicester-born Ben Pick and his Dutch girlfriend Vivekka Vlijt run Soul Cycles, specialising in renting Choppers and Cruisers.

Getting into the Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider mode, I gave the Chopper a try. I’m used to riding a mountain bike, so the elongated front forks felt a bit strange at first – although they do look very sporty! After a wobbly start, I have a practise ride through the narrow streets of the Carmen, it only took a few minutes to get comfortable, especially as the sitting position is more upright than bending over as you do on a mountain bike. The fat, wide saddle is another bonus!

I’m in the habit of back-peddling when I’m coasting, and as I approached my first junction, habit took over, and that peculiar Dutch refinement of not having a rear brake came as a shock. To stop, you back-peddle, and as I did so with a bit of force, I nearly went over the handlebars, difficult to do, admittedly, with the front wheel a metre out in front of you, but once bitten, twice shy, and it didn’t take long for me to change my habit.

Feeling a bit more confident with the braking system, I nipped down to the River Turia, five minutes ride away, to try out the Cruiser, which also uses back-peddling to brake. More Regal than Roadster, the Cruiser has sit-up-and-beg handlebars which also makes for a comfortable ride, it was also slightly easier to handle than the devilishly stylish Chopper, which, Ben told me, are highly favoured by their Italian clients – well they would be, wouldn’t they! Both bikes are great, though, and my back and scrunched up shoulders told me so as I mounted my own bike to take me to my next stop.

Many people just want to hire a bike to see the city by themselves, but a guided tour is the perfect way to discover Valencia in a limited time. I set off from the office of Valencia Bikes on Paseo de la Pechina in the company of Lena and Stefan from Bavaria, with our guide, Josep Alberola, Valenciano born and bred. We head down to the river bed, as Josep leads us at a sedate pace through the gardens, before we climb up again to nip through the Barrio del Carmen, and on to the City of Arts and Sciences. We stop now and then as Josep tells us about historical events, but I get as much pleasure out of just chatting to him (he speaks almost perfect English) about everyday life in the city as I do learning about my adopted home.

I say goodbye to Josep, Lena and Stefan and pedal to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento to pick up Trixi – not a beguiling lady, but a tricycle taxi, hence the name. It looks like a latter-day rickshaw, with the driver sat up front and enough space for two passengers behind, although if two people want to use it they need to be very close friends and on a reasonably restrained diet. Joan Carlos Rico, my ‘driver’  keeps up his running commentary as he points out places of interest and chats about his ‘taxi’, unique to Valencia, as his legs whirl round like manic clock pointers, (although he does have a small motor that kicks in for the more difficult bits)

It’s great fun – everywhere we go kids wave, grown-ups smile, and Trixi is probably the most photographed item in Valencia at the moment. Joan Carlos smiles and waves to everyone, exchanging a few words with drivers stopped in their cars, waiting at traffic lights. It’s a splendid way to see the city, and surprisingly comfortable. An added bonus of the Trixi service is that disabled people don’t need to miss out on a bike trip with friends. Joan Carlos can take Trixi anywhere a bike goes, up narrow alleyways and across pedestrian plazas prohibited to motorised vehicles. An absolute must, if for nothing else than the shear joyous nonsense of it.

Soul Cycles, Calle Murillo 22. Tel. 96 391 6234, 622 060 029

Bike hire: €2 per hr, €7 per half day, €9 full day. €50 deposit or leave passport as security.

Valencia Bikes, Paseo de la Pechina, 32 bajo. Tel. 96 385 1740. http://www.valenciabikes.com

Bike hire: €5 per hr, €10 four hrs, €15 full day. €50 deposit and leave personal document as security. Guided bike tours of 3 hrs duration €25 including bike, guide and refreshment, min 2 people. Segway tours €35 for 15 mins training plus one hr guided tour, min 2 people.

Trixi, Cyclosvlc, Marqués de Campo 12. Tel. 96 325 2320, 608 126 297. www.cyclos.es Guide d tours: €6 15 mins, €10 30 mins, €20 1 hr. Usually picks up at main tourist offices, eg. Plaza de la Reina.

Please visit my web site, Spain Uncovered, where new articles and photos are being added regularly.  Valpaparazzi are random notes about life in Spain.

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