There was a whole row of them right outside my hotel in Lyon, France. Sleek-looking red and gray bicycles ready for rent to explore the city. These bikes were part of Lyon’s groundbreaking bicycle sharing program, Vélo’v. Begun in 2005, Vélo’v quickly proved to be a success and became the model for other cities’ programs. With a paid smart card, the cost of which is lower than taking the bus for short trips, users can unlock bikes at stations located throughout the city and then return it to a different station at the end of their journey. Numerous cities throughout the world, such as Paris, Montreal, Taipei, Hangzhou, Rio de Janiero and Mexico City, have similar bicycle sharing programs that tourists can easily take advantage of.
Even better are areas that provide bikes completely free. Here are a few places where you can ride a bike for the whole day at no cost:
Anyone can ride one of Copenhagen’s city bikes completely free within a specified zone. Simply pay a small coin deposit, enjoy riding your bike within the inner city (which encompasses many of Copenhagen’s tourist sites) and then return it to one of the city bike racks to get your deposit back. The bikes are maintained by a nonprofit organization that uses the bike program to train rehabilitees, 80 percent of whom get a job afterwards. We have much to learn from Denmark, the world’s happiest nation as well as champion of rehabilitation and free bikes.
De Hoge Veluewe National Park in The Netherlands
You would think that a country known for its bicycles would have a thriving bicycle sharing program but such is not the case. Precisely because practically everyone owns a bike or two, there’s no need to ever rent one. Tourists would most likely get run over by a native when trying to navigate Amsterdam’s lanes. However, a bicycle share program does exist in one spot: De Hoge Veluwe National Park. About an hour and half from Amsterdam, De Hoge Veluewe National Park is a large nature reserve offering visitors the chance to spot rare animals and plants, a varied landscape created during the last Ice Age and an elegant country residence designed by a famous Dutch architect. The park has 1,700 White Bikes, some for children, for anyone to use for free to explore the National Park.
Nashville has a fledging free bicycle program. Visitors over the age of 18 simply need to show proof of identity and fill out a form at one of two bike share stations to rent a bike and return it one hour before the station closes. The form is required in order to charge you a hefty fine in case you’re late or vandalize the bike. There’s no honor system here.
So if you ever happen to be in one of the areas above, remember that there’s a free bike waiting for you to work off those restaurant meals and explore even more. Maybe one day, when there are sufficient bike lanes, we’ll see a bike sharing program in San Francisco.
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