Discover Belgrade on Two Wheels: Why Not?

While Serbia has been bathed in baking sun, with temperatures hitting the mid thirties plus as a matter of course, people have been seeking out new ways to escape the unrelenting heat. Cities can be horrid in such oppressive temperatures and Belgrade is no exception. But while some people are visibly folding under the stifling heat, this fine start to the summer has led to more enjoying the shade of the parks and the packed terraces of the city’s coolest riverside cafes and bars. Others are also rediscovering the childhood pleasure of striking out on two wheels and are enjoying the refreshing cycle paths along Belgrade’s sweeping waterways.

Cycling is a pleasurable pursuit that can be beneficial to mind, body and soul. Clearly, it is good exercise, but it is also a lot of fun. It clears the head of life’s usual worries. A bike is not only practical and saves on petrol or taxi costs, it also opens up areas of the countryside that might otherwise remain undiscovered. For decades, people have enjoyed the restorative effects of cycling, getting out into the countryside to enjoy open nature.

I have wondered why even more bikes are not seen in and around Belgrade and other Balkan cities. With long wide roads, spacious green parkland and lengthy riverside cycle paths, Belgrade would seem ideal for bike riders. The large student population would normally give rise to more cyclists, too, if other European university towns were anything to go by. But still the number of bikes in Belgrade is small.

I spend a great deal of time in the Netherlands and the story there is a very different one. Bikes are everywhere, stacked in vast numbers in dedicated cycle racks and criss-crossing every street and town centre. Even now, after many months in Holland, I still have to jump out of the way of bell-ringing cyclists on their boneshaker bikes who can seem to be under the impression that they are king of the road. In England, cyclists do not enjoy such a high place on the road hierarchy but still we like to ride with friends in the countryside. Of course, there are the Tour de France wannabes in skin-tight fluorescent lycra but, more than that, there are many families and young people who take weekend pleasure from their bikes.

For me, a bike has always been a must-have. From when I received my first three-wheeler through to buying my current mountain bike, I have always owned at least one. I can vividly remember one Christmas morning, when I walked into our kitchen to find a shiny new metallic blue Peugeot 12-speed bike. I was not yet a teenager and I had not expected to receive such a present. I already had a perfectly good bike, with chunky wheels and a sturdy frame, so this sleek racing cycle with drop handlebars, racing pedals and a black leather saddle was quite a sight to behold. I was thrilled to have my new bike, and my parents were just as excited to see the excitement on my face as they encouraged me to take it out for the first time that morning. I felt so proud of my new bike as I rode round to show it to my best friend.

Over the coming weeks, our bikes would open new worlds of opportunity for my friend and I. This was more than a bike to ride over the common or to muck around on. This bike represented freedom. It allowed me the chance to get out beyond the boundaries of the town, to explore the hills, woods and streams all around. In many ways, it sparked the beginning of my love of independent travel and exploration.

It is good to that people are taking advantage of Belgrade’s cycle paths. Getting on a bike is a great way to explore a city and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the region. The countryside in Serbia and Bosnia is made for such things and the towns are also quite bike-friendly, which makes it a greater regret that most people seem averse to cycling.

I recall a friend in Banja Luka who would rather rely on compliant mates to give him a lift to and from University and cafés than to use a bike. But after some cajoling he borrowed a bike and there has not been any looking back. He is always in the saddle, which makes him quite easy to spot, as recreational cyclists are still quite a rare sight in Banja Luka. Hopefully that could be changing.

So, with the fine weather of summer making its mark on many of us, this is an ideal time to get out of the chair, leave the car keys at home, and get on your bike. I would guess that you might enjoy it.

Marcus Agar has been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of reports. Click here to read in Serbian or for an interview in English or Serbian

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