When I first visited Ljubljana, back in the late noughties, one of the things that struck me were the number of people on bikes.
Everywhere I went, I saw cyclists weaving through town. Never rushed, the pace of the Slovene two-wheeler was leisurely. Bells pinged as basket-equipped bikes cruised past carrying shopping, books and bags.
Students rode around on rattling old Rogs, Slovenia’s very own classic bicycle brand, (which has recently made a comeback). Women in summer dresses and heels glided by with an air of elegance. No Lycra or helmets here.
It was a welcome sight to see so many bikes, and now that I’m living here, I too have taken to being a two-wheeler for almost all of my city commuting. Because when it comes to cycling in the city, Ljubljana has clearly tired to create an environment that encourages cycling – and it has worked.
So why is Ljubljana a good place to get around by bike? Well, I think there are four factors that have made it such a bike-friendly city.
1. Bike lanes: they’re everywhere
Coming from Edinburgh, where there are a few isolated bike paths, but getting from A to B almost always requires predominately braving traffic, Ljubljana has an amazing bike path network. I can cycle to almost anywhere in the city, on a bike-only lane. I can (and do) even cycle to the out-of-town shopping centre (BTC), entirely via cycle paths.
Even better, most of the time these are completely separate from the road, either on a raised pavement, or completely segregated from the pavement or road.
Almost all traffic lights have a green bike, alongside the green man, and bike travel has been properly integrated alongside pedestrian and car travel.
2. The terrain: Ljubljana is flat
Within the city limits, there are few hills, so you can get to almost anywhere without going up or down hill. In part, this has probably aided he construction of the cycle network, and it certainly means that old, heavy, or single-gear bikes, can still cruise along and get you from A to B, without having to slog up any hills.
3. The weather: Slovenia has a nice climate
The amount of warm and generally dry weather in Slovenia (compared to the UK!) means that the times I can make a journey by bike is vastly greater than in Edinburgh, because most of the time it’s not raining.
4. Bickelj: shared bike scheme
Shared bikes are now very common in many cities of the world, and Ljubljana’s offering – Bicikelj – adds another spoke to the biker’s wheel. Costing just €3 per year – as long as you return it within the hour – it’s essentially free bike hire.
They only have one gear and are heavy, but they are solid city bikes, with a basket, lights, mudguards and a bell.
You need to register with a credit card, so it’s not quite so easy for the casual tourist (though not impossible) but for residents it’s great.
On dry days, I’ll take my own bike, which is faster and more comfortable than the single-gear, tank-like bicikeljs. But if it’s wet on the ground, or rain is predicted, I’ll jump on a bicikelj to save my own steed from rust. It’s also great if you just want to go one way, and take a bus back.
These four factors have combined to create a bike-friendly Ljubljana. Indeed bikes can often be the fastest form of transport in the city. Certainly, during busier traffic times, bikes can outrun cars, and most of the time, they are faster than the buses (I know this as the bike route into town runs alongside the bus route, and I normally beat it).
So, if you’re lucky enough to live in Ljubljana, ditch the car, skip the crowded bus, and get a bike. Healthier, greener, ‘funner’ and free.