Cycling in Sofia
How Good Is Sofia For Cycling?
In the last few years Sofia finally started some infrastructure improvements for better cycling in the city. Don't expect too much. Sofia is still far away from the modern European cities. There are very few bicycle alleys and no special traffic lights for cyclists. There are plans to build a lot more alleys for the next years so you may have the chance to ride them when you come here.
The terrain in Sofia is relatively smooth. There are some slopes especially if you go to the suburbs near Vitosha mountain, but other than that most of the city is flat.
You can cycle through almost every route in Sofia in a hour or two.
Bicycle alleys and roads
The first new bicycle alleys in Sofia were created a couple of years ago in the central parts of the city (Evlogi Georgiev Blvd and Vitosha Blvd). Here is a map of the alleys in the city center.
Currently new alleys are built or ready in the neighborhoods like Mladost and Lulin. There is a good chance that you'll be able to ride your bicycle over some of the in-project alleys in other neighborhoods but don't expect them everywhere.
By the way most alleys are a bit funny - see these pictures.
And often you'll find cars parked on the alleys.
Cycling on the streets
In most cases you will need to ride your bike on the streets. Be prepared to cycle around parked cars at right even on narrow streets. Be careful for drivers who may open the left door without watching back (They don't hear your bicycle so you are not there). Watch for pedestrians too. They often walk at the right side because many sidewalks are occupied by cars. You are safer riding on the larger streets regardless of the faster driving there. Usually on these streets parking is not allowed so at right one meter is where you are supposed to cycle.
Be careful and watch the road in front of you. Very often there are holes exactly on that side, unequal drain covers, pebbles or sand.
Some Bulgarian drivers still don't respect bicycles as equal involved in traffic and may neglect your advantage.
Bicycles buy or rent - where and how much
Renting bicycles is not very popular here yet. If you are staying in a hostel you may find bicycles for rent there - we typically use HostelWorld to check which hostel offers them.
There are also few companies offering bicycle hire on their sites but often their prices are a bit insane. This company offers a bit more reasonable prices espcially if you just want to ride 1-2 hours for fun. We have not tried their bikes, so no idea about their reliability.
If you are going to stay here for a while longer - two weeks or so - it might be better to buy some cheap bicycle. The big supermarkets sell ones for $100 - $150. You can possibly sell it before you leave.
Transport your bicycle in the city
Sometimes you need to transport your bicycle without riding it. You can take your bicycle on buses, trolleys and trams for the price of one additional ticket. Transporting your bicycle by the subway is not allowed. In practice transporting bicycle by the other public transport vehicles is also possible only when the traffic is low. In the peak hours there is barely space for people on most lines.
You can transport your bicycle by train for the price of €1 regardless of the distance. This is valid also for the trains that go between different cities.
As already mentioned most drivers are still not well used to bicyclers. Cycling in the traffic always hides some risks. Take basic safety measures like wearing helmet, a reflective vest etc.
Here is a really good site about bicycle safety. Check it to learn how to protect yourself not just in Sofia but everywhere.
There is another aspect of safety too. You may have your bike stolen. The highest risk is at the city centre. Don't leave your bicycle unlocked. There are bicycle parking lots in the city (map) which are relatively safe, but still unguarded. Even if you lock your bicycle it might be stolen especially in the night.
Cycling in Bulgaria
There are various cycling tours offered inside the country. You my want to try mountain biking, road cycling, or other organized tours fairly easy. Or you can just go by your own and ride your bike on the roads. Take basic safety measures and you will be fine in most cases. Do not plan cycling between December and March unless you are equipped for winter conditions.
Choose remote and rural roads. Highways are not good for riding a bicycle here. The rural roads can be rough however so be prepared with a good bike. Here is a discussion on LonelyPlanet that gives some good opinions.
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