Riding a bicycle is a great way of getting around. So naturally, when I first arrived in Croatia I expected a lot more bike-friendliness. Yes, there are many people who ride bikes around Zagreb, but, all things considered, bike riding in the Croatian capital isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.
First off, there’s a significant lack of infrastructure for bicycles. Bike paths/lanes are few and far between and they often end abruptly or veer off suddenly onto the sidewalk or road. And if you’re not on a major road, like one of the ‘green waves’, there’s really no choice but to test your luck with the cars on the road or ride the sidewalk.
This, unfortunately, is a problem for everyone involved. Croatia is very much a society that does not respect bikes or the people who ride them. They are viewed as toys relegated to lazy Sundays in the middle of summer. I feel that most people here think riding a bike as a form of transportation is something done out of necessity and not by choice. This is a car-centred culture and status/appearance matters.
Therefore, people in cars have absolutely no regard for bicyclists. Not only do they pay them no mind, there’s almost a blatant disregard or animosity towards them. So, they’re left with little choice but to take to the sidewalks.
And herein lies the next problem: Bike riders are far worse to pedestrians than cars are to bikes. First of all, nobody who rides a bike without training wheels should be on the sidewalk. Period. Sidewalks are narrow enough as it is. There isn’t enough room for everybody and this leaves the bicyclist as the odd man out. Sorry.
The situation is ridiculous. It’s almost as ridiculous as riding a bike with no hands. I’ll just never understand that. But, as a uniquely Croatian phenomenon, I’ve come to appreciate it a bit and now I only shake my head or give it a light chuckle. I guess it’s a way to add some swagger to riding a bike in lieu of driving a fancy car. It’s hilarious to see a grown man zipping down the sidewalk with his hands awkwardly folded at his waist instead of gripping the handlebars (which is so much more relaxing and far easier).
In North America there’s only a two-year window of a person’s life where riding a bike with no hands is somewhat acceptable. Only between the ages of 10 and 12 can a person do this without facing absolute ridicule. And besides, I’m pretty sure that went extinct by the mid-90’s.