Finding a bike rental on a budget in many major cities these days is rather easy. It's also an excellent strategy.
In urban Europe, bike-friendly conditions abound. Lanes devoted exclusively to bicycles are common and easy to use. Places to park a bike are provided at points of interest. In many historic city centers, car parking spaces are scarce and expensive. Accommodating bikes is seen as a way to encourage people to skip driving.
Let's consider Austria's capital city of Vienna as an example.
A bike rental on a budget in Vienna makes sense. It is a fairly compact city, but you're likely to walk for many hours as you enjoy its unique attractions. The inviting boulevards and grandiose architecture invite visitors to extended explorations.
If taking a guided motor tour of the city isn't in your budget, consider a cheap bike rental alternative called City Bike.
How It Works in Vienna
City Bike has bikes for rent at 120 stations across the city. They're frequently found near mass transit stops or parks. Your first use requires a €1 registration fee. This can be done online (or on your smartphone) with a credit card or a debit card from an Austrian bank.
Your first hour is free. The second started hour only costs €1. At the start of the third hour, you'll start paying €2 per 60 minutes, and from the fourth hour through the 120th hour, the cost is €4. Remember that if you go even one minute into the next hour, you pay for that entire hour. Those who exceed 120 hours or lose the bike incur a penalty of €600.
Another word about that first free hour: If you return the bike, take at least a 15-minute break, and then start a new ride, you'll get another hour for free.
The City Bike website also provides information about how many bikes are available at a given station, so those who want to explore as a group can plan accordingly.
Although there is a large fleet of bikes available, plan ahead for busy times of the year. Your chosen departure point in the city might be short of bikes if it is near a key attraction.
Another possible situation is the lack of empty spaces in the place where you want to return the bike. A terminal screen at the site will show other nearby stations that have empty spaces. Insert your card into the terminal, which is programmed to recognize these situations and give you an additional 15 free minutes to arrange the return.
A Word of Caution
As with most budget travel bargains, there is fine print that cannot be ignored as you complete your bike rental in Vienna.
Be certain that you carefully follow City Bike's procedure for returning the bike. Check to see the bike box to which you return is not locked, then push the bike into that unlocked box. A green light should begin flashing and then remain lit. That's the signal that your rental period has officially ended. Bikes found unlocked will incur a €20 fee. Remember, they have your credit card information.
Another consideration for those who have restricted credit limits: City Bike will pre-authorize €20 on your card, and that amount will count against your credit limit for up to three weeks. Note that this amount is not actually charged to your bill. It is a deposit that the company will keep only if you fail to follow the correct procedure for returning the bike or incur some other damage-related charge. Credit cards that work in the City Bike system include MasterCard, Visa, and JCB.
A final caveat: If you don't follow this procedure and someone else takes the unlocked bike, you'll be on the hook either for a lengthier rental period or that steep €600 replacement fee. Please be certain you understand these procedures. Pleas of ignorance about the rules aren't likely to help if you run into trouble.
Examples of Other Major Bike Rental Options
The model that City Bike uses is fairly typical, but always check the specific expectations of any service before making plans.
Villo serves Brussels with a docking system and rate structure similar to Vienna's City Bike. For less than €2, the service sells a card that is good for a full day rental.
In Germany, Deutsche Bahn offers a service called Call a Bike. Bike hire stands are located at ICE stations at 50 German cities and towns. A quick registration process provides access to one of their 13,000 bikes.
Copenhagen is home to Bycyklen, where the bikes are equipped with small motors that assist with achieving speeds up to 24 km/hr. The batteries are only good for about 25 kilometers of riding before a recharge is needed. Hourly rates start at 30K, which is about $5 USD.
In these and many other cities, you'll notice that cycling is a common method for getting around town, especially in the congested tourist areas. A common budget travel principle demands that you take up the everyday practices of people in your destination city. A bike rental will put you alongside other natives who have discovered the pleasures of a leisurely ride through some of the world's most impressive urban landscapes.