CAME TO RĪGA? GET A BIKE. On cycling culture and how to find your perfect tourist / long-term ride.

Yes, we have a terrible cycling infrastructure in Rīga. Yes, we have slushy winters. Oh, yes, we won't see any proper municipal cycling strategy in the near future.
But does it stop us from getting that hard thing between our legs and have a wild, enjoying ride? Whatever you think - no, it doesn't!
Here are our top picks to renting a bike for your short-term visit or purchasing one for a long-term relationship, some cycling history, and other tips and tricks to keep in mind when hitting the streets.

cycling in rīga, bikes in rīga, rīga, ērenpreiss bycicles,
THE BACKGROUND
Shit, we almost had it all. Rīgas was a place where the first velocipedes in Imperial Russia called "Leutner" were made in 1886 dominating the whole industry and innovation for 30 years and inspiring many major companies after WWI (Leutner moved his factory to Kharkov, Ukraine in 1915; during the Soviet reign it became one of the biggest producers in USSR in later years).

In 1941, right before the WWII really started in Latvia, every 6,7 person in the country already owned a bicycle1. There were roughly 60 000 bikes produced annually of whom around 3000 got exported, while only 1 or 2 got imported (!). Models of the biggest companies like Ērenpreiss Original, Omega or Latvelo, and dozens of others were so well made hundreds and hundreds have been popping up from sheds and attics during the last decade resulting in Tweed Runs around the whole country (as well as globally). Rīga Tweed Run just celebrated its 9th birthday uniting roughly 300 - 500 participants on their retro wheels or in their retro garments.

cycling in riga, tweed run riga, mārtiņš eņģelis, tvīda brauciens
Even during the Nazi occupation from 1941 - 1944 the cycling evolution continued to be a major part of development plans, and in 1943 a preliminary bike road system was published2 (below) along with data gathered from bike counting across the city (fun fact - there has been no official bike counting held in Rīga for 5+ decades, while the city mayor Nils Ušakovs keeps on promising to install the first electronic counter for 6 years already).

cycling map riga, nazi ocupation riga,
Ironically, the only time Rīga faced a centralized approach to cycling infrastructure was exactly during the Nazi occupation. But then, after the war, all bicycle factories were nationalized, then united in one named "The Red Star" (located in the former Ērenpreiss Original construction plant in Brīvības iela 193; now totally abandoned), and finally, in 1961, bike manufacturing was officially shut down in the whole country.

What happened next? In 1943 it was promised to build 70 km of bike roads during the next 10 years, and, knowing the devolving rate in other German cities like Nuremberg, Stuttgart or Dortmund, this could've happened (keep in mind - Rīga was by at least one third smaller than it's now). But then Rīga started evolving as a solid Soviet modernist city with motorways, pedestrian tunnels and personal cars as the biggest achievement in civilian life (there was even a well-curated idea of having a metro in the near future), and cycling was somewhat stigmatized through the Soviet period as well as during the first years on independence during the 90s.

In result - today the city has 26 km of infrastructure you can officially call " bike roads", the rest is a shame to urban environment. The total length of lanes is around 9 % of what the city could pull3 during the last 8 years since the first bike path was opened along Skolas iela (if drawing similarities to the WWII development plan - Rīga should've had 105 km at least...).

Yet the number of cyclists grows and does it extremely fast. Already, when riding to and from work, for a short moment, the inhabitants of Rīga make those 26 km of bike infrastructure look like a proper West European city, slightly resembling the most exciting moments experienced in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany. Despite the infrastructure being manic, while the municipality does not really mind, activists and enthusiasts keep on thinking of ways how to do both - improve the general quality of infrastructure, community and policies and draw public attention to the problem. For example, a year ago an anonymous guerrilla bike lane was painted on the main Brīvības street in Rīga and, before being erased by the officials the same afternoon, became an Internet sensation even citylab and the famous urbanist Mikael Colville-Andersen were writing about. Yes, we have sense of humour and we are pretty patient in Latvia. Yet, will we really change anything this way - time will tell...


SHORT-TERM RELATIONSHIP.
Tourist choice
Right, down to the point! Now you are mentally prepared for the conditions of Rīga, and we have a few suggestions for your perfect ride if you have a few days only. Keep in mind that majority of short-term rentals will mostly end their operations by the beginning of November the latest.

RĪGA EXPLORERS CLUB
riga explorers club
Our top choice is this spot at Riharda Vāgnera street 14 - a bike rental located right in the heart of Oldtown. Apart from renting bikes and some extra gear these fellas are to blame for Rīga having something called "alternative tourism", when James, the founder of REC, began his crusade 10 years ago of running alternative routes with alternative destinations since it never was done before. Now his team owns this cozy office where you can get a full day rental (10am – 6pm) for 10 EUR or 3 hr rental for a lucky seven as well as loads of information what to do during your visit and what tours you could take with them.
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SIXT RENTALS
If you stay for a slightly longer period of time or if you want to rent a bicycle during the off-working hours, we suggest finding the Sixt bike racks. They are now available in 18 locations across Rīga following a single system - rent anywhere and park anywhere.

LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP
Lifetime choice
If, by any chance, you have decided to move here, you are mad. If you want to live in Rīga and ride a bike - you are mental! No wonder Latvians act the way they do - we are all mental because of the bike craze! But, ok, enough with Harry Poter jokes, let's be serious. Here are three good spots for buying your pedal horse and becoming a full-blooded new generation of Rīgans.

VELODEPO
velodepo riga
If you want to buy a good quality second-hand bikes for variety of price range (50 - 500 EUR), we suggest trying VeloDepo at Matīsa street 8 (entrance from the yard) - some say, it's the largest repair shop and bike store in the city. Vintage bicycles, city rides, sports racers, everything can be potentially found here.
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BRŪKLENE
bruklene, bike shop riga
This lifestyle store will be a perfect pick for vital, subcultural youth who like more sportsy, well designed and well put bikes. Concentrating more on fixed or single gear rides, Brūklene offers fresh-only, well-priced production along with accessories, good quality drinks and some events time in time.
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ĒRENPREISS VELOSALONS
erenpreiss velosalons
If you dream of having a more elitist velocipede and if you want to buy Latvian production (also balance bikes for your youngest), you can find one at Ērenpreiss bike saloon. The company ĒRENPREISS ORIGINAL, restored after being shut down for 70 years since WWII, produce good quality bicycles for more classy riders. Despite the price many have bought their bikes and praise the good combination of style, quality and status.
Similarly to the Leutner factory more than a hundred years ago, Toms Ērenpreiss, the founder of the company, along with his friends and colleagues has been reviving the culture of cycling industry and lifestyle for the last 15 years that has resulted in Rīga Bicycle week, Tweed Runs and other events across the country, and also their little factory.
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MORE INFO
What else: if you find our pick unsuitable to your taste, you can try buying your wheel in LetiVelosipedi.lv or Mybike.lv. The stores are equally good offering well-priced second-hand or "Made in China" hobby bikes; sadly all their web pages are in Latvian.
Repair: you can fix your bike at all shops shortlisted in our "long-term" suggestions (VeloDepo, Brūklene, Ērenpreiss Velosalons). You can also try Trase at Bruņinieku iela 28, but keep in mind they get very busy sometimes.
When: more and more people choose to cycle all-year-long, yet, if you are not that enthusiastic, most of weather conditions from March - November will seem fairly good for a daily ride. Don't forget to buy lights (the days will get darker!) better gloves and, if possible, a proper rain shell jacket (its functional whether you cycle or don't - the weather in Latvia can get nasty pretty quickly even in summer). You can also ask around for winter tires with spikes that become more and more common these days.
NB: Lock, lock, lock - buy a solid lock! If you plan to ride your bike more than one studying semester and if it didn't cost 50 euros, spend the same amount on a good foldable metal or U-lock and please ditch any wire or cable "gift-warps". This never guarantees total safety to your property (anywhere globally), yet lowers the chance of you loosing your precious means of transportation to a few percent.

P.S. We also have cobblestones. Extremely old ones. Beware.

1 Liepins, E., Seregins, J. From Leutner to Erenpreis. 100 Years of Bicycle Manufacturing in Latvia. Riga: Industrial Heritage Trust of Latvia, 2008
2 Rameika, V. Veloceļu finansēšanas avoti. Satiksme un Technika. Nr. 2 (01.02.1943)
3 Rīgas veloceļu karte. Pilsēta cilvēkiem. https://pilsetacilvekiem.lv/lv/rigas-velocelu-karte/

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