For the last few years I have regarded my bicycle as my main means of transport, though my experience of cycling in Poland is limited. In Summer 2000 I spent two weeks cycling across the country, starting in Krakow and crossing to Lithuania near Sejny in the North-East. Apart from the weather, it was a great experience. Now living in Warsaw, I'm finding myself in the paradoxical position of being more and more reluctant to venture out on a bike, whilst becoming more and more convinced of the need for cycling to become a major means of urban transport.

Much of Green Federation's work here focuses on promoting cycling and thanks to sustained efforts during the last few years there are now approximately 100 km of cycle paths in Warsaw. These undoubtedly help to make cycling here more of a pleasant experience, but there is still much more to be done before a significant number of people will see it as a viable alternative to the car.

Cycling has become something of an extreme sport in Warsaw, which may improve its reputation among virile young men, but I think it's fair to say that most people don't really want an extreme sports experience on their way to work, school, the market etc. This situation diminishes many of the advantages of cycling: It is usually quite an inclusive way of getting around, which most people can afford, and many, though of course not all, are physically capable of, but it becomes exclusive when only a few brave soul dare to do it; It usually keeps people fit and healthy, but not when they are breathing the exhaust fumes of thousands of cars; and in an urban environment it is usually fast, but not if people have to take huge diversions to avoid traffic blackspots, wait at lots of crossings and cycle on uneven surfaces.

In a large city, 100 km of cycle lanes go virtually nowhere, and indeed one of the problems is that most of the cycle paths in Warsaw go virtually nowhere. One gets the distinct impression that cycle routes are accommodated where there is some free space rather than where they are actually needed. More fundamentally, there is almost no recognition by city officials that cars are an anti-social and dangerous phenomenon, and therefore there is no will to reduce their number. This is hardly surprising seeing how long it is taking too get this message across in Western Europe, but it is the biggest barrier to sustainable transport, not only because cars make sustainable urban transport such as bikes, roller-blades, skateboards and scooters extremely dangerous and unpleasant to use, but also because roads swallow huge chunks of public money which should be being spent, among other things, on public and sustainable transport.

Happily, cycling is a much more enjoyable activity outide of large towns and cities, though this in itself is paradoxical since it is precisely in urban areas that it could be the most approbiate form of transport. Most of Poland is flat and many of its rural roads are quiet and lined with fruit trees and flower-fringed fields, or flanked by forests full of berries. Roads are of variable qality, with occasional potholes, stretches of gravel, sand, or cobblestones. Some indication of this is usually given on maps but there are a few extra surprises as well.

Rural drivers in Poland seem to be less dangerous than their urban counterparts but perhaps it's because they are more spread out than in urban areas. Drivers often sound their horns but there does not seem to be any discernable reaon for this most of the time. One sometimes encounters cars with no lights after dark and dogs can also be a nuisance as they are sometimes able to run out into the road and chase after cyclists. These irritations weren't serious enough to detract from my overall impression of cycling as the only way to see the Polish countryside though.

Poland has a lot of potential for encouraging cyclists if it so chooses, but if my experience is anything to go by then cycling will continue to be seen as a countryside leisure activity and not a the serious means of urban tranport which it needs to become if the haze of pollution is to be lifted from major towns and cities.