Bicycles have made a serious commercial comeback over the last decade, and for good reason. It’s cheap, healthy, eco-friendly and convenient (beating the traffic always feels good). In a lot of ways it ties up with the global shift towards better living and consumption habits. After the initial cost of a decent bike, think of your fitness level and the money you'd save if you cycled to and from work for one year.
It's no fad. Young children, training athletes and hipsters aren't the only ones peddling from A to B on a daily basis. Professional men and women with 9 to 5 jobs are joining the party, along with all their friends and family. City planners and politicians are working on strategies to make urban settlements more bike-friendly; this means improving road safety through allocated bike routes and pathways. This month we're tipping our hats to the Top 10 Bicycle-Friendly Cities around the world
Amsterdam is synonymous with bicycle culture. The city promotes and accommodates cyclists because the majority of people getting from A to B on land are peddling there. It's the transport mode of choice and proves far more effective in navigating the narrow, cobbled streets than any car. It also fits in with the city's endless viewpoints, art galleries and peaceful nooks. Bike rental and repair companies are everywhere, making it easy to blend in. Year after year, you find Amsterdam at the top of the Copenhagenize Index, a company that rates the world's bike-friendly cities (as well as other articles doing the same thing - including the one you're reading right now). I'm not sure there will ever be a city more adapt to cyclists.
Berlin's bicycle culture is well beyond a novelty; it's just the way people get around. The majorirty of residents don't even own a car, and it's estimated that somewhere around half a million people cycle to and from work every day. To accommodate the mass of cyclists, an extensive city-wide bike route has been set aside specifically for people on bicycles (ie. no cars, no pedestrians, no motor bikes - just bikes). These are wide, clearly-marked paths that provide safety in numbers and make it easy for new cyclists to understand the protocol - you just follow the herd. People visiting Berlin won't have trouble finding bicycle renting facilities either, as companies like Berlin On Bike offer cheap daily bike rentals and guided tours of the city's main attractions.
Bristol has its finger on the pulse when it comes to eco-friendly initiatives. But it's a hilly place and that isn't always great news for cyclists - especially beginners who aren't fit yet. Still, the city continues to make giant strides in catching up to its European cycling counterparts by investing in infrastructure that makes it easy to change from gas power to peddles. One of the most recent initiatives to launch is actually called Pedal Power, a transport program that aims to beat the traffic naturally by making use of ecologically-sound tricycles. This comes at a time when Bristol's biking culture is taking off in a big way. In the last decade, the number of cyclists who ride to work has doubled, and this number is expected to increase significantly over the next five years. The city has also hosted the Bespoked UK Handmade Bicycle Show for the last three years, which draws thousands of bicycle enthusiasts annually. It might not be up there with Copenhagen yet, but the stage is set for big things to come in the near future.
People aren't meant to drive (or even rush) through Budapest; the city is a museum that needs to be appreciated at ground level. While the city's biking infrastructure and paths aren't as advanced as some other European cycling nations, its population of bicycle-users is forcing their municipalities to address this issue. This year, thousands of cyclists participated in a peaceful rally across the Danube River via the Margit Bridge (the bridge connecting the city's two halves), driving the point home that cyclists make up a significant part of the population and deserve more road space. This was organised by Critical Mass Budapest, a cycling group that has played a pivotal role in uniting bike commuters in Hungary.
Copenhagen's remarkable bicycle culture is proof that necessity is the mother of all invention. During the energy crisis and recession of the 70s, the city had to enforce 'Car-Free Sundays' to conserve its resources. Somewhere along the line, people started realising that riding bikes around town was quick, cheap and fun, and the rest is history. Over the decades, the city has established a practical and user-friendly biking system that is embraced by the majority of residents, and includes a network of bicycle lanes, paths, free bicycle rentals (these require a fully refundable deposit for use) and lock-up racks. More than half the local population peddles to and from work, and every year the city invests in its existing bicycle infrastructure.
The latest advancement in Denmark's eco-friendly transport system is a collaborative initiative that involves the local municipality, the metro company and some intelligent use of technology. A new commuter bike system is being implemented, which aims to make the process of getting from town to town and around the city an almost entirely car-free experience. By connecting GPS systems to a fleet of public bikes, people can alternate between public transport and commuter public bicycles during almost any outing. The GPS systems will be accessible via a smartphone app, so people can book bikes from the train on their way into the city.
Dublin has been singled out as one of the great emerging cycling cities, with the number of bicycles on the road growing every year; according to Dublin Cycling, by as much as 70% since 2004. The city has also made significant efforts to designate bike lines within the city centre, adjoining suburbs and through its public parks, but the demand for more space has already outgrown the supply. In addition to the bike lines, the Dublin Bikes initiative has proved successful in turning people onto cycling over driving.
Portland is a hip place. It looks good in all weather conditions and is enshrined by lush hillsides that cover the quaint houses in conifer needles and leaves. You'd fit right in squeaking around the city on a gearless cruiser with streamers on the handle bars and an ironic political sticker plastered on the frame. I'm joking, but not altogether. For all the grief people give Portland's cool kids, it's an amazing city that has embraced and advanced eco-friendly standards immeasurably, leading America's progressive charge by example. It has a commuter bike program that caters for low-income families by offering a more healthy alternative to the bus.
As far as the cycling environment goes, it's beautiful, clean, safe, and boasts some of the finest food and microbrewed beer in the nation (although drinking and cycling is obviously not recommended). Portlanders ride their bikes despite having one of the rainiest winter climates in North America, which says something about the city. If the people weren't such troopers, you can bet your wellies nobody would bat an eyelid to drive. Infrastructure wise, the city has established over 300 miles of bike lanes that connect the outer suburbs to the central business districts, as well as a bike commuter train service.
According to Sydney Cycleways 1,35 million Australians drive less than five kilometres to work; a distance that takes fifteen minutes or less in the car. In response to claims like this, the Sydney City council has invested a lot of time and money into making cycle paths through business districts, suburbs and popular areas. In addition to this, the city hosts free cycling courses that educate new and seasoned riders about biking along the demarcated routes, basic road safety and how to perform bike repairs.
Visitors to Sydney can join the action, too. The award winning YWA Hostel overlooking the harbour has a dedicated bike repair area (with tools), a lock-up and storage unit. The funny thing is that there's no parking available to cars - only bikes. One of the great luxuries a city like Sydney has going for it, is weather that encourages people to get outside and appreciate the architecture and scenery.
Bicycles in Tokyo present a welcome escape from a common enemy: traffic. While the roads are crowded, speed limits are sternly enforced and motorists are courteous towards cyclists - be sure to do the same with pedestrians when sharing the sidewalks with them. The city has also responded to the influx of vehicles in the last few years by setting up bike stations that offer a solution to another nightmare: parking. The number of people using the roads does require some skill and getting used to, but part of the excitement of being in Tokyo is experiencing it how the residents do. If you are nervous about going alone, you'll find a number of city bike tour companies to guide you while you find your feet.
Canada is a trailblazer in many ways, leading the progressive charge on a range of topical issues. The city of Vancouver has fully embraced its growing population of cycle commuters by mapping out an extensive set of bike routes around the city. "Vancouver is incredibly bike-friendly. Not only are there existing bike lanes along the gorgeous 13 mile sea wall, but the city was also one of the first in North America to create a low-cost, low-impact network by creating bikeways along residential streets with relatively light traffic volumes. It's all part of the mayor's plan to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020", says Shannon Heth-Vergette, a PR executive in Vancouver. Shannon's company works with The Loden, a boutique hotel in the city that offers guests free use of their cruiser bikes.