While some destinations have always had a robust bicycle culture—Amsterdam and Paris come to mind—more cities around the globe have followed suit in recent years, introducing or expanding bike-sharing programs, upgrading bike routes, and adding measures that help ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety. As a result, residents and travelers around the world are embracing cycling in ever greater numbers. The benefits are universal: Whether for fitness or recreation, transportation or sightseeing, or even commuting to work, cycling is adding a new dynamism to city living. Destinations also benefit: The Copenhagenize Design Company, which produces an annual index of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, states, “studies from Denmark tell us that for every kilometer cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents.” Here, we explore 10 bike-friendly locales across the globe.
Introducing a bike-sharing system to a metropolis as dynamic as New York City is no easy feat, and Citi Bike, which launched in Manhattan in 2013 with 6,000 bikes and 300 stations, has had its fair share of growing pains. Still, the Citi Bike program has been a massive success. The program has continued expanding across Manhattan and begun moving into communities in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The program is now approaching 60 million total rides following a 400 percent growth in ridership. And with 12,000 bicycles and 750 stations, it’s the biggest bike-share program in the United States.
When the City of Light launched its bike-share program, Vélib—shorthand for “vélos en libre-service”—in 2007, it was a trailblazer in the space. Vélib (now Vélib Métropole) redefined Parisian living for residents as well as visitors, with 15,000 bikes available in such central destinations as the Champs-Elysees and the Louvre. Parisians now have a choice of three additional operators, which have moved into the French capital in recent years: China-based Ofo (1,000 bikes) and Mobike, which has several thousand bikes docked around the city; and the Danish company Donkey Republic, a dockless, app-based program with 250 bikes in 11 central Paris hubs.
Cyclists rule the streets of Amsterdam, the picturesque Dutch capital known for its many canals, charming row houses, and laissez-faire temperament. While there is no official bike count, it’s estimated that the ratio of bikes to residents is 1:1. Something of a gold standard when it comes to bikeable cities, Amsterdam is well equipped with bike paths and lanes, although cyclists just as often ride in the streets. Bicycles here are commonly adorned with garlands of flowers or other creative flourishes.
Taking a cue from European capitals, Washington, D.C., was among the first U.S. destinations to create a bike-share program. Originally called SmartBike DC, the initiative launched in 2008 with only 10 pick-up/drop-off stations and 120 bikes. Today, Capital Bikeshare includes approximately 3,000 bikes and a network of 350 stations located not only in Washington, D.C., but in Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, providing residents an efficient and affordable way to commute to work and visitors a hands-on approach for seeing the sights.
The city of Portland, Oregon, has been a key player in reviving everyday bike culture in the United States for some time. This success is largely due to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which has built a network of more than 300 miles of bike lanes and “bike boulevards.” With one of the highest percentage of bike commuters in the U.S., Portland’s bike share program, Biketown, which is sponsored by Nike, launched in July 2016 with 1,000 bikes at over 100 stations.
Internationally known for its quality of life and commitment to green living, the Swedish capital is a cyclist’s paradise. Composed of many islands connected through an extensive network of bridges and ferries, Stockholm also has relatively flat terrain. Cycling is the best way to explore its Djurgarden, an island that is essentially one giant park with minimal car traffic and an abundance of recreational activities including several museums, an amusement park, and botanical gardens.
Snow sports, hiking, hunting, cycling—Jackson Hole is a popular destination for outdoor recreation year round. While only the heartiest cycle during winter in cold-weather cities like Stockholm and New York, bike tours are just as popular here in the winter as in the summer. Local outfitters conduct what are called “fat bike tours” in the winter months—tours on hard-packed snow routes on mountain bikes outfitted with 4- to 5-inch tires. Fat bike tours are just one more way to enjoy Jackson Hole’s legendary winter wonderland. In summer 2018, Jackson’s new bike-share program, START, launched 55 BCycle smart bikes with 12 stations around the city.
“What Bordeaux has achieved in the past few years is remarkable,” notes the Copenhagenize Index (which ranked the historic French city No. 6 on its list) citing the city’s ongoing investment in infrastructure, growth of the VCub bike-share program featuring French-made Peugeot bikes, and an overall commitment to boosting “bicycle urbanism.” Bordeaux and bicycling go hand in hand, whether one wishes to cycle through the medieval streets of the UNESCO World Heritage city, along paths adjacent to the Garonne River, or Bordeaux’s canals. For a truly unique bike-sharing experience, there’s also a network of bike trails which follow converted railway lines through the Bordeaux wine region.
You’d expect the hometown of Lance Armstrong to be a mecca for cyclists. Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, is a destination for shopping and social gathering. Amateurs and professionals also converge at the Thursday night Driveway Series, America’s most popular weeknight bike race criterium. The Texas capital is committed to cyclists of all stripes. Austin’s Walnut Creek Trail System is one of the finest bike pathway networks outside Europe, where miles of trailways lead out of the city into the beautiful open roads of Texas Hill Country. It also has a bike-sharing program, B-Cycle, designed for quick trips around central Austin, with hundreds of bikes and more than 75 stations.
Montreal is the only city in the Americas to make the cut on the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index. Currently ranked No. 20 on the list, the Quebec capital is last but certainly not least. The city started building bike lanes long before the idea of bicycle mass transit took root stateside and its bike-sharing system, BIXI Montréal, was the first large-scale public bicycle sharing system in North America. The city is still dedicated to expanding its 450-mile bike-path network, with an ambitious infrastructure project in the works.