10 of the most cycling friendly cities around the world

How do you determine a cycle friendly city? The scientific way is the Copenhagenize Index. It looks at a number of variables including commitment to infrastructure, modal share and gender split. Another is to go from personal experience.

We’ve listed some of our favourites below that are leading the way with the cycling experience and taking it from the domain of the few to becoming the norm.

Portland, USA

Lauded in the US as a cycling mecca, Portland is a great place to cycle. The city as a whole has an ethos of alternativism, and it may well have adopted cycling originally as a way of counter the heavy automobile culture in the rest of the country.  This is not to say there are no cars in Portland, there are loads, but it is not the only way to get around, as it can be in other major cities.

Portland

Dianne Yee

Portland has been investing heavily in bike lanes and infrastructure, increasing its modal share to just over 7% in recent years. It recently opened a new bridge (one of 12 in the city) which is pedestrian and tram only. There are many, many bike shops and many bicycle companies based in the city. In major shopping and dinning neighbourhoods there are lots of bike racks, and there are public bike tools and pumps dotted all over. From personal experience, cycling in the city just feels normal and generally welcoming.

Amsterdam, NL

There is no way you can not include this city on any list of bike love. Cycling is one of the main things you would associate with Amsterdam and is a natural fit for the city. There are bikes everywhere and they seem to dominate traffic and dictate what every other road user does.

What is interesting for other cities is that the bicycle became so popular partly in response to an increase in deaths related to car crashes. The bike had previously dominated and residents felt it should again – this is a really interesting article about this form of bike activism and inclusion in city infrastructure.

London, UK

As London cyclists we are all too aware of the problems faced by cyclists in London – from the accidents, to bad infrastructure and impatient drivers. However, things have been improving and major new projects are seeing a new wave of cyclists join in on the roads. This includes the cycle superhighways and the cycle hire scheme.

In particular, the recent protected lanes along the Embankment and over some of the bridges are completely packed at rush hour and have already proven their worth in getting people out on bikes who would not normally cycle through central London. 32% of road use during rush hour is bicycles, some road seeing as much as 70% of the traffic composed of bikes. Importantly, it is becoming more ‘normal’ to cycle in London, something that will allow bicycle use and related infrastructure to increase as well, provided there is as much government backing going forward as there has been in recent years.

Cambridge, UK

Often considered the cycling capital of the UK in terms of modal share and bike ownership, Cambridge is more akin to continental cities than it is other British ones. What is interesting is that this has all happened without any real infrastructure. The council is putting in protected lanes and formal cycle parks now, but bikes have always been a stalwart in the city. Bikes are everywhere and cycling to town, the park or the pub is more normal than walking, almost.

Cambridge bikes

The lower levels of formal infrastructure mean Cambridge does not score well on the Copenhagenize Index yet. I think the reason it does well as a cycling city is it’s small size and Victorian street plan which is somewhat inherently bike friendly simply because it is so car unfriendly. That and bikes allow students to get to lectures quickly and get home from the pub.

Minneapolis, USA

Minneapolis is often vying for the title of bike capital of the US, although it usually gets pipped by Portland (and most recently New York).

They have had a bike scheme for 6 years now, and many cycle routes through parks. However, they want to increase the modal share for bicycles and unseat Portland. There are lots of disused railway lines in Minneapolis ripe for conversion, and they also intend to put in lots of protected cycle lanes. The government is well behind cycling and this is vital to any city, so it should be an interesting few years for potential cyclists in the city.

Utrecht, NL

A smaller city, Utrecht has bike love and integration down.The modal share for bike use is well over 60% and bikes are prioritised when it comes to urban planning. Bikes are just a normal form of transport, and used somewhat akin to walking around.

Utrecht

Spag85

In a city with so many bikes, finding somewhere to leave it can be a problem. They are fixing that with mega parking facilities, including a garage to hold over 12,500 bikes.

Strasbourg, FR

This city seems to be considered the cycling capital of France. The city planners have long put cycling high in the agenda and it shows. There are over 500km of cycling routes in and around the city. This means it is well connected and allows for good commuting routes into work. The bike share scheme is very popular and can also provide bikes with child seats – something other bike share programs are missing.

A mention should also be given to the actual French capital. Paris has one of the original bike share schemes which is very popular. There are also lots of cycle lanes and infrastructure at busy junctions.

Barcelona, ES

Barcelona

Dylan Passmore

Bike ownership is not very high in Barcelona, and it has not really traditionally been a bicycling city. However, it has one of the most successful and heavily used bike share schemes in the world. The temporary nature of borrowing a bike when needed clearly fits in well with the city. This is not to say that people do not ride their own bikes, its just not a very high percentage compared to other cities in this list – I certainly saw quite a few when I was there a couple of years ago.

Buenos Aires, AR

Buenos Aires seems to have woken up one day and decided it should have some bike lanes, so built 140km of them. They also have a bike scheme to use on them. As the city is pretty flat, it works well for cycling regardless of fitness. Apparently it still has a little way to go, but the unique thing about this city is that when they decided it need modernising, they looked to making it more liveable and cycle friendly, rather than figuring out how to get more cars into the centre.

Buenos Aires

Martin Volpe

Copenhagen, DK

Last but not least we have the Danish capital. The inspiration for the Copenhagenize Index, the city has been investing in cycling for a while now. Cycling infrastructure is just a natural consideration when it comes to town planning. The great thing about it is that it is uniform and consistent. In other cities the different designs for junctions can be confusing and off-putting. Not so much here. If nothing else, you can just follow the utter hoards of people going the same way as you!

They recently saw a huge jump in modal share – 9% in two years apparently – far more than any other city has seen. It shows that all the hard work has been paying off. It seems that the more attention the city gets for great infrastructure, the more they invest in making it even better. Time for a holiday I think…

What would go in your list of the most cycle friendly cities?

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

14 Responses to 10 of the most cycling friendly cities around the world

  1. John Faughnan 18/08/2016 at 1:47 pm #

    Montreal Quebec is pretty impressive. I find the London/NYC ratings hard to credit. I wouldn’t ride with my 14yo daughter in London, I would in Minneapolis. That’s the real test.

    • Jenna 24/08/2016 at 4:07 pm #

      I have been cycling in London for the past two days with work, have never done it or considered it before. Some of the infrastructure still needs a lot of work, but the established quietways and superhighways were actually really enjoyable and easy to negotiate. Total surprise to me!

  2. Henri 18/08/2016 at 3:54 pm #

    Your next article should be about the least bike friendly cities and Manchester will be ranking very high.

    There is an enormous amount of development going on in Manchester and which has been going on continuously for the last 5-10 years and more, from Spinningfields, the renovation of the Central Library to adding new tram tracks. Road and construction works are a permanent feature of the city. Sometimes the same stretch of road is dug up mutliple times as those near the town hall will attest.

    Unfortunately, cycling does not feature in any of these plans.

    Previous bike stands are removed, for instance in Spinningfield and Central Library. A few on-road car parking spaces have even been created near the Central Library where there used to be bike stands. There is nowhere now to lock a bike there.

    None of the new road development takes cycling into consideration, other than a bit of green paint on the road.

    I personally don’t like cycle lanes. They are narrow and cars drive close to it, thinking they are giving bikes the space they deserve when in reality a bike should get as much space as a car. And if you don’t cycle within the cycle lane, drivers get frustrated. Better no cycle lane in that case.

    I used to cycle in Central London in the early 2000. I wouldn’t want to do it now. Either I lost touch with the city or it looks even busier than before, with more cars and especially more cyclists than before.

    • FlashGordon 19/08/2016 at 7:50 pm #

      Sydney, Australia must be the sister city of Manchester.

    • Lollipop 22/08/2016 at 1:14 pm #

      This. Manchester is a death trap.

    • Marc 22/08/2016 at 9:53 pm #

      I am currently in Tel Aviv, Israel and cycling here has been amazing. With 2,000 bicycles, 200 stations and 130 Km of riding lanes, Tel-O-Fun green bikes have become
      a natural transportation choice for locals and tourists, and it’s available 24/7. Tel Aviv has approximately 70km of marked bike lanes! Some of them are on sidewalks in the city and some are outside the city center, in the neighborhoods and parks.There is one specific cycle lane that stretches the coastline and another which stretches the length of the town. As well as the public bike to rent, the main mode of transport here is the bike, it’s a cyclists paradise.

  3. Jan 19/08/2016 at 10:11 am #

    Seville,Southern Spain would be on my list.

  4. Steph 19/08/2016 at 11:33 am #

    Münster (Westphalia) in Germany has been a cyclists’ town for years, if not decades – not least owing to its massive student population: http://www.muenster.de/stadt/tourismus/en/city-of-bikes.html (I know this is a marketing website, but there isn’t a lot of stuff on this topic available in English…)

  5. Chris Ruse 19/08/2016 at 12:07 pm #

    What about Groningen NL – 50% bike use in the rush hour I believe.

  6. Grebe 19/08/2016 at 1:30 pm #

    London a cycle friendly city, your having a laugh!

  7. ignacio garcia alvarez 19/08/2016 at 1:58 pm #

    This article is just a big lack of reality and impartiality

  8. Vincent 22/08/2016 at 9:11 pm #

    > The scientific way is the Copenhagenize Index

    The Copenhagenize Index is well known for being _way_ optimistic. Just look what they say about Paris… and the reality.

    As an experiment, just spend a week-end riding a bike in the Netherlands, go home… and weep. Even Copenhagen can’t compete (in the NL, _everyone_ rides a bike, and with no helmets.)

    https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/

  9. Nigel Andrews 26/08/2016 at 10:18 am #

    Salamanca, Spain, is very cycle friendly. Cycle paths a plenty and cycling in general very we’ll catered for. People cycle everywhere. Many of the old town (centre) roads are traffic free and cyclists are free to cycle around, even through the heritage sites.

  10. Rupert Englander 15/09/2016 at 8:48 am #

    I cycle regularly in London and have just spent 3 days in Stockholm cycling around using their version of “Boris Bikes” and I have to say that for London to be listed and not Stockholm means that someone hasn’t done their research here because Stockholm is far ahead in terms of supporting cycling through dedicated segregated bikes lanes, bike pumps on advertising hoardings, and general infrastructure support.

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