No prizes for guessing the world's best city for cyclists. Photo: Getty Images
It’s not Sydney, obviously, despite its new cycle lane. It’s not Melbourne, either, despite its handy lack of hills.
Both of Australia’s major cities have cyclists, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most enjoyable places to ride. Drivers don’t care much for their two-wheeled brethren in Australia – plus there are few dedicated, protected cycle lanes, and Melbourne’s bike share system, hobbled by helmet laws, hasn’t exactly gone gangbusters.
It’s only when you travel, particularly to Europe, that you realise what a safe and enjoyable mode of transport cycling can be. No road rage – just respect. Throw in extensive bike lanes, affordable share systems, optional helmets and cool weather, and you’ve got paradise for pedallers.
Graffiti streets makes Berlin a great city to explore on bicycles. Photo: Kristjan Porm
These are my preferred cities to cycle in – not necessarily the world’s best, but definitely my personal favourites.
The city’s “Bicing” bike share system makes getting hold of a bike in Barca simple. Like the Catalan capital itself, the bikes can be a little on the scruffy side, but at least they’re affordable, and Barcelona is criss-crossed with bike lanes and wide, cycle-friendly boulevards. Everyone should do the journey up to Park Guell.
Copenhagen is famous for its bike-friendly attitude. Photo: Wade Laube
Tokyo might seem like a huge city filled with manic super-highways, but at its heart the Japanese capital is a network of quiet little lanes that are ideal for bikes. There’s no need to deal with traffic here – just pedal through the backstreets. The main issue I’ve found with cycling in Tokyo is figuring out where the heck you are.
There’s respect for cyclists in Berlin – perhaps because 13 per cent of citizens are riders themselves. But what makes Berlin a great city to cycle is the shabby beauty of the city itself, a beauty that finds time to reveal itself in all its graffitied glory when you pedal slowly past on a bicycle.
The only North American city to make my list – maybe it’s the European influence. Whatever the reason, Montreal, when it’s not the middle of winter, is a great city to cycle, with its large network of bike lanes running through quiet, friendly neighbourhoods. The “Bixi” bike share system has also been a huge success.
One of the original bike share cities, with one “Velib” bike available per 97 inhabitants. Plenty of those bikes are commandeered by tourists, of course, who can enjoy the rush of riding through one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Dedicated bike lanes might be scarce, but there’s little that can compare to an evening cycle along the Seine.
Provided you can navigate the fiendishly winding streets of Seville’s old town, it’s one of Europe’s truly great cities to ride, with a vast network of cycle lanes, a simple and cheap bike share system, and plenty to see as you tootle around. And whenever the legs get tired, there’s always a tapas bar nearby.
Like Tokyo, the back streets of Kyoto are narrow and quiet – but the difference here is that the scenery once you’re on those back streets is stunning. From ancient shops and markets in the downtown area to the temples and shrines of the Higashiyama district, this is Asia’s best city to see on two wheels. When it’s not raining, that is.
There’s one small problem with Copenhagen’s bike share system: there is no bike share system. It seems like a fairly huge oversight for one of the world’s most famously bike-friendly cities, but for tourists this is just a small hurdle. Hire a bike from one of the many rental shops and you’ll find yourself in charge of the Danish capital’s number one form of transport, a ticket to city exploration that is safe and enjoyable.
The Swedish capital’s “City Bikes” share system is extremely easy for tourists to utilise, giving you (relatively) cheap access to all the pedal-powered transport you could desire. But the lingonberries on top of your cycling fish cake in Stockholm is the beauty of the city itself, the experience of pedalling its dedicated bike lanes surrounded by Scandinavian charm.
It could never be any other city. Amsterdam is the best place to ride a bike, from the huge network of bike lanes to the quaint cobbled streets and arched bridges over canal after canal after canal. It seems like the whole world is out on a bike in Amsterdam – and anyone who isn’t is giving you the utmost respect. This is how city cycling could be. Australian cities should take note.
What do you think is the best city in the world for cycling? What could Australia learn from these cities?