Cycling in an urban environment doesn’t have to mean dodging cars, doing battle with pedestrians and surreptitiously ducking the wrong way down a one-way street only to be met by the boys in blue at the other end. Here we highlight five cities around the world which really have their bike groove turned on high.
The wild card: Rome, Italy
I know. It doesn’t make sense. They drive like maniacs, it’s awfully crowded in the holidays and road signs are non-existent. But actually Rome is a little cycling city of joy and here’s why. Firstly, most of the areas around the big architectural sites are pedestrianised meaning bike access between them and to them is infinitely better than using a car. And the journey is stunning – Rome is quite literally a feast for your eyes.
Secondly, while the city has begrudgingly painted in some bike lanes you can effectively ignore these and instead make use of the river path to get across the city which is peaceful and calm.
Thirdly, you can get out of the city pretty easily to link up with the ancient Appian Way which in its hey-day stretched the 330 miles from Rome to the port of Brindisi. You’ll need a bike with a touch of suspension unless you want to practice your Roubaix skills but the scenery is beyond beautiful so well worth the trip. Don’t feel compelled to ride all of it obviously but once you start you may find it difficult to stop.
The obvious choice: Copenhagen, Denmark
Ever since Copenhagen Cycle Chic burst onto our radar and made us feel inadequate every time we wore those five-year-old tights to commute in, the city of the same name has been a must-visit bike destination.
A third of Copenhagers cycle to work (no doubt looking very stylish as they do) and the city has 350km of cycle paths – most of which are separated from the traffic making them incredibly safe. At some junctions, there are even lights that flash when a cyclist is approaching to warn cars.
Paris, London, Brisbane – loads of cities these days have a public bike scheme. Copenhagen does too, except its scheme is FREE. Okay, the bikes aren’t amazing but they’ll get you from A to B. Apart from the snow in winter this is probably up there as one of the best cities in the world to ride a bike. FACT.
The one Down Under: Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne has the perfect climate for cycling: it’s similar to the UK, but warmer. Occasionally it’s blistering hot but not often enough like Brisbane, a two-hour flight up the coast into Queensland, to make any form of outdoor activity impossible.
On top of that, there are enough trendy people and their counterpart cafes, restaurants and bars in a square mile to make riding a fixed gear seem totally appropriate.
Hills are not really an issue in the city itself and then you’ve got the coastal area of St Kilda for a beachside pootle. There is a network of bike lanes and more cycle cafes than you can shake a stick at – make sure to check out Tokyo Bike in Collingwood.
True the public transport system is actually pretty good – trams circle the city regularly and for not a lot of expenditure – but there is a certain joy in urban riding and Melbourne is a good place to weave in and out of its famous lanes and along its South Bank.
The trams rule the road: keep out of their way. That’s a good thing though because unlike the rest of Australia, car drivers here don’t act like entitled demigods.
The one issue with riding a bike in Australia is that a helmet is mandatory. But they make them look cool these days so it’s a small price to pay if you’re one of team anti-compulsory.
The hilly one: San Francisco, USA
There are some hills in San Francisco which are so steep you get halfway up walking and realise you’re crawling. Then someone shoots past you on their bike in the correct gear and you feel like sticking something in their spokes. But what’s awesome about it is working out the routes that are flatter for those days you want to chill and then beasting yourself when you want to train harder.
For example, if you want to go from Nob Hill to the Mission and chill, do not whatever you do go down Castro for you’ll burst a lung. San Francisco is one hell of a healthy city. You can put your bike on the front of buses and there are lots of places to lock them up.
True there is some antagonism between riders and drivers and bikes share bus lanes much like in the UK rather than having their own. But overall this is a really forward thinking city and it’s got a good bike scene (this is where the first MASH urban fixie movie was filmed) which is well worth exploring. And it’s not just road – over the bridge in Marin County you’ve got cracking mountain biking too.
Coffee stop heaven: Goteborg, Sweden
The Swedes have a phrase; Ska vi Fika? Which sort of means ‘shall we have a coffee break?’ It’s both a description and an intention and to be honest has no literal translation into English. But Goteborg does coffee well. Very well. And cake.
In autumn the city is a beautiful mish-mash of colour and the nip in the air sends you scuttling indoors. But only after your ride of course. Big wide avenues interlace with hills, cobbled streets and sea view vistas making a trip on two wheels a charming experience.
Being Sweden drivers are very polite and 600km of bike lanes coupled with a comprehensive bike network make cycling a cinch. Brutal wind in winter, but in spring and summer you can spend days investigating the network of lakes outside the city or just cycle from café to café and cinnamon bun to cinnamon bun.
Got a favourite cycle city? Share the love – we’d love to hear about your travels.
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