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Photo above: earcos, Feature photo: moriza

Grab a helmet and check out these 15 cities where drivers use all five fingers when they wave at you.
Europe

Amsterdam

The “bicycling capital of Europe” tops many lists—including this one, it seems—as the most bike friendly city anywhere. Safe and extensive route networks, serious governmental promotion, and a bike culture that transcends class boundaries are all reasons why 40% of the city’s traffic moves on two wheels.

Barcelona

Barcelona’s Bicing program, one of many mass bike rental systems that have popped up recently in Europe and beyond, debuted in 2007 in the Catalonian capital. An annual Bike Week is held in late May to spread the word.

Berlin

Photo: tandemracer

Commuting Berliners are never lonely—400,000 of them pedal to work each day. City leaders still aren’t satisfied with this figure, and millions of euros have been allocated to encourage more cyclists to get on the streets. One result is a mapping website that helps you plot bike-specific routes.

Copenhagen

In the Danish capital, around a third of the workforce gets to the office by bike. By some estimates, that’s more than a million kilometers pedaled every day.

For an alternative and truly bike-friendly urban experience, check out Christiania, a neighborhood of 850 that, in addition to setting up a semi-independent government and decriminalizing trade in cannabis, has banned cars.

Paris

Paris gets a nod here for its creation of Vélib’, one of the world’s largest public bicycle rental programs. Twenty thousand stylish three-speeds are distributed among 1,450 rental stations throughout the city, available to subscribers at variable rates (rides under 30 minutes are free).

North America

Boulder

Denver’s little hippy neighbor to the north dedicates 15% of its transportation budget to improving and promoting bicycle travel. Nearly every major roadway has a designated cycling area, and they’ve even instituted a pilot program to get kids biking to school. This guy has created a very cool color-coded route map, complete with local attractions.

Chicago

Photo: mugley

Late during his 22-year tenure, Mayor Richard Daley became set on turning Chicago into “the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States.” It doesn’t appear to be all talk, either, as more bike lanes pop up all the time, and more laws that protect cyclists’ safety are passed.

The City of Chicago website has all you could ever want to know about the city’s bicycle initiatives.

Davis

It’s said there are more bikes than cars in this small, northern California city of 65,000. Not only that, but its official motto is “Most bicycle friendly town in the world.” The entire month of May is dedicated to Cyclebration…and the list goes on.

Ottawa

Canada’s capital claims the highest percentage of bike commuters in the country, if not the continent. Its 170km of paths make it easy to get from point A to B, though two-wheeled traffic is sure to drop between December and March. Visit the City of Ottawa website for more.

Photo: MaximeF

Portland

You were worried there for a second, weren’t you? No, I haven’t forgotten what most people consider the bike capital of the U.S. The only thing as impressive as Portland’s bicycle infrastructure (including a 260-mile network) and commuter stats (almost 10%, the highest in the country) is the camaraderie of its cyclist community.

San Francisco

The founding city of Critical Mass can’t be overlooked. Over the past decade, bicycle collisions have declined while the number of bike commuters has nearly doubled.

Add city initiatives like removing car parking to make room for bike parking, distributing “Watch for Bikes” stickers (to be placed on driver’s side rearview mirrors), and its fledgling bike share program, and you get one of the world’s bike-friendliest cities.

Elsewhere

Photo: Dan Zen

Beijing

Debatable? Sure. But I wouldn’t call the city with probably the most bicycles of any in the world to be bike unfriendly.

The sheer number of cyclists necessitates some pretty sophisticated infrastructure for the travel, storage, and repair of two-wheeled vehicles.

Cape Town

African cities aren’t the first I think of for bike friendliness, but Cape Town is doing its best to change that.

The South African hub is dedicated to creating cycling lanes, dedicated bike parking, and public commuter showers.

Bogotá

Bogotá’s transportation initiatives have been a model for change throughout Latin America, and its treatment of bicycles is no exception. Miles of safe, segregated bike paths and Sunday Ciclovía events (where main thoroughfares are closed to cars) make Colombian cyclists very happy.

Perth

With more than 700km of bike routes and plenty to see along them, Australia’s fourth largest city takes it for Down Under. Find maps, recommended rides, and other cycling resources on the Perth Bike Maps webpage.

Community Connection

In the interest of geographical diversity, this list includes picks from across the globe. Did we get some wrong? Leave any out? Let us know in the comments!

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • http://collazoprojects.com Julie

    Glad New York didn’t make this list– it doesn’t deserve the nod… yet. The city is increasing the number of bike lanes–they’re popping up all over the city, but it still has a long way to go to become bike friendly.

    Mexico City is bike friendly on Sundays– it closes the main avenue, Avenida Reforma, which becomes a cyclers’ and roller bladers’ dream!

  • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

    Cool post, Hal! Some unexpected spots on here — I learned something.

    Also: Hurray for Ottawa! (And there actually are a few hardy/insane souls who commute on bikes all through the winter… Ouch. That’s dedication.)

  • http://thetravelersnotebook.com David Miller

    Great roundup. I can vouch for Boulder. World-class as far as local spins and extended rides through the city into Foothills and other front range towns such as Lyons. The main route into the mountains however–Boulder Canyon–is totatlly heinous as far as traffic / shoulders / shitty drivers. Take lefthand canyon up through Ward.

  • http://wheretherebedragons.com Tim Patterson

    Solid post — I was glad to see Boulder make the list. I would add a Japanese city or two, where there are lots of urban bikers. Maybe Kyoto? Sapporo is good for bikes in the summer but too damn cold in the wintertime.

  • http://FacingTheStreet.blogspot.com Laura Byrne Paquet

    I’m delighted to see my burg (Ottawa) on the list! I’d also add another Canadian city, Montreal. While traffic can be crazy, the city has installed lots of new dedicated bike lanes–560km so far, with a goal of 800km by 2014. The routes aren’t perfect yet by any means, but the city is working on it. (See http://bitly.com/q34Ap)

    There are also some great off-road recreational paths, such as the route along the Lachine Canal.

    And Montreal is set to launch a public bike-sharing program in May 2009. I _think_ it will be Canada’s first: http://www.bixi.com/home

  • joshywashington

    Unfortunately Seattle is not every bike friendly, but that doesn’t stop us from ripping it up from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill!

  • http://Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Travel-Writers-Exchange.com

    What a great list! They do their best in Phoenix, AZ, but the driving is nuts out here! I feel bad for the bicyclists — they usually have a big SUV next to them in the bike lane. I’ve witnessed some close calls…I must admit that I haven’t rode my bike while being out here….I could ride it around the neighborhood to go to the post office, but then again I do a lot of walking.

    Just an FYI: if you’re in another country, make sure you know whether or not you’ll need a license to ride a bike. You need one to ride a bike in Israel, at least this is what I’ve heard.

  • http://www.livewelljacksonhole.com Kathryn

    Not a very big city, but hugely bike-friendly…Jackson Hole, WY
    Everyone rides and we have beautiful bike paths thanks to “friends of pathways”

  • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal

    @ Julie, @ Travel-Writers, @ josh: New York, Seattle, and Phoenix all came up on different people’s lists when I was researching this piece. It seems every sizable city has a dedicated cyclist community; over time, perhaps they’ll all become bike heavens. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    @ Tim: I read lots of good things about bikes in Japan, but couldn’t find any one specific city cited! Maybe it could top the list of “world’s most bike friendly countries”?

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    Superb list (if I may say superb) – although I’d chuck in Melbourne. It’s a mostly flat city with plenty of bike lanes and dedicated pathways. It really lifts my hopes when, on my ride to work, I see so many cyclists…and at red lights when we all pile together at the front of the line of cars.

    Calculate the benefits for making the switch to bike: http://www.ride2work.com.au/30228

  • George D

    “Grab a helmet”. Oh dear.

    The world’s safest countries to ride bikes in have almost 0% helmet wearing. Places like Denmark and the Netherlands.

    Making everybody wear helmets through fear campaigns is a great way to destroy a bicycle culture, and make cycling seem like a weird and dangerous thing to do. Helmet laws decrease cycling everywhere they’re introduced. Cycle helmets provide very minimal protection, despite impressions otherwise.

    Far better to get more people on bikes, which is proven to make things safer as drivers realise how to drive around cyclists. And set up cities with infrastructure that meets cyclists needs.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/vagabonderz Carlo Alcos

    I don’t agree with that. First, I’d have to see proof of your claim, that helmet laws are directly responsible for people putting their bikes away. I also want to see proof that helmets provide minimal protection. I think if people wear them incorrectly that might be true, but let me hit you with a golf club with and without a bike helmet and let’s see how much it helps.

    I think the reason the Netherlands and Denmark (and many other European countries) are safe despite no helmet laws is because bike culture was cultivated from day one. This is not so in NA and countries like Australia…where car culture has been impressed on everyone first and foremost (suburb development has certainly escalated this). No one knows how to behave around cyclists which makes it dangerous.

    Simply putting more people on bikes isn’t going to educate drivers how to drive when cyclists are around.

  • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal

    @George D: Sorry George, I was just speaking of what I´d do if I were hopping on a bike. Feel free to leave your helmet at home!

    @Carlo: Great points about bike culture vs. car culture. That´s a couple articles in itself!

  • http://www.evaholland.com Eva

    “Making everybody wear helmets through fear campaigns is a great way to destroy a bicycle culture, and make cycling seem like a weird and dangerous thing to do.”

    Just like how seat belts and airbags destroyed car culture…?

    I too would love to see some stats for that comment. Ottawa has both a helmet law (and — best of all! — a “no biking on the sidewalk” law) and a thriving bike culture. Wearing a helmet is not a hardship, nor does it make biking seem weird or scary. The only reason I know of for people to refuse to wear them is, they don’t want to look silly. Which is a pretty dumb reason to alter our safety laws, don’t you think?

    • Paul van Bellen

       ”The only reason I know of for people to refuse to wear them is, they don’t want to look silly.”
       And that’s the exact reason helmet laws are a bad idea…. people don’t want to look silly!

  • http://www.travelbavaria.com Travel Bavaria

    Would seriously look into München as a leading “Biker-Friendly ” city.

    As a side note – the German government is initiating a project to make bike rentals more readily available throughout the country.

  • LA Bike Girl

    Unfortunately Bogota’s excellent bike infrastructure is hard to use if you’re a visitor. Bike rentals are expensive and hard to find. We did enjoy the ciclovia on foot, though! Bicycle use in the city actually hasn’t increased much either, despite the extensive network of ciclorrutas; it’s an interesting case that points to a need for a bicycling community before major infrastructure goes up. If you build it, will they come? Not in all cases.

  • http://www.backpackeruni.com Grant Currie

    Great Article Hal.
    Have you heard about New Zealand’s answer to beating the recession?

    Apparently the my lovely government is going to build a cycle pathway the length of our country and in the process creating hundreds of jobs and saving quite a few companies from going to the wall.

    So for it to work properly we will need all of the cyclists to come to New Zealand to ride on it otherwise it may end up being a complete waste of money!

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Wow, how long will that path be?! The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island has something similar, built along an old railway bed. But it’s only a few hundred km long. This one’s gotta be huge! I’d love to come to NZ to ride.

  • http://troyshouse.blogspot.com/ Troy

    Have to agree with George D on that one. The Guardian just published a piece on a fact finding mission by the U.K gov over to Denmark and Holland.

    One of the mission’s most significant findings was regarding helmets. Like it or not, if cycling is seen to only exist in the realm of Lance Armstrongs, average Joe and Jane aren’t going to take it up.

    Personally, I choose to wear a helmet, but I like it to be my choice, especially here in the mad streets of Spain.

  • Marcella Lesher

    I just did the Fat-Tire Bike Tour in Berlin. I’m completely sold on doing this kind of thing again and we rode through the rain part of the time! It was kind of like kids playing in a mud puddle. What a great way to see a city.

  • http://www.bogotabiketours.com Mike Ceaser

    Hola,

    As a cyclist who’s lived in Bogotá for several years, I agree that the bike path network, the Ciclovía and the car-free day are all great contributions to cycling here. But Bogotá’s government needs to do lots more, such as building more bike paths, reducing pollution, building more bike parking and calming traffic before Bogotá can become a real ‘cycling city.’

    Best,

    Mike Ceaser
    Bogotá Bike Tours

  • Tristan

    I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes considering the subject matter of the article, but the city of Davis actually does have school buses, they’re just not run by the school district. I can say however, as a student who lived there for more than four years, that Davis is the most bike friendly city in California.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Thanks for the clarification, Tristan. I’ve removed that little “factoid.”

  • http://www.bogotabiketours.com Mike

    Having lived in both Davis, California and (now) Bogotá, Colombia, I can say that bike-friendliness is totally relative. As a fairly small, low-poverty, highly-educated and flat community, Davis can’t help being bike-friendly.

    For big, developing-world city with all of the related chaos, pollution and etc, it’s hard. Bogotá has tried, and some of its bikeways are well-designed and many of them are useful. And the Ciclovia is great.

    And we do rent bikes, affordably.

    Bogota Bike Tours

  • john

    Nice list. I live in Atlanta which has a disastrous transit system and should probably be on a list of the worst biking cities. Our drivers here are so bad they often put rumble strips on the shoulder to keep the drivers on the road….you can imagine what that feels like when you hit it going 20 mph on a road bike. I routinely have drivers intentionally swerve towards me on my bike as they accelerate to get to a red light faster…..brilliant!!!

  • http://www.bicyclingmonterey.com Mari Lynch

    Residents of the city of Monterey, and all of Monterey County, are working together to help our area earn the honor of being one of the most bicycling friendly places in the U.S. Besides our 29-mile coastal bike trail, we now have businesses and organizations–throughout Monterey County–that give discounts at hotels, educational attractions, entertainment venues, and restaurants to cyclists on Thursdays. To learn about this project, HER Helmet Thursdays, please visit BicyclingMonterey.com

  • AURITA05

    what nice is enjoy of my bike…I like looking the countryside but on my bike. This is a important experience…on especial “weekends”. I invite you have an experience so….

  • SE

    SF is on a lot of bike-friendly lists but it’s such a dangerous place to bike. It doesn’t stop people from biking but there are accidents and deaths all the time. So many that they routinely don’t make the news. As far as I know there are no dedicated biking paths here so you are always riding with traffic. I wish the US had more dedicated biking paths.

  • Minnesota-resdent

    I’m not very surprised that the Twincities (Minneapolis/St.Paul) weren’t mentioned here, but I think Minneapolis was recently declared the best biking city in the US by some magazine or other. Apparently the percentage of bike commuters is second only to Portland, and when you consider that Minnesota (including the twincities) has some of the harshest and most inhospitable winter in the country, that’s pretty impressive. Also Minneapolis (and to a lesser extent Saint Paul) has a pretty strong cycling infrastructure. Lots of bike lanes, and a few dedicated bike trails. There’s also a pretty generally strong bike culture and general outdoorsy culture.

  • Gustav

    I just thought I should inlight you on the small fact that the image just underneath Ottawa is from Umeå, Sweden. People could believe that the picture was taken in Ottawa ;)

  • Erik

    Just wondering where you got the figure to support the claim that Ottawa has the highest percentage of bike commuters in North America. There are a lot (for North America), but the figures I’ve seen place us well below Portland and Minneapolis.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Good question. Not sure why I didn’t link to the source back when I wrote this in ’09. If you can share a reliable resource that contradicts the claim, I’ll be happy to update it in the piece.

  • Steve B

    Boulder needs to be dropped from the list. I live in Boulder and they just finished denying access to mountain bikes on the main part of our Open Space. Boulder is not friendly to bikes.

  • greg

    I have to laugh at the Portland, Oregon plug which claims almost 10% bike usage. Having been a resident of Portland for 60 year, I would think 1 % would be a stretch. Somebody’s living in a dream world.

  • Jranaboy

    You forgot to mention Munster, Germany… I think it should be up there. It is more bicycle friendly than some of the cities mentioned.

  • Joyson

    indian people are not using cycle nowaday only low poor people only using cycle foringer you  want to give support for indian to use the best cycle in the world that to use to give interest 

  • Shuichikobayashimana

    I well understood Davis is really bicycle friendly city. I also agree with Beijing because I saw many bicycles there recently. 
    I wonder why no Japanese cities are listed here. Please tell me.

  • joemichaels

    Appropriate quote: “When I’m a pedestrian, I hate drivers. When I’m driving, I hate pedestrians. No matter when, I hate cyclists.”

  • theView

    Berlin is  definitly not a bike friendly city. What about Groningen, Utrecht and Münster 

  • Mr. Brian Design

    What about Tokyo? This list needs a re-do.

  • Velomobile Media

    Copenhagen and Amsterdam/Haarlem are amongst the top international bike cities, and of course Lillestrøm in Norway.

  • John Patrick McHugh

    Tokyo may not have many bicycle lanes but there are 30 million registered bicycle lanes in the metropolitan area. Bicycle riding is also popular in many other Japanese cities.

    There is a bike revolution in South Korea now…but only as a hobby, not as a means of transport. In the next 5-10 years, you will be able to ride your bike on bike paths and trails between most major South Korean cities.

    Washington, D.C. and surrounding municipalities are also undergoing a bike revolution. The Capital Bike Share program is a hit, bike lanes are increasing, there are loads of trails that traverse the region (and are quite crowded on weekends) and many visitors to DC are renting bikes and riding around the city to the see the sites.

  • jolly

    Ouagadougou has more bicycles per capita than any city in the world and it is not counted because it is a poor dusty African COUNTRY.IT SMELLS RACISM.

  • dan elliott – philadelphia

    This article missed Philadelphia which is, I believe, one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the *world*. There are a lot more bicycles in Philadelphia than in Barcelona (where I am living right now) There are bicycle lanes on many streets in Philadelphia and the sheer number of bicycles there make the drivers much more aware of them. A bicycle share program should not be the indicator for bicycle friendliness. I have ridden in NYC and I would much rather be riding in Philadelphia, bike share or not.

  • http://drjagadeeshncda.blogspot.com/ Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Very Interesting to find Bike Usage in Cities abroad though India,China and Indonesia lead in its usage.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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