Seeking the most bicycle-friendly cities on earth
November 8, 2011 12:57 PM   Subscribe

What are some nice cities that are totally bicycle-friendly, and when should we go?

My gf and I were recently in Copenhagen and borrowed some bikes for our week there. It was SO MUCH FUN. Neither of us are hardcore bikers. We just really liked being able to ride pretty much anywhere, including taking our bikes on public transportation.

Are there places elsewhere in the world (particularly the U.S. and Europe, but warmer climates would also be nice) like that? I'm looking for places where:

a) You can ride just about anywhere without the constant fear of being killed. And
b) Your bike is unlikely to be stolen if locked.

This is for vacation ideas, so good weather is a plus.

posted by coolguymichael to Travel & Transportation (46 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I love biking in Chicago in the summer, but my wife does disagree with me on point b).

Still, there's the 18-mile lakefront trail that spans the entire Chicago, uh, lakefront, and you can bring your bike on buses and most trains.
posted by Oktober at 12:59 PM on November 8, 2011

a) You can ride just about anywhere without the constant fear of being killed

The Twin Cities!

Your bike is unlikely to be stolen if locked.

The Twin Cities!

This is for vacation ideas, so good weather is a plus.

oh never mind
posted by Think_Long at 12:59 PM on November 8, 2011 [13 favorites]

Amsterdam? In summer?
posted by Diag at 1:02 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: I rented a bicycle in Amsterdam in March/April once and it was fabulous.
posted by jabes at 1:02 PM on November 8, 2011

Portland, Oregon again and again. Spring/Summer.
posted by goalyeehah at 1:03 PM on November 8, 2011


Cologne is also really nice by bike, and I'm guessing Hamburg would be too. Also nthing Chicago-- it is easily the best way to get around the city by any means, and so flat!
posted by susanvance at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2011

Definitely the Twin Cities and the Greenway. Definitely in the spring, which may only last a couple weeks before it turns into hot, muggy hell.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:12 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: Kyoto is a great place to cycle. Compact, not too many hills, lots of other people on bicycle and even in winter it barely gets to freezing. Probably best to avoid summer unless you enjoy heat and humidity.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:14 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: I bike everywhere in D.C. It's gotten a lot better in the past 5 years. Bike lanes all over the joint, a pretty solid bikeshare program.

a) You can ride just about anywhere without the constant fear of being killed. And

Depends on your level of fear of being killed. I'm not constantly afraid of being killed, but some might.

b) Your bike is unlikely to be stolen if locked.

Depends on "unlikely." Neither of my bikes (a vintage Schwinn and a fairly new and sweet road bike) have been stolen yet. Then again, the way I think about it, even locked, anywhere in the U.S. there's a ticking clock on your bikes anytime they're outside.

But, for vacation, I'll mention that the bikeshare system is really handy. No fear of being stolen when you dock them when they're not in use.
posted by General Malaise at 1:28 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: Davis, California.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: Davis is biketopia. Also Santa Barbara. Some hotels have bikes guests can check out to go around town, which is kind of awesome. And the Saturday morning farmer's market has bike valet parking! Bike theft is a HUGE problem near the university but if you lock, you're fine.
posted by zomg at 1:35 PM on November 8, 2011

Boulder, CO
posted by rhizome at 1:36 PM on November 8, 2011

My boyfriend and I had the exact same revelatory experience earlier this year when we vacationed in Koolkerke, Belgium, which is just outside of Bruges. The beautiful cottage we rented came with bikes included (!!) and we ended up having an insane amount of fun riding them around Koolkerke and in to Bruges. The bike lanes are elevated and are on the same level as the sidewalk so we could ride our bikes everywhere and pretty much never worry about cars. It was so awesome that when we came back to the states, we ended up buying cruisers (that we only use on bike paths, unfortunately).
posted by eunoia at 1:43 PM on November 8, 2011

Montreal is nice and bikable during the summer, & they even have muni bike rentals.
posted by activitystory at 1:44 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Madison, April-October.

Every city in Germany. EVERY city in Germany.

Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:50 PM on November 8, 2011

I can't speak to a bike not being stolen in any cities, but I live and bike in Chicago and we have lots of great trails along the lake (head south and it's much less busy!) and in forest preserves. Our new mayor is building a bunch of new dedicated bike lanes as well.

Biking in Bogata was great. There's tons of bike lanes along the sidewalk, separated from traffic, and on Sundays the downtown area is blocked off to traffic for bikers/runners/rollerbladers.

Washington D.C. has a neat bike sharing program and great-looking bike lanes.

Here's a "2011 Bike Friendly City" list, although some people I know debated the ranking and some that were left off, like Toronto.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:53 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: Maybe look into islands? Nantucket, for instance, is pricey and a pain to get to and stay on, but the bike riding is really wonderful, partly because it's also pricey and a pain to take cars onto the island.

And yes, Twin Cities in the summer!
posted by clavicle at 1:53 PM on November 8, 2011

Montreal was a blast on a bike. They have rental bikes that cost about 5 bucks a day for a subscription. The first thirty minutes are free, just find another station before that times up, put the bike back, wait 2 minutes and grab another. No worries about getting a bike stolen.
I would suggest the plateau area, there are a a ton of amazing bakerys, delis, cafes, etc. Man I want to go back....
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2011

Another vote for Montreal, but it is NOT place to leave your bike unlocked. If you're not a serious cyclist and are just using it for transport, though, I'd just use a Bixi - that's my primary mode of transportation from about mid-April until mid-October.
posted by sea change at 1:56 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: Amsterdam, oh lord Amsterdam, I was just there and it almost made me cry to see how things could be. I've been a cyclist in Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, Portland, and London, and never seen anything like Amsterdam. Like if you've lived your whole life in a refugee camp and you see a supermarket for the first time, or something. It's probably similar to Copenhagen.

Portland and Vancouver are nice for biking and great places to visit in summer. Toronto is tougher on a bike, harder to get around safely.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:57 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and the only other place I've seen that's anything like Amsterdam is a little spot in the desert called Black Rock City. By the way.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2011

Redmond, WA and Santa Barbara, CA both have networks of off-road bike paths that are very pleasant for biking. Not just bike lanes alongside busy roads but actual separate paths through parks and such. Redmond (which bills itself as bicycle capital of the world) also has a velodrome for track bikes.
posted by zanni at 2:00 PM on November 8, 2011

I'd go anywhere with a decent bike share program like the aforementioned Montreal and Minneapolis. Bike share lets you have a day full of one way rentals, so you never have to worry about locking your bike, just check it back in to another station. There are very few cities with bike share programs that aren't great cycling cities.
posted by advicepig at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2011

Amsterdam - during the Tulip festivals (early may)
posted by Flood at 2:11 PM on November 8, 2011

Stockholm and Helsinki are also great for bikes. Stockholm has Copenhagen-style cycle tracks but less traffic. nthing Amsterdam.

My partner and I did a trip last year based just on cycling cities and we visited Amsterdam-Copenhagen-Oslo-Stockholm-Helsinki. All, except possibly Oslo, which is kind of more North American-style cycling infrastructure, were amazing. Coming home was a bit of a shock, to say the least. On our short list were also Berlin and Budapest (which shall be future trips!)

Copenhagenize's Mikael also raves about Barcelona and a few other places, so that blog would be a great place to check for bike-friendly cities.

There are so many and it seems to always been increasing! Yay!
posted by urbanlenny at 2:25 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, also meant to say that we went in June and it was lovely in all places. Light jacket weather, but sunny and warmish. Great cycling weather.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2011

posted by Utilitaritron at 2:35 PM on November 8, 2011

Austin, Texas, especially when all the college kids are gone (Christmas, Spring Break, summer).
posted by resurrexit at 2:42 PM on November 8, 2011

Anywhere in Holland is awesome for bike riding, especially outside the cities where its all canals, beautiful villages and NO hills. You can ride between cities without going anywhere near a road as well. My boyfriend and I spent a month cycling around France a few years back, primarily the coast and the Loire Valley, and that was fantastic. We had camping stuff with us so were able to choose paths based on a whim without having to worry about finding accomodation. Even though we ended up doing about 1000km it doesn't feel like it when after every half hour of riding a new village or chateau appears, forcing you to stop and consume wines and nommy foods.
posted by Wantok at 2:57 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding Austin. But, also, steer clear of basically anywhere else in Texas.
posted by holdkris99 at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2011

Chico, California is typically named one of the more bike friendly cities in the US and is home to a state university, the third largest municipal park per capita in California, and--most importantly--the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. (don't bike under the influence) Spring and fall in Chico are just awesome.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:11 PM on November 8, 2011

Trondheim, Norway. Where you can put your foot in the ground, and you and your bike fly uphill automagically. No, really.
posted by ouke at 4:10 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say Copenhagen, not that I've been there but I have a casual friend who lives there, she doesn't even own a car, she can't believe what it's like here in the states.

As far as what I have seen, here in the US — Boulder is the best I've seen. Still not near what my friend describes as having in Copenhagen, but the best I've personally seen.

Austin is a bike friendly city for Texas … There are many people here who want it, and it's given lip service by the local govt, but when it comes down to it, you're going to be in real danger. Not if you're off the roadways, on many of the amazingly beautiful paths and parkways, the greenbelt, etc and etc — you're safe, off the road. But on the road? Um …

Look at what's just been done on Congress Avenue, that total re-paving project from Riverside to Oltorf — they put lines on the asphalt and the words "Bike Lane" but that's it, there is nothing to separate you from angry drivers or even just inattentive drivers. A line of white paint — hey, I'm real happy now! And, better — when it comes down toward Riverside, and the road narrows a bit, the bike lane just ends — WTF ?!? The paint just narrows over to the curb! Comical. Same thing on Barton Springs over by the park; the lane narrows to nothing. Same thing on South Lamar; the lane narrows to nothing, like, "Um, we gave you bicyclists something there for a minute, but now you're on your own."
posted by dancestoblue at 4:21 PM on November 8, 2011

As mentioned, Madison, Wisconsin, anytime other than winter.

I disagree with the people saying "Austin." Austin is definitely not a place where you can go ahead and bike anywhere and not worry about getting hit by a car! Many people have died as a result of bicycling in Austin.
posted by John Cohen at 5:00 PM on November 8, 2011

Denver, Late spring early summer
posted by notned at 5:08 PM on November 8, 2011

Vancouver during the summer is wonderful and safe to bike in; moderate hills, though.
posted by auto-correct at 6:19 PM on November 8, 2011

Best answer: I can vouch for the Twin Cities' bikeability, though our spring is short and our summer hot and humid. But if you come in summer, you can plan your bike routes to have lots of lake-beach stops for refreshment, and we have some amazing local ice cream shops to help cool you off. It's pretty flat for the most part, and motorists are really pleasantly bike-savvy.

I'd be more inclined to suggest coming in late September/early October though. You might catch the earliest foliage colors, the temperature is much more congenial, and the patio and rooftop bars are all still open. We also have a bike share program here, if you don't want to roll your own. If you do bring your own rides, there are so many local shops to visit in case you need to tune up or make a repair. And there is a ton of stuff to see and do, and the restaurants are amazing and the craft beer is even more amazing, or maybe it's vice versa, it's hard to say.

I can only speak for my Uptown neighborhood but bikes can be safely parked here long term--there are a few bikes on my block that haven't budged for months and they're fully intact. They'd have been stripped within a couple days in other cities I've lived in.
posted by padraigin at 6:47 PM on November 8, 2011

Another vote for Minneapolis (some say "Twin Cities" but I'm not that familiar with St. Paul). I don't know what your interests are, I can't be sure you'll have a good time here, but I sure like biking around Minneapolis in the summer. There is a huge loop of off street bike paths that rings south Mpls, around lakes, along the Mississippi River, and the previously mentioned Midtown Greenway is a bike highway through the middle of town. Map here.

You can ride your bike to a baseball game by taking mostly trails, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a monthly bike night, there are block parties many weekends in the summer. So, you might like it.
posted by chrismc at 6:56 PM on November 8, 2011

Eugene/springfield Oregon has a pretty good bike system and very friendly transit for bike riders. Really most of Oregon is pretty good to bike in, drivers are not really too crazy or aggressive, mostly obey the speed limits and rules (more so than most of the rest of the US) and are used to and not hateful toward bikes or peds. I think most of the pacific coast from San Francisco on up to Vancouver fit this description and you can bike here year around if you have good rain gear and fenders for the wet months.
posted by bartonlong at 7:17 PM on November 8, 2011

According to the Copehagenize Index, Amsterdam is more bike-friendly than Copengagen itself. However, the rate if bike theft is very high. People generally see having a bike stolen as a matter of "when", not "if".

Amsterdam can be really nice just before and after the summer tourist season, especially for biking, because the weather isn't as hot and muggy. April, May, and September can be nice, although you might be rained on a bit. But then again, that's part of the Dutch experience.

Other Dutch cities, like Utrecht, are also nice and less tourist-crowded. Of course, one of the great things about the Netherlands is that the bike infrastructure extends outside the cities, so you can pretty easily explore multiple towns, even on a rented bike.
posted by neushoorn at 4:02 AM on November 9, 2011

Definitely Amsterdam. I seriously doubt Chicago would be good outside of the bike trails. Navigating streets as a pedestrian is usually risky so would be doubly so as a cyclist.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2011

Christchurch, New Zealand - it's summer there when it's winter here, and the city is flat as a pancake so there are no hills to struggle with, and a lot of people cycle-commute (but not like Copenhagen - motorists aren't as cycle-friendly as there). You might want to wait and visit a few years from now though, because the city is still reconstructing after a series of earthquakes, and will be doing so for quite some time.

Once you're down there, you can go a little further south and rent bikes for the Otago Rail Trail - and amazing cycling mini-vacation through crazy scenery on a 150km cycle path made out of an old railway, spotted with villages and B&Bs along the way. Because it was originally a railway instead of a bike trail, instead of following the land, the land yeilds to the trail. Is there a mountain in your way? Instead of climbing up you, you'll just tunnel right through it. Is there a massive gorge up ahead? Instead of winding down there, you'll have your own equally massive bridge or viaduct at your convenience.
People do it in 2-4 days. I recommend 3 days. That means about 5 hours easy slow cycling spread out leisurely throughout each day, and plenty of time to wander around and relax each afternoon/evening.
There is plenty of bike rentals, the bikes are really solid, super-equipped, have paniers etc. And most places you don't need to return them to the start, you rent at one end and drop them off at the other end when you're finished.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:37 AM on November 9, 2011

Denver/Boulder, CO have extremely extensive biketrails, but they'll be cold and/or snowy until 2012. :(
posted by speedgraphic at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone! This is a lot to look into (and some of those cities are already on my list to visit).
posted by coolguymichael at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2011

Cuba! And Hanoi. The traffic is a bit crazy but everyone and their dog (literally, entire families with animals) are on bikes, so the cars are very accustomed to navigating roads with bikers. In terms of bike lanes, nice roads, bike paths, and other infrastructure, Hanoi is not Copenhagen, but it's an awesome experience. Come to think of it, biking in Phnom Penh was...eerie but easy.
posted by barnone at 7:36 PM on November 9, 2011

Key West.

Visiting is seasonally dependent. Don't go during Spring Break (March). Winter is very nice, but expensive for that reason. If you don't mind the heat and humidity, September is the slowest month and the best for deals. Fall (Late October through November) and spring (April) are probably my favorite times.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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