The World's Top Biking Cities
Open the garage, grip the handlebars, stand on the pedals, and go. That’s all it takes for Joseph Duffy, a graphic designer in Minneapolis, to start his morning commute to work. But what lies ahead—a 15-mile route starting on converted railroad beds in the suburbs and ending on the dedicated bike lanes of the city’s downtown core—is a trip made possible only by a decade of planning to make the city fully compatible with two-wheeled transit.
Like many of the world’s best biking cities, Minneapolis has built an infrastructure that promotes bicycling on many fronts. From bike lockers and designated street lanes to recreational trails and snowplows dedicated to clearing off-street paths, a system exists to make transportation on a bike efficient, safe, and hassle-free.
The humble bicycle has been seeing a resurgence with commuters and city dwellers around the world. From Amsterdam to Perth, Australia, people bank on the premise of bicycles as low polluting, cost effective, and a healthy way to move about. They’re also faster than cars in many cities. “If I need to grab lunch across downtown,” says Duffy, “a bike is twice as fast as driving, finding parking, and walking in.”
For travelers, bikes offer an intimate way to see a city. You can coast along a canal in Amsterdam, or pedal uphill for arguably the best view in Montreal on the twisting road in Parc du Mont-Royal. In Paris, grab one of the 20,000 vehicles available at the Vélib’ bike-rental stations around the city, which rent for less than $1.50 an hour. Checkout stations around the metropolis—more than 1,000 in all—put a bike close by at all times.
“The best cities make biking easy and convenient,” says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Clarke grew up in England and has biked in cities around the world. A trip to Amsterdam in the late 1980s was a life-changing event: “I was blown away by the sheer volume of riders on the road.”
Clarke took note of the city’s dedicated lanes for cyclists and the established biking culture, which was unique at that time. And by the numbers alone, European cities still win out as top spots for cyclists. In Amsterdam, up to 40 percent of city commuters ride a bike to work or school some days.
But U.S. cities are working fast to catch up. Portland, OR, has built a massive network with 270 miles of on-street bike lanes and paved paths. Portland is the only large U.S. city to receive the League of American Bicyclists' top rating (Boulder, CO, and Davis, CA, also have "platinum" status), which quantitatively ranks dozens of communities on bike infrastructure, education, and share-the-road programs.
From the U.S. to Australia, across Europe and down in South America, people are choosing pedals instead of a car as the most efficient means to get around. So whether your plans include seeing the world on two wheels or just getting across town, read on for our list of the world’s best biking cities and our tips on where to rent
In Denmark’s capital city, 36 percent of people going to work or school on an average day are on a bicycle, according to government statistics. It’s no surprise—the Danish metropolis is a veritable utopia for bikers, including more than 180 miles of bike paths and lanes, traffic signals specifically for cyclists, and bicycle parking when you roll into downtown.
Find a Bike: Check out one of the city’s bicycles—free with a refunded coin deposit—at any of the more than 100 bike-share stations peppered throughout the city’s core.
As the only large U.S. city to receive the League of American Bicyclists’ top rating, Portland leads the domestic charge to put two-wheel transportation on par with automobile travel. Highlights in the Pacific Northwest enclave include 270 miles of on-street bike lanes and paved paths; hundreds of signs for bikers navigating their way; lock-up corrals for parking in the city; and mandates that give incentives for developers willing to provide showers and locker rooms for bike commuters.
Find a Bike: Waterfront Bicycles in downtown Portland is across the street from a main greenway trail and has hybrid, road, tandem, and children’s bikes for rent.
In the three-mile radius of downtown Munich, you’ll travel “more quickly and flexibly on a bike than by any other means of transport.” That’s according to the city of Munich, where dedicated lanes, bike traffic signals, and hundreds of miles of marked routes create a new type of urban infrastructure. The city provides detailed bike-route diagrams and cycling maps for visitors in search of sights.
Find a Bike: The Call a Bike hotline connects you to a rental ride at any of a number of pick-up points near train stations or in the city center.
More than three million Québécois call the greater Montreal area home, including untold thousands of dedicated bicyclists. There are hundreds of miles of bike routes and paths in and around the city, including a paved recreation path connecting Old Montreal with the town of Lachine.
Find a Bike: In May 2009, the city launched North America’s largest public bike-share program, rolling out 3,000 bikes available for rent at $5 a day.
Western Australia’s capital is laced with hundreds of miles of paths, bike lanes, and bicycle-friendly streets. Indeed, the Perth Bicycle Network is touted as “one of the most extensive and advanced cycling networks in the world,” according to the state’s Department for Planning and Infrastructure, which facilitates routes from the suburbs into the city. Other Perth features include enclosed bicycle parking at train stations; bike lockers downtown; and signage to keep riders from losing their way on the long trails Down Under.
Find a Bike: Just over a mile from the city center, Bike Hire rents road, mountain, and tandem bikes by the hour.
Like its northern European neighbor city of Copenhagen, Amsterdam sees a high percentage of commuters—up to 40 percent by some measures—on bikes. Indeed, in a place of about 750,000 people, some reports cite upward of 600,000 bikes coasting past crowded cafés or along the city’s famous canals. In recent years, lower speed limits for cars, new paths and lanes with bike-specific traffic signals, and underground parking garages built for bikes are among the features making pedaling even more advantageous in Amsterdam.
Find a Bike: Orangebike, a company with locations in downtown Amsterdam, rents cruisers, kids’ bikes, and tourist bikes with racks.
This year, the Bicycle Friendly America Yearbook named Washington the number one state for cyclists. Seattle’s ambitious new bicycle master plan, which weighed heavily toward Washington’s win, is chock-full of initiatives, including painting green bike lanes on city streets; corrals for locking up bikes in the city; and community outreach programs to increase ridership. Volunteer “bicycle ambassadors” will lead neighborhood clinics and participate in special events, such as low-cost helmet sales. The end result will be a 455-mile network that puts 95 percent of Seattle’s residents within a quarter-mile of a bike lane or facility.
Find a Bike: Head to 311 3rd Ave. South for Bikestation Seattle, which rents rides by the hour or day.
Sure, Paris is a world center for fashion, media, art, and business, but it’s also home to the world’s largest bike-share system. Launched in 2007, the Vélib’ system offers 20,000 bikes that rent for less than $1.50 an hour (and if you pedal for less than a half-hour, the ride is free). Vélib’ checkout stations are almost as ubiquitous as the bikes, with more than 1,000 kiosk-driven stations in total around the metropolis. Locals and tourists alike pedal cobblestoned streets and bike paths en route to local cafés or sights from the Eiffel Tower to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Find a Bike: Stumble any direction downtown to walk past a Vélib checkout station.
Minneapolis, the country’s number two bike-commuting city, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, is a case study in policy promoting bicycling as a viable means to get around. From federal government grants to local volunteers building trails, the Minnesotan metropolis has been rearranged in the past five years to facilitate transportation as well as recreation on two wheels. There are miles of off-street paths and a single-track mountain-biking trail in a park near downtown. The city even plows bike paths when it snows. For visitors, a tour on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway system provides a car-free trip from the banks of the Mississippi River to Minneapolis’s famous chain of urban lakes.
Bogotá’s system of bicycle paths and separated lanes—called ciclorrutas—is the most extensive on the continent, stretching for hundreds of collective miles through the city to connect centers of commerce and education with populated residential areas. Also, the city’s bus system has bicycle-parking facilities, letting riders meld public transit and pedal power.
Find a Bike: Bogotá Bike Tours offers rentals and guided bike tours through the city.