Best Cities to See from a Bicycle Seat
There are many different ways for travelers to explore a city, but for my money, viewing the sights from atop a bicycle seat trumps them all. It’s more leisurely than taking a cab or bus and allows you the flexibility to speed up, slow down, and gain access to places that are otherwise difficult to reach, like a café or shop tucked away down a narrow alley. At the same time, biking makes it easy to follow your own interests. As it’s significantly faster than walking, riding a bike allows you the luxury to first explore and then rule out attractions and neighborhoods that just don’t do it for you so you can proceed to those that do float your boat.
I’ve biked in many different cities throughout the world, and here are my conditions for a city that is truly bike-friendly:
• Clearly marked trails, paths, and/or bike lanes that are not just afterthoughts but part of a well-designed and planned network for cyclists. Better yet, tourism and bike-shop reps who go out of their way to help visitors explore their city by bike.
• Lots of sights and attractions that are easily accessible to cyclists and don’t require crossing miles of industrial or residential zones to get there.
• Low pollution, a minimum of hills, and beautiful surroundings.
Here is our list of the best cities in the world for cyclists, whether serious or casual. It was difficult to narrow down, but we managed a rather eclectic group, truly international while also providing a few surprises.
A popular city scene in Amsterdam, Netherlands (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
Like many bicycling travelers, New York-based travel writer Zora O’Neill puts Amsterdam near the top of the list; one study shows that 40% of commutes in the city are by bike. Indeed, throughout all of the Netherlands there are more bicycles (around 20 million) than people (just under 17 million). Understandably, pedestrians can have a hard time of it in this city. “It can be intimidating at first for people who aren’t used to biking in so much traffic on such narrow streets,” says O’Neill, the author of several Amsterdam guidebooks. She likes to steer visitors away from the congestion of the city center to some not-so-touristy places. Her picks: the Eastern Docklands, where the modern architecture radically differs from the city’s typically traditional look. If you want more of a challenge, she suggests the Bijlmer, a rehabbed housing project that’s getting a lot of interesting new buildings. Rent a bike at Bike City, near the Anne Frank House, or MacBike, with four locations in the central city. They also provide guided tours, maps, and loads of free advice
When Bicycling Magazine announced its list of the world’s most bike-friendly cities for 2010, many cycling aficionados scratched their heads at the Colombian capitol’s inclusion. But it’s not a mystery, given the popularity of Ciclovia, a citywide bicycle extravaganza in which all 75 miles of the city’s streets are closed to cars and trucks every Sunday and holiday, and two million—you read that right—cyclists take over. Musical performances, food, exercise classes, and just plain socializing turn the entire city into a big bicycle party each and every week. In fact, it’s been so successful that government officials in Miami are working to duplicate Ciclovia on these shores. If you also want to explore on your own, the ciclo-rutas offer more than 75 miles of networked bike paths all over the city. Get started with a rental from Bogota Bike Tours.
Compared with other cities where bicycles have long been a part of the landscape, Cape Town, South Africa, has gotten off to a great start in making the city bike-friendly to visitors. It recently launched the MyCiti bike project with a network of clearly marked bike lanes to make it easy for cyclists to explore the entire city. One recommended route is along Chapman’s Peak Drive, which provides stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Another equally captivating ride runs from Westlake up to the Silvermine Nature Reserve. Ride Your City is a great resource for cyclists, with maps, locations of bike shops, and available tours. Rent a bike for an hour, a day, or longer at AWOL Tours and Bike & Saddle
Indianapolis… really? This bustling heartland metropolis is going out of its way to cater to cyclists, both local and visiting. First, the city has almost 64 miles of on-street bike lanes, while an urban bikeway plan will add more than 200 miles of bike lanes across the city over the next 12 years. Starting in summer 2012, the Cultural Trail, a brand-new eight-mile urban bikeway, will link all six of the city’s cultural districts, allowing cyclists to effortlessly make their way from one neighborhood and attraction to the next. Not only is the ride smooth, but the sights along the way provide additional whimsy in the form of huge public art installments. On “Swarm Street,” cyclists are treated to LED-powered “fireflies” to mark the way, while the trail that goes through White River State Park, a 250-acre urban green space, provides stunning skyline views. At the Bike Hub, you can park and rent bikes and maybe even participate in an impromptu ride with locals at ActiveIndy Tours, which provides daily biking tours of the city. Lastly, the Monon Trail is a 10-mile-long rail-trail greenway that links with a number of other trails in the region.
It’s hard to beat Montreal, as it regularly tops the lists of the best North American bicycling cities. First, BIXI is a citywide bike-sharing system that runs 24/7 from April through November. Need a bike? Purchase an access card at one of 411 stations throughout the city, select a bike—there are more than 5,100 in the system—and return it to any station after exploring some of the 300 miles of bikeways and paths in the city. If you’d prefer a guided tour, Montreal on Wheels offers more than 150 bikes to choose from and almost as many tours.
Bicyclist in Portland, Oregon (FogStock/Thinkstock)
Portland often tops the best-American-biking-city lists, and in 2012 the Rose City won top honors at Bicycling Magazine. Others agree, including Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, who says that Portland is “arguably the best big city in America for cycling.” Undoubtedly, this applies both for locals and visitors. For one, Portland has more than 318 miles of bikeways within city limits, ranging from bike lanes on local roads to bike boulevards and rail trails. The city also has the most bicycle commuters in the United States, a number that continues to grow each year; depending on the neighborhood, 4 to 7 percent more cyclists were reported biking to work, running errands, and just plain riding for recreational purposes in 2011 over the year before. Portland will also launch a bike-sharing program in spring 2013. With all of this bicycle love, you’ll find it effortless to explore downtown or wander off to check out the vibrant neighborhoods of the city. A favorite ride is the Waterfront Loop, an 11-mile ride that crisscrosses the Willamette River and provides a great introduction to the vibe and bustle of the city. Another option is the 19-mile North Portland Trail, where you’ll skirt lakes, parks, and both the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Portland Bicycle Tours offers both rentals and guided tours, while Waterfront Bicycles boasts of having the city’s largest rental fleet. Its Council Crest tour can be a bit hilly in parts, but the final destination is the point of highest elevation in the city, providing those who tough it out with a stunning 360-degree scenic panorama of several volcanoes in the Cascades.
San Diego, California
Even though full-time San Diego resident Jamie Ortiz originally hails from Portland, Oregon—and has traveled both the Pacific Coast and across Turkey by bicycle—she thinks San Diego doesn’t get the recognition it rightfully deserves for bicycle-friendly travel. The options are endless, but she first recommends a ride along the Pacific Coast along Highway 101 followed by an excursion on the Bayshore Bikeway around San Diego Bay, which can include a ferry ride back across the bay. Ortiz says one of the best things about biking in San Diego is date night with her husband. “We bike from Ocean Beach to downtown San Diego for dinner, drinks, and dancing, and then we ride along San Diego Bay’s bike path on our way home under the stars and clear skies.” Okay, her favorite part? “I always bike in my flip-flops,” she says. “Who can beat that?” To rent a bike of your own, try Cheap Rentals in Mission Beach or San Diego Bike & Kayak Tours
30 Jul 2012 | Last Updated: 31 Jul 2012