Few cities are better suited to cycling than the Catalan capital. Dependable sunshine, cloudless skies, and temperatures hovering in the mid-20s frame most journeys, while a new wave of biker-friendly developments is helping the scene gather momentum. Bicing, Barcelona’s bike-sharing programme, already has some of the highest usage rates in the world, but council leaders are still responding to traffic congestion with a US$36.2 million plan to triple the range of its bike lanes from 116km to 308km. Given time, there will soon also be 30,000 dedicated parking spaces.
To see what all the fuss is about, begin a morning ride when it’s quiet and the alleys of the Gothic Quarter are thick with shadows, before rolling down to the waterfront promenade to explore Barceloneta, the city’s salt-licked fishing district. From here, cycle past Port Vell, once home to fishermen and sailors, and keep pedalling towards the Olympic Port, site of the 1992 Olympic Games.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
If there is an image of Holland’s most visited city, it is this: canals dappled in sunlight and side streets packed with leggy cyclists on vintage bicycles. Amsterdam has long prided itself on its sinewy bike lanes and respect for those on two wheels justifiably makes the Dutch call it the ultimate bike-friendly city. The flatness of the land helps, of course, but so too do traffic-calming measures and lanes spread throughout its spider’s web of alleys. No wonder 400,000 cyclists put plimsoll to pedal every day on 400km of lanes.
With so much choice on the map, saddling-up from A to B is a Dutch way of life. Tour the art district with stops at the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, or go all the way by checking in to the Bicycle Hotel on Van Ostadestraat, which offers bike hires for as little as US$7 per day.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The sweat factor in Israel’s hippest beach town no longer stems solely from beach volleyball. Tel Aviv is becoming a cyclists’ heaven, with dedicated lanes and Tel-o-Fun, a wildly-popular bike-sharing scheme that can take you around Yarkon Park, north from Tel Aviv Port, or along the beachfront to Jaffa. And it’s set to continue: city leaders have invested in nearly 140km worth of bike lanes, while around 30,000 cyclists take part in the annual Sovev Tel Aviv bike-athon every October.
The best option is to slowly meander along the wooden trails near Tel Aviv Port, the meeting point for the city’s hipster bike scene, before heading along Yarkon River path into the green lung of the city, Yarkon Park.
Enthusiasts dub the Shimanami Kaido outside Hiroshima the best ride in Japan – and rightly so. A 70km route that leapfrogs six stepping stone islands across the Seto Inland Sea, the expressway links Honshu and Shikoku and was designed with the cyclist in mind.
Bikes can be rented from terminals on either end of the route, which is consistently flat from A to B, making the bike path an easy one-way day tour for novices. There are 14 rental stops along the highway, so it’s possible to break the ride by staying at a traditional inn or Hotel Cycle in Onomichi, Japan’s first hotel designed exclusively for biking nuts.
Danish studies claim that for every kilometre cycled, urban society enjoys a net profit of US$0.23, whereas for every kilometre driven we suffer a loss of US$0.16. That explains in part why this eco-friendly city has become so bike obsessed.
Key to this is the continued investment in cross-town routes and motorway-style bike lanes and bridges, including the famous Cykelslangen (bike snake; above), an elevated ramp which curves across the harbour like a roller coaster. Any regular cyclist spends a fair amount of time on its 350km of routes and with bike hire from only US$10 per day it’s almost criminal not to join the pack. Pedal from Islands Brygge to the historic centre through beautiful lakes and traffic-free parks along the longest car-free bike path in the city.
Forget taking a taxi to the Orchard Road malls synonymous with the city: from next summer, a new, safer way of cycling will come to Singapore. The wheels are in motion for a new automated underground parking system in Kampung Admiralty that can store around 500 bicycles, keeping them secure. If successful, the scheme will be extended to other locations around the nation state, while plans are in place to widen the city’s cycle lanes by 2020.
For an overview of the city’s skyscraper-pierced horizon, start an afternoon ride at Marina Bay Sands, before heading over the Helix Bridge past the Singapore Flyer and following the Kallang River. In time for sunset, cross back onto Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay before stopping at the Merlion, the city’s half lion, half fish mascot.
– TEXT BY MIKE MACEACHERAN
PHOTOS: Onomichi U2, DISSING + WEITLING architecture, Tel-o-fun
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.