By Peter Walker
My favourite cycling cities are Beijing for the buzz, Paris for its politeness, the serenity of Copenhagen and Waterloo Bridge for the romantic reveries. What are yours?
All urban areas have a different character, and this extends to the often wildly different experiences you get from cycling around them. This can often be very personal. Here, in no particular order, are my five favourite cities I've cycled around, and a few reasons why. How about you? They don't have to be cities – any urban areas will do.
Not a very original choice, admittedly, as Copenhagen is hailed widely – even by its own somewhat immodest tourism website – as the world's most cycling-friendly city. As the tourist officials point out, more than 1m km are ridden there every day, usually by helmet-less types pootling around in everyday clothes, not Lycra-clad warriors. I lived there for a period as a child, and was instantly entranced at being able to ride to school, aged 10, near the centre of a capital city, in the safety of bike lanes, something more or less unknown at the time in the UK.
A much more personal choice, mainly as, in my experience, it's really not a very bike-friendly city overall, particularly the decidedly skittish taxi drivers. It mainly merits a place for one thing: the cycle lane over the Harbour Bridge. Once you've ridden across on a sunny day you're hooked. If you're brave – and no one else is around – you can even ride down the 45-degree slope in the middle of the stairs when you reach the end.
China may be falling out of love with cycling, whatever Katie Melua believes, but the bike remains probably the best way for a newcomer to discover Beijing. Yes, many bikes have been replaced by aggressively-driven cars, but this transformation has not been as complete as in some other Chinese cities. A lot of big roads still have wide bike lanes and you can spend hours trundling round the smaller streets, particularly in the few remaining hutong districts. Plus, it's pancake flat.
Another place not usually seen as a cyclists' paradise, although the Velib system has helped boost the prominence of bikes. Aside from the fact that Paris's compact geographical spread makes cycling very practical, I mainly like the relative lack of Lycra and aggression among fellow riders. Yes, people occasionally jump a red lights or trundle along a pavement, but it's done with some sensitivity to pedestrians.
A choice with some reservations, as I'm guessing is often the case for one's home town. But I still love riding around London, whatever the occasional behaviour of drivers and, of course, some of my fellow cyclists. Travelling around the Big Smoke, cycling is the only mode of transport where I can time my arrival more or less to the minute. And even now, the view from Waterloo Bridge at dusk is enough to make me pull over for a few minutes of silent gazing.
This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.
Photo credit: Flickr/duchamp, Creative Commons License.
Portland, OR and Boulder, CO are the 2 most bike friendly places on earth. More bike lanes, bike parking and friendly drivers than anywhere I have ever been. Do come visit one of these lovely cities and ride your bike. It's wonderful