If you usually spend the greater part of your vacation time scurrying from place to place by plane, train or automobile to see as much as you possibly can, perhaps it’s time for a change of pace…literally. Slow travel, like the slow food movement, is changing the way we see and appreciate the world. Instead of trying to pack in as many tourist sites, museums and shopping areas as possible, astute travelers are now spending less time in fewer places so that they can really take in the sights and sounds of the countries they visit. Hiking is a great way to slow down the pace dramatically and appreciate your surroundings, but cycling is a good compromise: faster than hiking, slower than motorized transport, and lots of fresh air and exercise thrown into the bargain. Bike tours are more popular than ever and can be done in a group or individually, safely and cheaply in almost every country in the world. Here are some great bike-friendly countries to explore on your next globetrotting adventure:
1. The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Haarlem, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Delft: both the cities and the countryside of The Netherlands are havens for cyclists. The land is flat and even, the weather generally mild and traffic laws are heavily in favor of cyclists, with special bike lanes and even traffic lights just for bicycles. However, this doesn’t mean that cyclists can disregard the law. Heavy fines are doled out to those who don’t respect traffic safety rules: although helmets are optional, lights, bells and observation of traffic laws are mandatory.
2. USA: Yes, there is more to the land of interstate highways and gas-guzzling SUVs. The sheer variety of bike-friendly places in the U.S. is surprisingly mind-boggling and range from large cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver and Washington D.C. to mid-size cities such as Ann Arbor, Austin, Portland, OR, Key West and Scottsdale to smaller communities like Davis, CA, Gilbert, AZ and Shawnee, KS. Amenities and advantages such as flat, safe, well-maintained roads or gently rolling terrain, highly varied geography (from the frozen tundra of Alaska to Hawaii’s tropical beaches), special bike lanes and laws, numerous public bike racks, well-stocked bicycle supply and repair shops and a widespread cycling culture and community are common throughout the U.S.
3. New Zealand: one of the most beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand is also one of the most bike-friendly. Low crime rates, clean air, well-maintained roads and highways, excellent mountain biking trails, a friendly and helpful population and incredible views help to create a dedicated global cyclist fan base. Some of the most popular mountain bike trails in the world are located in New Zealand, including Makara Peak, Wellington, which hosts over 100,000 mountain bikers a year.
4. Norway: Of Virgin Vacations “11 Most Bike Friendly Cities in the World”, Norway scored two spots with the cities of Sandnes and Trondheim. Cyclists love Norway for its beauty, designated bike lanes, widespread and available bike parking, public rental bikes and, in Trondheim, the world’s first “Bicycle Lift”, known as the “Trampe”, a type of ski lift for bikes which transports cyclists up steep hills without having to get off their bikes.
5. China: The Chinese have relied heavily on their bicycles for years; it makes much more sense to hop a person-powered two-wheeler to cross town than to try to navigate the traffic-congested streets of cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. China has more bicycles in regular operation than any other country in the world and maintains a good infrastructure for a developing nation. Bike touring is also an excellent way to explore the Chinese countryside; much more interactive than staring at villagers and mountains through the windows of an air-conditioned tour bus. To travel by bicycle is to truly immerse oneself in the Chinese way of life.
6. Spain: Cities like Barcelona have led the way in innovations for the cycling community with services such as “Bicing”, which allow cyclists to borrow bicycles from one of over 100 stations in the city and return them at another. The city council also provides bike maps, biker education and events to promote bike riding and has built an extensive network of bike paths around the city, including a “green ring” that surrounds the city center. Madrid offers numerous bike tours of the city, including one of the city lights at night and day trips such as the nearby monastery at Escorial and the medieval castle town of Manzanares. In Valencia, rental bikes are widely available and well-maintained bike trails run from the city center, through the many parks and along the gorgeous Mediterranean beaches. For more adventurous bikers, Jardines del Turia (Turia Gardens) has a dirt-biking track and Velódromo Luis Puig has an indoor bike track frequented by competitive cyclists.
7. Denmark: We’ve saved the best for last. Denmark, with thousands of kilometers of clearly marked cycling routes is undoubtedly one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. These national bicycle routes connect the remotest parts of the country with large urban cycling hubs like Copenhagen. There are 11 main National Cycle Routes and many consist of long stretches of dedicated bicycle paths where no motorized vehicles are permitted. One such bike trail is the nature path cycling route no. 29 from Nibe to Hvalpsund, which takes you through several scenic towns and the Danish countryside. VisitDenmark.com includes detailed information, including handy cycling maps of the various routes. Or you can sign up for an organized bike tour where your routes are planned in advanced and your accommodation is pre-booked. Even if you’re only visiting Copenhagen, there’s no good reason not to use a bike during your vacation. Copenhagen is a cycling mecca with one of the most pronounced urban bicycling cultures found in the world and biking in itself is one of the main attractions of the city. All the main tourist sites in Copenhagen can be comfortably explored by bike and it’s also quite easy to get to the forests and beaches around Copenhagen by bicycle, because of the clearly marked bike paths. Visit trafikken.dk and click on the ‘Cyklist’ link. You will find an English ‘CykelGuide’ in pdf format with maps and detailed descriptions of the routes.
Writers: Simone Cannon de Bastardo and Luis Rafael Bastardo Arjona are The Traveling Bastards, They met while traveling in South America, fell in love, got married and have been happily traveling and blogging about their adventures on the Traveling Bastards Travel and Food Blog.