Cycling paradises around the world

Since the inven­tion of the two-whee­ler in 1817, the bicy­cle has deve­lo­ped very rapidly as a means of trans­port. In Ger­many alone there are currently 72 mil­lion bikes with a proud owner. 

Signi­fi­cance of cycling in Ger­many

In Ger­many the All­ge­meine Deut­sche Fahr­rad-Club (Ger­man Cyclists' Asso­cia­tion) (ADFC) draws up a "cycle-fri­end­li­ness" table every two years which is based on cyclists' own views and is bro­ken down accor­ding to the sizes of towns. In 2014 over 100,000 peo­ple took part in the "cycling cli­mate" test and asses­sed the situa­tion for cyclists in 468 towns and cities. The good news for Baden-Würt­tem­berg: Karls­ruhe and Frei­burg, two of the state's lar­gest cities, came second and third in the ran­kings – bea­ten only by Muns­ter, the undis­pu­ted capi­tal of Ger­man cycling. Other towns in Baden-Würt­tem­berg also signi­fi­cantly impro­ved their ran­kings in 2014. Examp­les include Kirch­heim-Teck, Bie­tig­heim-Bis­sin­gen, Heil­bronn, Ulm, and the state capi­tal, Stutt­gart."Cycle-fri­endly Local Aut­ho­rity" award

In Baden-Würt­tem­berg paris­hes, towns and rural dis­tricts which con­sis­tently pro­mote cycling can com­pete for the "Cycle-fri­endly Local Aut­ho­rity" award – if they ful­fil the neces­sary con­di­ti­ons. Being cycle-fri­endly in Baden-Würt­tem­berg should be about more than just pay­ing lip ser­vice to the con­cept. One of the pre­con­di­ti­ons for get­ting the state award is being a mem­ber of the state-wide asso­cia­tion of local aut­ho­ri­ties which pro­mote cycling – Arbeits­ge­mein­schaft Fahr­rad­freund­li­cher Kom­mu­nen in Baden-Würt­tem­berg e. V. (AGFK-BW). In these "Cycle-fri­endly Local Aut­ho­ri­ties" a high (and incre­a­sing) pro­por­tion of jour­neys is made by bike. The towns, paris­hes and rural dis­tricts that have won the award are imple­men­ting an espe­ci­ally large num­ber of inno­va­tive cycling pro­mo­tion mea­su­res, so they are role models for other local aut­ho­ri­ties. So far, the fol­lo­wing towns have won the "Cycle-fri­endly Town" award: Frei­burg, Hei­del­berg, Karls­ruhe, Kirch­heim unter Teck, Offen­burg, Tübin­gen and Lör­rach. The "Cycle-fri­endly Rural Dis­trict" is Göp­pin­gen rural dis­trict. 

In glo­bal terms, Gro­nin­gen, Utrecht and Ams­ter­dam in the Net­her­lands, the Danish capi­tal Copen­ha­gen, Sand­nes in Nor­way, and Muns­ter and Frei­burg in Ger­many as well as Bolzano and Fer­rara in Italy are con­si­de­red to be exem­plary cycling cities. They have mana­ged to get cycling accep­ted as a natu­ral part of the over­all trans­port sys­tem. 

The Net­her­lands illus­tra­tes what a cycling nation really means: it's not just the favou­ra­ble topo­gra­phy that makes cycling such a ple­a­sure here. The Net­her­lands have inves­ted hea­vily in pro­mo­ting cycling for deca­des now. The result is a very exten­sive cycling infra­s­truc­ture which doesn't just include good cycle­ways but now also inclu­des many fast cycle rou­tes. The count­less daily cycle com­mu­ters also have the bene­fit of faci­li­ties such as par­king spaces in nume­rous cycle gara­ges at sta­ti­ons as well as in the city cen­tres.

The Danish capi­tal Copen­ha­gen is right at the top of the ran­kings of the most cycle-fri­endly cities in the world. It is known throug­hout the world as an exem­plary cycling city. Here cycling is a defi­ning and com­ple­tely natu­ral part of urban life. No won­der: Copen­ha­gen boasts a net­work of 454 kilo­me­tres of cycle­ways. Over 50 per­cent of com­mu­ters use their bike to get to work, school or col­lege – every day.

The bicy­cle in deve­lo­ping and newly indus­tri­a­li­sing coun­tries

In many coun­tries around the world the bicy­cle is an indis­pensa­ble means of trans­port which makes an essen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to peo­ple's mobi­lity. Jour­neys to pla­ces of edu­ca­tion or work are often many kilo­me­tres long, and peo­ple rarely have access to moto­ri­sed means of trans­port. So for many peo­ple the bicy­cle is the ideal solu­tion that pro­vi­des fle­xi­ble, per­so­nal mobi­lity. In many parts of the world the bicy­cle is also an import­ant form of mobi­lity both for trans­por­ting goods and peo­ple and as a source of income. 

The coun­try with the lar­gest num­ber of bicy­cles in the world is China. The bicy­cle was a very import­ant means of trans­port there for a long time. Mas­ses of peo­ple used bicy­cles to get around in Chi­nese towns and cities. The bicy­cle was used for almost all jour­neys, whe­re­ver peo­ple nee­ded to go.  But from the 1990s onwards the pres­tige of the bicy­cle decli­ned in China and it was incre­a­sin­gly repla­ced by mopeds and cars – with major con­se­quences for air qua­lity and the traf­fic con­ge­s­tion in the cities. In more recent times the bicy­cle has expe­ri­enced a major revi­val in China too, in the form of the e-bike. 

In Asia, and par­ti­cu­la­rly in India and China, ricks­haw bicy­cles and cargo bikes are part of the fabric of eve­r­y­day life  – with the bicy­cles often being peri­lously over­loa­ded. The use of ricks­haws as taxis is a long-stan­ding tra­di­tion there. But ordi­nary bicy­cles are often also extre­mely hea­vily loa­ded with all kinds of com­mer­cial and craft goods as well as agri­cul­tu­ral pro­duce.

In many rural regi­ons of Africa peo­ple still have few ways of get­ting around. There is hardly any public trans­port, and peo­ple have to walk miles on a daily basis. This situa­tion is hol­ding back social and eco­no­mic revi­val. Here the bicy­cle is an affor­da­ble and depend­a­ble, but also an irre­pla­cea­ble means of trans­port, and an import­ant eco­no­mic asset. Many wel­fare agen­cies do all they can to help the poo­rest peo­ple gain more con­trol over their lives by giving them bicy­cles so that they have gre­a­ter mobi­lity.  In these areas cycle taxis, known as boda-bodas, are a com­mon sight. These sturdy bikes have a pad­ded cus­hion fit­ted onto a rein­for­ced rear seat and are used for car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers in areas away from the main rou­tes.  In some regi­ons spe­cial cargo bikes are used as an ambu­lance ser­vice.


  1. Baden-Würt­tem­berg Minis­try of Trans­port and Infra­s­truc­ture (publ.) (2016): Baden-Würt­tem­berg RadS­TRA­TE­GIE (cycling stra­t­egy)  – Wege zu einer neuen Rad­KUL­TUR für Baden-Würt­tem­berg (Rou­tes to a new cycling CUL­TURE for Baden-Würt­tem­berg. Stutt­gart
  2. Nuhn, Hel­mut / Hesse, Mar­kus (2006): Ver­kehrs­geo­gra­phie (Trans­port geo­gra­phy) Pader­born