Europe’s most bike-friendly cities and what makes them so attractive for cycling

May 02, 2023

Governments and local authorities around the world are increasingly aware of the need to cut down carbon emissions. So, more and more cities are making a concerted effort to encourage people to do more active travelling, such as walking or cycling, and leave their cars at home. Some cities have done an outstanding job turning cycle-friendly and putting biker riders first.

We will look at some of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe and what makes them so suitable for cycling around.

What makes a city bike-friendly?

Many factors are at play when ranking cities in terms of their cycle-friendliness. Usually, indexes like the Global Bike Index or the Copenhagen Index look at the availability of bike infrastructure, bike storage facilities, pedestrian and bike-first traffic planning, crime and safety statistics, bike-sharing options, and cycle culture promoting activities.

Cities that are bike friendly usually have a set of things in common. They have excellent bike infrastructure. This includes provisions of bike lanes and bike-only paths, which protect and separate the cycle from car traffic. Bike lanes need to, ideally, cover most of the city, be of good quality and be well-maintained.

Bike facilities, like bike shelters an cycle racks, are something that is sorely needed when it comes to promoting more cycling. It is one of the most popular reasons people say they don’t commute by bike – there is nowhere to store it safely. So, cycling-friendly cities have many quality bike storage options across the city. Bike racks and bike shelters must be readily available and easily used.

Another factor that makes bike-friendly cities stand out is the presence of traffic calming and traffic-reducing measures. Cities that care for bike users need to increase traffic management tools such as roundabouts, speed bumps, no-car and low-speed-limit zones. These measures lead to smoother traffic, fewer accidents, and make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bike-sharing programs are another important component of making a city bike-friendly. Such programs are often considered useful only to tourists and visitors, but this is not the case. Residents are often very likely to use them, too, as they can reduce unnecessary car trips during the work day. Bike-sharing programs need to be easily accessible in terms of both having plenty of locations and cost.

Cycling-friendly cities have local authorities which purposefully do educational and outreach activities to promote cycling as an alternative way of transport. They promote the benefits of riding a bike but also educate their citizens on a range of useful bike-related topics such as – healthy biking habits, the Highway code and general traffic safety, bike maintenance and repair skills. Bike-friendly cities also often hold community events, like No Car Days, that promote biking as a safe and sustainable mode of transport.

Finally, bicycle-friendly cities have a culturthat values and respects cyclists, their safety and their choice of transport. This includes a positive attitude towards cycles as a vehicle on the road, respect for cyclists’ rights in traffic and a general understanding that there is a need to have fewer people in cars and more on bikes due to the pressing environmental issues and the incredible health benefits that staying active has.

Copenhagen, Denmark

If everyone cycled as much as the Dutch, global carbon emissions would drop by almost 700 million tonnes per year, says a 2022 University of Southern Denmark study. Dutch people cycle an average of 2.6km per day and have some of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Copenhagen boasts an impressive bike infrastructure and a well-connected public transport system making it easy to combine modes of transport seamlessly.

Cyclists in the city mostly have the right of way over car traffic, and if you look at the busy streets there, you would be impressed by the sheer number of cyclists, which is often more than car drivers. Some roundabouts have been redesigned and have physically separated circular cycle tracks along the circumference and intersect the roundabout at its exits. Many junctions have also been redesigned with bike-first improvements to help with better visibility of cyclists and their increased safety.

Copenhagen also has an impressive amount of excellent bike storage facilities.

The city is full of bike rental options which are accessible to both visitors and locals.

Copenhagen is also home to many bike-related events encouraging cycling, such as the annual Copenhagen Cycle Challenge or its weekly Critical Mass Rides.

Utrecht, Netherlands

Utrecht is another Dutch city that is amongst the most cycle-enabled cities in the world. It has a huge bike lane network, 420km, which also includes bridges and tunnels, which have been made bike-friendly and make it very easy to get around on wheels. It even has an innovative bike-friendly traffic lights system, boasting many of Copenhagen’s general traffic improvements too. Streets are being redesigned to prioritise bikes over cars. “You really have the idea that people are the boss of the city, not the machines,” says Lott van Hooijdonk, the city’s vice mayor, in a documentary in 2019.

Utrecht has an extensive, often manned, monitored bicycle parking facility network across the city. In 2019, it became home to the world’s biggest multistory bike park, built to host 12,500 bikes and directly connected to a rail platform. Another impressive bike parking hot spot is around the Utrecht Central Station, where places are available for 30 000 bikes.

Biking is promoted and normalised, and bike shares are readily available.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is one of the best-known examples of a bike-friendly city globally. However, it had lately fallen in the bike-friendly charts, but this is turning around, and the city is again picking up the pace and investing more and more into cycling.

The city has an extensive network of bike paths and lanes, many entirely separate from other traffic, making it extremely easy and safe to cycle. The local authorities have started expanding existing, already extensive, bike lanes. They are broadening them, adding new slow-speed cycle streets, and redesigning major intersections to give cyclists more space and better protection.

Amsterdam, like other cities committed to reducing car use, is removing over 11 000 car parking spaces by 2025 to make it even more unattractive to be driving around the city. These spaces will be replaced with a better bike and pedestrian infrastructure and greenery.

Like in other places, there are plenty of bike share options and excellent bike storage facilities.

Munster, Germany

Munster has become a champion of cycling and the German cycling capital over the last few years. It is an excellent example of local governments and organisations working together to bring considerable change. Munster has developed an amazing bike infrastructure with lanes of over 450km. Bike paths are clearly demarcated and separate from other traffic. There are special bike roads where bikes take precedence over cars. Munster also has Europe’s only cycle ring road – a 4.5 km car-free ring around the city centre.

The German city also offers excellent connectivity between modes of transport. Muster has excellent bike storage facilities across the city and, importantly, at transport hubs like stations, making it very easy to commute and travel around with a bicycle.

The city council offers free bike check-ups for its citizens to promote and encourage cycling even more. There are also regular cycling events, like Cycle Sunday, to get people out riding bikes together.

Antwerp, Belgium

The Belgian city has continued building up its reputation for being bike-friendly every year. It has set in motion an even more ambitious Bicycle Plan to improve further intersections and traffic lights management and lower the speed limit on 95% of its streets down to 30km/h. Antwerp also has pedestrian and bicycle tunnels under the River Scheldt and a pedestrian and cycle-only bridge.

Antwerp has a large bike path network, including many free bike parking facilities at key places across the city. It has well-connected train stations and is working on expanding its city network and cycle highways, connecting it to the broader area around the city.

Antwerp also has an excellent bike-sharing program and car-free Sunday events, encouraging cycling and promoting it as a green and healthy way of moving around.

As we see, providing safe and secure bike storage in critical infrastructure places is a vital part of the larger drive to improve our cities, make them more bike-friendly and ultimately better and cleaner places to live. We have years of experience with bike storage solutions and are always happy to advise on improving your cycle storage provisions. Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your next project.

Bike Dock Solutions Team

Bike Dock Solutions is the UK's leading supplier of Bike Shelters, Bike Racks and other Bike Storage. Follow us on LinkedIn.