If you haven't come around to sort your summer holidays yet, why not go on a city bike trip this year? It's the best way to get to know a new metropolis and will keep you fit at the same time. Check out the best locations that we featured in the mag a while back...
Words by Susan Greenwood
Considering chic French women stay thin via the medium of cigarettes and red wine, Paris was always a bit of a wildcard when it came to cities which embrace cycling. But the introduction of the ‘Paris Velib’ or ‘Freedom Bike’ scheme last year has transformed the capital’s beautiful boulevards into sweeping cycle lanes populated by every French stereotype you can think of.
Implausibly stylish is a good way of describing riding in the city but then would you expect anything less?
Velibs have practically become a fashion accessory on the Champs Elysses. The luxury of cycle lanes means there is no battle for road space, leaving cyclists stress free to glide down tree-lined avenues and duck through backstreets usually lost to the motorist.
And apart from the obvious killer hill of Montmartre, Paris merely undulates, meaning the unseemly process of sweating can easily be avoided.
Independent hire shops are relatively plentiful and Bike n’roller is one of the nicest 38 Rue Faubert 7th + 33 (0)144073589.
Essential rides: It may be more normally associated with nocturnal capers, but the Bois de Boulogne is actually a peaceful, almost countryside escape which makes for a serene pedal.
*Avoid the cobbled streets – Parisiens ride bikes not bucking broncos.
*Chat – you may just have 30 minutes to get across town but the couple blocking the lane are probably discussing Sartre, so you’ll just have to chill.
*Carry baguettes in their bike baskets – honest.
*Wear any clothes designed specifically for riding a bike including helmets.
*Get phased when a cycle lane turns abruptly into a four lane road.
*Get stressed – leave that to the motorists.
Saddle sore: Relax and watch the world go by to a free soundtrack of classical music under the arches of the Place des Vosges.
More info: Two airports mean the city is well served by most major airlines with budget options around 36 euros one way and for a more eco-friendly option the Eurostar will take you London to Paris return for as little as 75 euros.
Barcelona’s skate scene is legendary and the vibe which makes it such a funky city to cruise is beginning to spill over into bikes. The city seems to be filled with mirth (pick pockets on Las Ramblas aside), an infectious feeling of gleefulness. Throw in endless sunshine, secretive old alleyways and inspired design and you have the perfect urban playground.
“The weather is a big stimulant to keep on riding my bike," says Mahrou Raisani who runs a cycle messenger company in the city. “The fixed gear scene here is growing and on Friday nights we hang out together and drink beers because the weather is so lovely."
True, motorists are still a little way off seeing bicycles as anything other than obstacles but with more and more people taking to two wheels this looks set to change.
Where to hire: Barcelona is experimenting with a system similar to the velib in Paris called Bicing. Unfortunately you have to be a member to sign up and this requires a Spanish social security number so it’s not for tourists. Instead check out crusingbarcelona.com for groovy hire bikes and laidback tours and also bicicletabarcelona.com.
Essential rides: Head for the sea or the hills. Feel the wind in your hair down by the beach. Cruise through the Olympic port and harbour along flat roads and boardwalks. Alternatively head out of the city. Catalonia is famous for its stunning beauty and awesome singletrack. Check out barcelonamountainbike.com
*Practise their freestyle every Friday at the end of Via Laietana.
*Carry water – swollen tongues and rolling eyes from dehydration is not a good look.
*Ride proud – the attitude towards cyclists requires occasional thick skin.
*Wear lycra – there is a time and place for padded shorts. A trendy piazza is not it.
*Get burnt, so use sunscreen.
*Get robbed – cycling is probably the best way to avoid the notorious Barcelona wallet thieves.
Saddle sore: Parc Guell. It’s one of the most inspiring parks in Europe and hours seem to disappear in here. Plus there’s a city feature outside which looks like a mini ramp and skaters often session it. Nice.
More info: Budget airlines fly to the city from 44 euros.
Copenhagen cyclists have a motto, that is in full evidence everywhere you look, style over speed. When 37 per cent of the population use their bikes to get to work or school that makes for a pretty stylish city. Sitting by the sea it combines the windswept promise of unbridled exploration with the Lurpak comforts of cosy home. The result is a ridiculously hip metropolis where people of all ages and interests come together. And ride bikes.
In the 1960s the streets in the centre were pedestrianised prompting a surge in cycling and cycle lanes which the naturally flat landscape was already nurturing. Mikael Colville-Andersen who operates the very cool copenhagengirlsonbikes.blogspt.com said: “We are saturated with bikes, they are part of daily life but there are certain fashion features. There’s a trend of women who wear Christian Louboutin shoes riding beat up old Raleighs!"
Where to hire: Copenhagen’s bike hire system operates like supermarket trolleys – insert a coin into the slot and get it back when you return the bike. These bikes have seen some action though and are only really suitable for inner city riding. The more adventurous should look to hire, rentabike.dk will hire out a bike for around 13 euros a day.
Essential rides: Head out to the Louisiana Museum for Modern Kunst in Humlebaek, North Sjaelland about 40km from the city centre. The dramatic building overlooks the sea and is one of the most regarded museums in the world.
*Ride beaten up old bikes – with the ‘sit up and beg’ type the most popular.
*Decorate their bike baskets with flowers – the Christiana hippy image is alive and well.
*Cruise. It’s hard to look good when you’re hyperventilating.
*Walk in the cycle lanes – leave that to bemused tourists.
*Worry about ‘scenes’ – just normal people on normal bikes.
Saddle sore: Head over to the backstreets between Norrebro and Osterbrofor funky bars and cafes. Or go and be seen at Karrierebar in Koedbyen, an arty nightspot owned by artist Jeppe Hein.
More info: The easiest way of getting to Copenhagen is by plane. British Airways will fly return from 105 euros.
Think of a city that loves bikes and you will inevitably think of Amsterdam. Its flat landscape, narrow canal bordered streets and large pedestrianised areas make it way more suited to two-wheels rather than four. Dedicated cycle lanes criss-cross the city and the atmosphere is vaguely anarchistic. Walk here and you will find yourself twitching within minutes – constant vigilance is required to not get knocked off your feet by a cyclist. And don’t worry too much about cars – bikes make up 40 per cent of all traffic.
“Today I saw a couple lazily riding along holding hands," beams expat Siobhan Lismore. “Girls in mini-dresses about to go out, girls with bags of shopping. It’s very laid back – no clippie shoes or anything."
On a bike, as through the rest of Amsterdam, anything goes. Relax. Have a beer. Watch the sun twinkle on the canals.
Where to hire: Easy as pie in this city – almost every street will have a hire shop. If you’re out for a week you can even pick one up for around 64 euros. Check out mikesbikeamsterdam.com or bikes.nl. The bike of choice is the Gazelle.
Where to ride: There are 400km of cycle paths in Amsterdam so the choice is yours. Sometimes it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey. Meander around the backstreets of the Medieval Centre or cruise through the Vondlepark. Alternatively strike out from Centraal Station on a 37km route taking in the dykes, lakes and farming communities of the Waterland.
*Enjoy being called ‘Fietsers’ – a fond term for the rider of a fiet, bicycle.
*Give backies. A common sight is someone balanced precariously on the back of a friends bike.
*Paint their bikes.
*Wear helmets – it’s just not the way.
*Have mercy on people walking in cycle lanes.
*Leave their bikes unlocked – bike thievery is a massive problem.
Saddle sore: The Dutch word gezelligheid is roughly translated as cosiness or relaxing time. So take that on board and chill out. Beer is revered in Amsterdam and nowhere more so than in Hoppe which has been serving it since 1670. The Spui 18-20.
More info: Amsterdam airport is the biggest hub in Europe and is well served by airlines from the UK. Driving to the city is also pretty simple – hop onto a ferry at Harwich in Norfolk and hop off at the Hook of Holland with Amsterdam a short drive away. Check out stenaline.co.uk for details.