COPENHAGEN: Cycling through the heart of some European cities can be a terrifying experience as you jostle for space with cars, trucks and scooters that whizz by with only inches to spare.
Thankfully for bicycle enthusiasts, a movement is afoot to create more room for cycling in the urban infrastructure.
From London’s “cycle superhighways” to popular bike-sharing programs in Paris and Barcelona, growing numbers of European cities are embracing cycling as a safe, clean, healthy, inexpensive and even trendy way to get around town.
Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and the Danish capital, Copenhagen, are the pioneers of this movement, and serve as role models for other cities considering cycling’s potential to reduce congestion and pollution, while contributing to public health.
The trend is catching on also outside Europe, says John Pucher, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University in New Jersey and co-author of a new book titled “City Cycling.” Pucher says urban cycling is on the rise across the industrialized world, though Europe is still ahead of the pack.
“Americans make only 1 percent of their trips by bike compared to 26 percent in the Netherlands, 18 percent in Denmark, and 8-10 percent in Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and Finland,” Pucher told The Associated Press, citing official statistics.
But you don’t need statistics to realize that cycling is in vogue. From airbag helmets to e-bikes, here are some the ways the bicycle renaissance has hit the streets of Europe:
CYCLE SUPERHIGHWAYS: They’re not anything as spectacular as multiple-lane expressways for cyclists, but city planners believe they’re central to the bicycle revolution. They combine bike paths with bike lanes on regular streets to give pedaling commuters a smooth ride from the suburbs to the city center.
BIKE SHARING: Bike sharing, or “city bike,” services that offer bicycles for short trips in the downtown area have come a long way since the first large-scale program started in Copenhagen in 1995. That concept was simple: Deposit a coin to release a bicycle from any of a number of bike racks across the city — like unlocking a shopping cart at the supermarket — and get your coin back when you return the bike (not necessarily to the same rack).
TWO-WHEEL PARKING: So you’ve cycled to town. Now where do you park? Europeans are creative in this respect, chaining their bikes to lamp posts, street signs and drainpipes, or just parking them in random clusters on street corners. But theft is a major concern.
COCKTAIL TRANSPORTATION: For people living far from the city center, getting to work by bicycle alone may not be time efficient. That’s why many European countries encourage mixed-mode commuting, allowing cyclists to bring their bicycles onto trains or subway cars. In the Netherlands, you can use the same smart chip card you use to catch a train or tram to get a bike from a sharing system and cycle the last part of the journey.
BICYCLE CHIC: Today cycling in Europe is embraced by people of all social classes and political persuasions. But a new subgroup has emerged: the cycling hipsters. They don’t just consider the bicycle as a means of transport, but a fashion statement.
AIRBAG HELMETS: Speaking of helmets, many cyclists don’t wear them, saying they look bad and ruin hairdos. Two Swedish designers came up with a solution that protects both head and hairstyle: An inflatable airbag that you wear around your neck in a collar.
E-BIKES: Electric bikes are one of the hottest cycling trends in parts of Europe. Also known as e-bikes or pedelecs, they are fitted with a small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery, which can give you a nice boost when cycling uphill.
It’s not a new invention: bicycles powered by electricity have been around for more than a century. But sales have taken off with the development of lighter and higher-capacity batteries and sexier designs.
China is the dominant market, with more than 100 million e-bikes on the streets. But sales are surging rapidly in Europe, especially in Germany but also in the Netherlands, where about one in five bicycles is electric, according to industry reports.