In the United States, we tend to be hard on ourselves about our rate of biking to work compared to Europe. However, we have reason to celebrate during this Bike to Work month. In America, the ranks of cycling commuters are only growing: our numbers rose about 60 percent throughout the aughts, from 488,000 bike commuters in the year 2000 to roughly 786,000 in 2008–2012, according to the US Census. More recently, biking to work has continued to trend upwards from 2006 to 2013 among workers of all income brackets.
Although our patterns of bike commuting are looking rosy, we in the United States still have plenty to learn from Europe so that everyday people cycle as a matter of habit across the nation. Here’s how pedaling commuters get to work in style in the two cities with some of the highest rates of bicycling.
In Copenhagen, almost half of the population cycles to their school or office. We can glean some infrastructure lessons—as well as style tips—from Denmark’s bike to work culture.
- Only one percent of Copenhageners mention the environment as the reason they ride. Most of them do it because it’s the easiest way to scoot around town. Strong cycling infrastructure makes the choice obvious.
- Traffic lights are coordinated for bicycles, not cars.
- When it snows, bike lanes have priority for cleaning before roads. No wonder the majority of commuters still cycle through Copenhagen’s white winters.
- City planners made bike lanes the most direct routes to the city center, according to the Guardian.
- Footrests and railings allow riders to stop at a light without hopping off their seats. (Seattle recently added these—go Seattle!)
- Copenhageners prefer bike baskets, storing their work supplies in a way that keeps the burden off their backs.
- Personalizing the baskets with flowers and stickers gives cyclists a personal connection with their ride.
- The baskets can be easily taken off the front handlebars, allowing for shopping and moving around.
- Comfy saddles are standard. Brooks leather saddles can be seen around Copenhagen.
AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands
About 63 percent of Amsterdammers bike every day. Cycling to work is in their DNA. Here’s how it happened.
- Dutch bike lanes are wide enough to allow for side-by-side biking, according to the BBC, allowing you to chat with your “bikepool” buddy.
- Many cycling routes are offset from cars and the rest of the road, making commuters feel safe.
- Bicyclists are treated as the first-class citizens they deserve to be. You’ll find signs that read: “Bike Street: Cars are guests.”
- Dutch children start biking as babies in cargo bikes, called bakfiets in Dutch.
- Bikers don’t consider cycling a lifestyle choice. Rather, it’s a default mode. As such, their bikes aren’t consumer accessories to show off a subculture, but workaday vehicles, according to the BBC. In such a culture, cycling might seem more accessible to the rich and poor alike.
- Sliding wheel locks allow for cyclists to quickly secure their bike and hop into the coffee shop on their ride to work.
- Popular dynamo headlights are powered by pedaling—so you don’t have to remember to recharge them or replace the batteries.
- Commuters bike to work in skirts and heels like it ain’t no thang, thanks to the predominance of Dutch-style step-through bikes. Seeing others do it all the time makes it seem natural… so why not start the trend in your city?
Increasing the number of bike commuters in the United States will have to be a joint effort between policymakers and the people on the streets. Start today to create the cycling culture you’d like to live in: Write a letter to your local representative to prioritize bike infrastructure. Then, slip on your high heeled shoes, put your laptop in your bike basket, and cycle to work with a smile. You might inspire someone else to do the same.