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Cycling Across Cultures: What Does Riding a Bike Mean to People Across the World?

By Charlotte Murray

For many, cycling is a form of transport. For others, a leisure activity. It’s an individual thing that can vary from person to person, but it can also be heavily influenced by the cycling culture in many countries across the world. From providing a necessary mode of commuting to fostering a sense of community, the role of cycling can vary across different cultures, and is often woven into the fabric of society.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is renowned for its cycling culture. With a vast network of bike lanes, dedicated infrastructure, and bike-friendly cities, it’s no wonder that cycling is deeply ingrained in Dutch society. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit the Netherlands, you know that cycling is the preferred mode of transportation for commuting, running errands, and leisure activities for many people.

The country’s extensive cycling infrastructure includes well-maintained bike paths, bicycle parking facilities, and traffic regulations that prioritise cyclists’ safety. All this great infrastructure has led to high levels of cycling participation among all ages, and the country is a shining example of what is possible.


Cyclists on the Cykelslangen cycle and footbridge in Copenhagen.

Denmark is another country celebrated for its cycle-friendly cities, with Copenhagen being a prime example. Cycling is embraced as a part of everyday life, with a significant portion of the population relying on bicycles for their daily commute.

When designing urban areas, Danish cities plan with bikes in mind. They include segregated cycle lanes, traffic signals for bikes, and creative bike infrastructure including bike bridges and ramps. This integration of cycling into urban planning has resulted in safe cycle usage as well as cycling being a convenient choice.


In Japan, cycling holds a unique cultural significance. From the iconic “mamachari” bicycles used for everything from short trips and shopping to long-distance touring on scenic routes, cycling is deeply intertwined with Japanese lifestyle and traditions.

Cycling in Tokyo
Cycling is a part of daily life in Tokyo. © Profimedia

Cycling is also embraced as a recreational activity in Japan. Long-distance cycling trips are known as ‘Randonnée’ in Japan (also known as audaxes elsewhere in the world), and they’ve gained in popularity among those who like a challenge. With their dedicated cycling paths, local cycle clubs and large-scale cycling events, enthusiasts from all walks of life are part of cycle culture in Japan. It helps that the country’s picturesque landscapes and cultural heritage sites make Japan an ideal destination for cycle tours.


The perception of cycling in China has changed as rapidly as China itself. Bicycles have historically been a symbol of transformation. The famous Flying Pigeon and Phoenix bicycles became iconic modes of transportation during the 1970s, representing a sense of freedom and progress. They were owned with pride and were seen as a status symbol.

However as time went on, incomes rose, technology advanced and car culture rapidly increased; bike usage dramatically declined and bikes were even seen as a danger in some areas. But in the past decade, China is once again getting onboard with the bike, encouraging bike-share programmes, and improving cycle infrastructure.

Now hipster bike culture has begun to catch on, with informal ‘alley cat’ style races cropping up all over China. They’re often organised by bike messengers, as they involve checkpoint-style races that are similar to the way a bike messenger might go about their job, collecting the next checkpoint once they reach their initially assigned checkpoint.

China’s cycling culture continues to evolve, and with a bigger focus on sustainable infrastructure in recent years, Chinese cycling could be here to stay.


Cycling holds a special place in Colombian culture, with the country producing world-class professional cyclists such as Egan Bernal and Rigoberto Urán. Cycling is not just a means of transport in Colombian culture, but is a highly regarded sport, with its teams gaining international recognition by taking part in events such as the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

Egan Bernal
Bernal at La Vuelta. © Profimedia

In addition to being popular as a sport, the Colombian government have actively promoted cycling as part of the solution to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. Initiatives such as Ciclovía, where major roads are closed to vehicles, allow cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the streets. These have been viewed positively and are aiding cycling as an embedded piece of Colombian culture.


India is a large country, and cycling can hold different meanings across the different regions. In more rural areas, bikes are an important mode of transport, providing residents with access to education, employment and an easier way to run errands.

In the cities of India, cycling is gaining in popularity as a means of avoiding and reducing traffic as well as a way to promote a healthier lifestyle. Bike rickshaws are also a common mode of transport for short distances in many Indian cities, even as taxi-like vehicles, transporting passengers.


The United States is another big place, and similarly to India it can be difficult to attribute one cycle culture to the entire country.

In some cities, such as Portland and Minneapolis, cycling is embraced as a sustainable transport option, and a popular recreational activity. Cycling clubs and events are popular, and bike lanes are widely implemented. In other areas, cycling is primarily seen as a sport or a form of exercise.

Cycling’s significance varies across different cultures, but bikes are certainly a positive contribution to culture wherever they exist. They connect people, shape urban infrastructure, and reflect the values and lifestyles of communities across the world. Whether it is the Netherlands’ extensive cycling infrastructure, or the avid participation as a sport in Colombia, the role of bicycles in different cultures shows the extent of the positive impact this versatile mode of transport has every day.