15 of the World’s Most Bike-Friendly Cities

istock
istock

Biking is a great way to stay active and reduce your carbon footprint. Here are some cities that are actively encouraging this green mode of transportation. 

1. COPENHAGEN, DENMARK 

Copenhagen is often considered the most bike-friendly city in the world. Tourists are often overwhelmed by the number of bicycles flying by, and children are taught to ride before they’re even old enough to go to school. Thanks to bicycle-friendly measures taken by the city, nearly half of all Copenhageners commute to work by bike, and 35 percent of all people who work in Copenhagen—those who live in the suburbs included—commute on their bicycles. Cyclists enjoy 390 kilometers (about 242 miles) of designated bike lanes, and Greater Copenhagen now has a “Cycle Super Highway” which connects the city to the town of Albertslund with plenty of amenities along the way, like air pumps, safer intersections, and traffic lights timed to average cycling speed to minimize stopping.

2. AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS 

You can’t really experience Amsterdam without taking a spin on a bicycle. There are over 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam, which means there are more bikes than people. The relatively flat streets often filled with bicycles: People use them to go to work, drop children at school, and cart around groceries. If you’re visiting, there are plenty of places for tourists to rent a bicycle and start exploring, not to mention guided tours and illustrated booklets intended to help newcomers learn how to get around efficiently. 

3. PORTLAND, OREGON 

It’s hard to beat Europe in terms of bicycle-friendliness, but Portland is trying its best. The Portland Bureau of Transportation is slowly making improvements to help citizens and tourists safely get around safely on two wheels. Cyclists can snag free printed city and neighborhood maps, safety information, and more to help better navigate when visiting. There’s also a public bike rental system that’s considered one of the greenest in the world; they’ve managed to cut down the need for excess kiosks by utilizing pre-existing bike corrals. The city offers other amenities, too, including bike lockers, bike riding classes, and etiquette guides. 

4. BOULDER, COLORADO

Boulder’s residents already have a reputation for their love of the outdoors, so it makes sense that cycling would be a popular way to get around. The city’s 300 miles of bikeways include on-street bike lanes, contra-flow bike lanes, designated bike routes, paved shoulders, multi-use paths, and soft-surface paths. There’s also a bike registration program to help protect bicycles from theft. 

5. MONTREAL, CANADA 

The bustling Canadian city of Montreal has an impressive 600 kilometres (about 373 miles) of bike paths—almost twice as many as Copenhagen. In the spring, cyclists take to these designated paths, making pit stops along the way at various food and drink stands. What’s more, each year the city hosts a bike festival, welcoming bikers of all ages and skill levels to take a tour around town. 

6. TOKYO, JAPAN 

About 14 percent of all commuters in Tokyo are bicycle riders. While that may seem paltry compared to Copenhagen’s impressive 50 percent, it’s impressive considering how large and dense Tokyo actually is. Those who choose to hop on a bike can enjoy ample parking, lots of bike paths, and cycling tours. Japan is also known for making wonderfully constructed bicycles that stand the test of time. 

7. RIO DE JANIERO, BRAZIL 

Rio got on board with bicycles in 1992, which is when they first started building bike lanes. Today, the city has a thriving cyclist population. Their new bike-sharing program boasts 60 stations and 600 bicycles distributed throughout the city. Bike Rio offers monthly passes for R$ 10,00 (that’s about $2.50 in U.S. dollars), allowing residents and visitors unlimited access to the program’s bikes. On the weekends, riders can take a trip on one of the beach avenues for a lovely view of the water as they ride. 

8. STRASBOURG, FRANCE 

The little city of Strasbourg is a great place to bike—mainly because it’s really, really pretty. Eight percent of the city’s population currently rides a bicycle, but the city is working hard to get that number up. They aim to double the number of cyclists by 2025. 

9. BARCELONA, SPAIN 

Barcelona is taking baby steps towards becoming a more hospitable place for bikers. They continue to expand their system of bike paths, and their bike share program is one of the most frequently used in the world. Bicycle safety is also a huge priority: city officials have recently instituted measures intended to slow car traffic. If you’re just visiting, there are a number of different bike tours you can sign up for—and plenty of scenic paths that pass right by the water. 

10. BUDAPEST, HUNGARY 

Residents of Budapest can currently get around town on 200 kilometers (124 miles) of cycling paths, which bring riders through the center city or in and around its many stunning parks. The city also offers a number of guided tours, including one that ends with a nice bowl of goulash.

11. AUSTIN, TEXAS 

Austin is committed to helping its residents live greener lives, and it shows in their biking initiatives. There are plenty of paths and hundreds of bike racks for riders to use. If you’re visiting, pick up a cycling map from one of the town’s many bike shops, then hit the trail. There are three major paths to help riders navigate downtown: the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the Rio Grande Roadway, and the Pfluger Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge.

12. PARIS, FRANCE 

Thanks to flat roads, slow traffic, and conscientious drivers, Paris is a remarkably easy place to ride a bike. The city’s Vélib bike-sharing program is the largest in the world outside of China. (The name is a mashup of the words vélo, meaning bike, and liberté, meaning freedom). There are about 20,000 rental bikes available at 1800 stations throughout town. Since the introduction of the bike-sharing program in 2007, bikeways have begun to pop up all over the bustling city. 

13. SEVILLE, SPAIN 

Seville is no match for cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but they’re quickly becoming a contender in the battle to be “bicycle friendliest.” Seville offers 160 kilometers (100 miles) of bike paths, and sees about 70,000 bicycles hitting the streets every day. Compare this to the measly 6000 bicycles being used just a few years ago, and it quickly becomes apparent how much effort the city has put into upping their cycling game. They too offer a bike-sharing program (Sevici), which has been running for eight years, and bike shop owners claim that lately, they’ve been struggling to keep up with demand as more and more residents have taken to pedaling the streets. 

14. DUBLIN, IRELAND 

Dublin’s bike-sharing program, dublinbikes, features more than 100 stations across the city, and an annual subscription costs just €20 (about $22). A number of tour companies in Dublin offer guided excursions too, tailored to both beginner and advanced cyclists.

15. BERLIN, GERMANY 

Bikers in Berlin make the most of the city’s flat terrain, wide streets, and numerous bikeways. The 900 kilometers (about 559 miles) of cycling paths make it easy to get around without worrying about car traffic. There are plenty of themed tours for tourists, often geared towards sports or food.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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