In October 2022, Singapore will become the first southeast Asian country to host a Tour de France Criterium event. It’s one of several Asian countries going all out to become more bike-friendly – here’s our pick of the best Asian cities for some good old-fashioned pedal power.
Singapore is arguably Asia’s most bike-friendly destination – a place where bike paths open up every corner of the city. Not convinced? Outside of F1 events, it’s even possible to cycle along the circuit’s pit lane. Our favourite routes include the Park Connector network, a 300km tangle of cycle paths, and the Rail Corridor, a 24km bicycle path in the footprint of an old railway.
The most popular bikeshare schemes are Anywheel and SG Bike, and nervous cyclists can relax – bike lanes are smooth and well maintained, and cyclists are given a wide berth by other vehicles. These include buses, whose drivers give a polite double-toot when approaching cyclists. The speed limit for cyclists using Singapore’s bike paths is generally fixed at 10km/h – don’t be surprised to see speed-gun-wielding enforcement officers tasked with keeping riders in check.
Although Bangkok’s still got some way to go when it comes to expanding its network of bike lanes, it’s a fantastic city for cycling, and it’s only going to get better. Lumphini Park and Benjakitti Park, both of which are in the city centre, are fantastic cycling spots, and there are some brilliant guided cycling tours, too. We recommend the ones run by Co van Kessel (covankessel.com), founded by a bike-mad Dutchman who lived in Bangkok. Co died in 2012, but his tours, led by a fleet of passionate Thai guides, continue. Itineraries range from sunrise bike rides around Chinatown to longer slogs out to the banana plantations on Bangkok’s outskirts.
Japan is a seriously underrated cycling country. This is, after all, where hip bike brand Tokyo Bike was founded in 2002. Its birthplace, the quiet Tokyo neighbourhood of Yanaka, is a fantastic place to explore on two wheels – though Osaka is top choice for some Japanese pedal power. Proof of Osakans’ love of cycling is the fact that it’s the only city in Asia with two Rapha Clubhouses (spaces created as meeting places for cyclists, with bike-themed stores and cafes), though Osaka’s cyclists are a wonderfully diverse group, ranging from road cyclists to fans of vintage bikes.
The city’s cyclists are also known for their love of a DIY approach, frequently blinging out their wheels and making bikes from scratch. The attitude here is incredibly laidback – don’t be surprised to see a local pedalling against the traffic while taking a selfie.
The star of the show is here is the Xiamen Cycle Way, an elevated 7.6km cycle path created by Danish architects Dissing + Weitling Architecture. Think of it as the High Line, but solely for bikes. It’s the world’s longest elevated bike route, connecting five residential areas, and has 11 entry and exit points which make breaking it down into smaller chunks a breeze. Other features dotted along the route include bike roundabouts, bicycle parking, and bicycle service pavilions. It was commissioned by Xiamen’s municipal planning department as part of an effort to make the city more bike-friendly at a time when Chinese cities are notorious for their omnipresent traffic jams.
With its backdrop of forested hills, Taipei is a city ripe for bike-based exploration, with fantastic trails on the outskirts, scenic riverside routes through its centre, and plenty of quiet neighbourhoods perfect for lazy cycle rides. A growing number of bike tour companies are popping up, and the YouBike bikeshare scheme (you’ll find pick-up points outside most metro stations) is cheap and easy to use – you can unlock bikes using an Easy card (Taipei’s version of the Oyster card). Our favourite route is the 14km Yuanshan to Nangang route, which has plenty of opportunities for stop-offs (favourites include the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and hip Fujin Street) and connects with the Keelung River bicycle trail.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur’s status as one of Asia’s most bike-friendly cities is largely down to a recent spruce-up of the Klang River. Riverside bike paths and picnic spots were added, and it’s now one of the most popular cycling spots. Yes, there’s still room for improvement when it comes to enlarging its network of bike lanes, although independent organisations such as the Bicycle Map Project are helping out, creating extensive bicycle maps and distributing them through rental outlets and bike stores.
The best approach is to start with a guided cycling tour – we recommend the brilliant Bike with Elena tours (bikewithelena.wordpress.com), which have itineraries focusing on everything from food to specific Kuala Lumpur neighbourhoods such as Kampung Baru, famous for its traditional stilt houses.
No, we’re not bonkers. Yes, Beijing might be one of Asia’s most traffic-clogged cities, but it’s becoming increasingly bike-friendly. Locals are taking to the saddle in growing numbers, many of whom can be seen pedalling down the bike-path-lined Chang’an Avenue. In certain countries scooters can use bike paths, but they were banned from bike lanes in Beijing in 2021, and lush scholar trees planted alongside the route provide cyclists with plenty of shade.
Elsewhere, cycle paths on routes such as the Second Ring Road have been widened, bike-friendly junctions have been added at intersections, and dozens of routes have been extended, or will be in the near future. This includes the one connecting Huilongguan and Shangdi, which became Beijing’s first dedicated bike path in 2019. There’s no shortage of bike schemes, either – there are currently more than 10 schemes and 950,000 shared bikes.
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