"In places where cycling wasn't a big part of transport — like Paris or London — it's been a real game-changer. It's normalized cycling," said Julian Ferguson, a spokesman for the European Cyclists' Federation.
U.S. cities including Washington D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco and Boston now have bike-sharing programs. A system with 10,000 bicycles that was supposed to open in New York this year has been delayed and is expected to launch in 2013. But the fastest growth is happening in Asia where some of the world's biggest bike-sharing programs have been introduced. The Chinese city of Hangzhou has a system with 60,000 bicycles.
Ironically, Copenhagen's pioneering city bike system was scrapped Wednesday after city officials decided to redistribute funds to other cycling initiatives.
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.
To create order, some cities have built ambitious parking lots for bicycles, typically close to major transit hubs like train stations. Amsterdam has come up with some of the most eye-catching solutions, including a high-tech rack that works a bit like a jukebox. You put your bike in the rack, and it revolves underground. When you want it back, it rotates yours back to the surface. It doesn't seem to be a big hit among Amsterdam's cyclists, though. It only has space for 50 bikes and access is often blocked by bicycles parked in front of it.
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.
Austria's next generation of high-speed train, expected to arrive in 2013, will have a bicycle compartment for six bikes per train car.
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.
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. Danish-Canadian photographer Mikael Colville-Andersen has captured this phenomenon in his Cycle Chic blog, showing Europeans looking oh-so-stylish on their vintage two-wheelers or aerodynamic racing bikes. An unwritten style rule for the cycling fashionista: the color of the helmet should match that of the frame.
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. It's a lot more inconspicuous than those traditional egg-shaped helmets — until it ignites. If you have an accident, the airbag inflates in a fraction of a second and wraps around your head. You'll hit the ground looking like an astronaut, but at that point you probably don't care. The price tag of 4,000 Swedish kronor ($600) may be discouraging, though. After all, you can only use it once.
The daredevil bike messenger weaving through traffic with Tour de France-like determination is gradually being replaced by a clumsier, but more practical, cycling equipage: the cargo bike. Many of these bicycles look odd because they are custom-made to carry packages of particular shapes and sizes. They usually have a wide flat area in front of the seat. Some are designed to serve as billboards for companies, like the "sperm bike" used by a Danish sperm bank to transport sperm to fertility clinics in Copenhagen.