This past summer, I found myself in two very different parts of the world – Vietnam and Scandinavia. While it’s not so interesting to list all the vast differences between cultures, geographies, foods, etc of the two countries, one aspect of both regions stuck out: the biking scene.
In Vietnam, namely Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, motorbikes abound. Well, “abound” is not a strong enough word. Motorbikes zip around cars and buses, over the sidewalk, through red lights, and on the “wrong” side of the street. Pedestrians must accommodate the fish-like schools of motorbikes pushing through the streets en masse. Right of Way for pedestrians does not exist. Helmets are optional and they usually resemble a baseball cap in weight and style more than anything protective.
And then there’s Sweden and Denmark. Unlike the fixed gear or single speed bikes that line the streets of my old neighborhood in Brooklyn or here in Cambridge, and also unlike the motorbikes in Vietnam, bikes there are predominantly City Bike style – low sweeping middle bar, wide-set handles, baskets. More interesting than style, these countries have pushed to make cities more bike-friendly with projects to expand bike lanes, build bike and pedestrian only bridges, and start bike sharing programs. The Copenhagenize Index 2013 looked at 150 countries to determine the most bicycle friendly cities. Copenhagen was second, Malmö, Sweden came in seventh. According to this Index, only four non-European cities (and no US cities) rank in the top 20: Tokyo, Nagoya, Montreal and Rio Di Janeiro.
It seems motorbikes in Vietnam are dominant due to the fast pace of growth in the cities, the extreme density of the largest cities, the cost, and the speed. In Scandinavia, and by the looks of it throughout Europe, politics, urban planning, and sustainability enforce the importance of keeping and building a bicycle culture. Either way, two-wheeled transportation has greatly impacted the design of cities and the pace of life for inhabitants in these two regions.