Cycling Toward More Livable Cities



Bicycle Mayors elevate and celebrate two-wheeled transportation.

Amsterdam is well-known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, so it’s a logical starting point for an initiative to make cycling more accessible. Launched in 2016, BYCS (pronounced “bikes”) is now a global NGO with projects on six continents through its extensive network of Bicycle Mayors.

“A Bicycle Mayor is a community leader who uses cycling to benefit their city,” says Simón Álvarez Belón, the Bicycle Mayor Network Coordinator for BYCS. “It’s a symbolic position that we appoint — it’s important to highlight that this is not a partnership with municipalities — but our Bike Mayors help accelerate the changes we need to see in cities all around the world.”

According to Belón, the overarching goal of the network is to help make cities greener, more sustainable, and more friendly toward bicycles. He says the movement was “born with a goal of elevating the voices of grassroots activists who have been doing this work for a really long time, but sometimes don’t receive the recognition they deserve.” By creating a worldwide network of cycling enthusiasts, Bicycle Mayors help to “bridge the gap between work that happens at a local level, and the work that happens higher up with policymakers and institutions — where the funding and decision-making actually happens.” 

The work of a Bike Mayor can take many forms. From advocating for bike lanes to organizing lessons to teach people how to ride a bike, it’s all about building awareness of cycling as a fun, sustainable way to stay active and help the planet. Since the position of Bicycle Mayor isn’t a conventional one and there’s no paycheck or cushy budget to pull from, real passion is required of applicants for each two-year term.

Children practice safe cycling in Quito Ecuador. — Photo by Amanda Padilla
Children practice safe cycling in Quito, Ecuador. — Photo by Amanda Padilla

But BYCS has no problem attracting advocates. Bike Mayors are dedicated to their cause and willing to invoke change in their spare time — between four and eight hours each week, on average — along with the support of the BYCS network. Mayors receive a monthly newsletter sharing ideas and funding opportunities, and collaboration with other Bike Mayors happens through events, workshops, and one-on-ones with the BCYS staff.

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“There aren’t many fixed requirements to apply to become a Bike Mayor,” says Belón, “but we do look for people who are well-connected in their community and have experience with promoting cycling.”

Many Bike Mayors are already involved with bicycles in a professional capacity, whether they’re running a bike shop or organizing local cycling programs. In Inverness, Scotland, Emily Kynaston-Williams says her Bike Mayor title lends extra clout to work she’s already doing.

“People take it really seriously. I’m still amazed by how this title — one given to me by an NGO in another country — has made it so much easier for me to do things like write press releases, get newspaper coverage, and talk to city counselors,” she explains. “I’ve had all sorts of meetings that I would have never had before, all because I’ve been given this Bicycle Mayor title.” 

The work of a Bike Mayor can take many forms. From advocating for bike lanes to organizing lessons to teach people how to ride a bike, it’s all about building awareness of cycling as a fun, sustainable way to stay active and help the planet. 

Kynaston-Williams has a background in civil engineering, but she now runs a social enterprise called Velocity Cafe, which is a cafe and a bicycle workshop. She was well-positioned to take on the role of Bicycle Mayor and has been working to encourage the construction of wider, more accessible bike paths, and to clean up polluted, heavily-trafficked streets in Inverness. 

She says the work to raise awareness and fight for better cycling infrastructure can be frustrating and requires diligence.

“You can easily point people to loads of research saying that high-quality, active travel infrastructure and placemaking is massively beneficial to businesses — because people [on bikes] take longer to get through, and they’re more likely to make stops —  but some people just don’t want to deal with facts.” 

In Cape Town, South Africa, Sindile Mavundla, who’s been a Bike Mayor for just under a year, reports similar findings. He learned about the program while working with a street-sharing initiative called Open Streets. Like Kynaston-Williams, he’s found more leverage with his work in promoting cycling now that he holds the title of Bicycle Mayor. 

“It sort of gave me a step up; a little bit of recognition in some of the conversations that are currently happening in our city,” says Mavundla, who also runs a bike shop called Khaltsha Cycles.

Sindile Mavundla (left) is a Bike Mayor in Cape Town, South Africa. — Photo courtesy of Sindile Mavundla
Sindile Mavundla (left) is a Bike Mayor in Cape Town, South Africa. — Photo courtesy of Sindile Mavundla

He says that one of his goals has been to establish an ongoing forum to “push the power back to the people in terms of how they view mobility within their own communities, and what they should advocate for.” 

In some cases, creating safer, more efficient cycling routes around Cape Town would be as simple as deploying signage — but it’s rarely a straightforward task.

“There are so many things we could change in this city overnight that don’t even require much money,” says Mavundla. “Signs to say ‘hey, this is a cycling lane’ or ‘please do not park here,’ for example. We’re now engaging the enforcement unit within the city because the conversation always goes back to how the enforcement isn’t doing its job, but I think sometimes we ignore that what the city engineers have designed is what is creating problems. If your lane is designed in such a way that it is separated and offers safety to cyclists, then you don’t need enforcement.” 

Mavundla and Kynaston-Williams both recognize that change takes time, but as longtime cycling aficionados, they’re hopeful for a future where cities and bikes can coexist peacefully.

“The thing is, people keep creating studies about these issues,” says Kynaston-Williams. “Let’s stop studying. Let’s just take some action.”

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Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander is a freelance travel journalist writing on food, culture, and conservation. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Lonely Planet,, and more. She’s based in Nuremberg, Germany and you can find her at
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