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Using synergies successfully

Cycle tourism paves the way for utility cycling

Out and about by bicycle
Out and about by bicycle © Daniela Schmidt
Cycle tourism has been very popular in Germany for several years. Apart from the tourism industry, there is also another winner: utility cycling.


In many regions, especially in semi-rural and rural areas, the bicycle is still lagging behind its capabilities. Here, it is in most cases considered as a means of transport for children, young people and low-paid workers or as sports and leisure equipment. Only a few people can imagine the bicycle to be a means of locomotion that should be taken seriously for everyday activities. This is, on the one hand, attributable to the topographic conditions and, on the other, to the cycling infrastructure which is mostly inadequate. Moreover, there are frequently not enough opportunities to try out cycling in everyday life.

The increasing popularity of pedelecs opens up new regions for cycling. Upland regions, which up to now have only attracted well-trained racing cyclists are becoming an interesting field of activity for untrained, inexperienced and older cyclists as well.

The fact that many rural municipalities still have a cycling infrastructure which is unsatisfactory or inadequate remains a major problem. And in most cases, the local population is not yet convinced that cycling is a possible means of locomotion in their region. Here, the “intermediate step” of cycle tourism may contribute towards improving regional conditions and inspiring new groups of people to use the bicycle in their daily life.

Learning lessons from cycle tourism

Even in regions where the share of cycling is insignificant, a major part of the population has already gained some experience of cycling, frequently during childhood and adolescence. But many people also enjoy the advantages of a cycling holiday, thus making use of the bicycle time and again for leisure activities. According to the 2017 Bicycle Travel Analysis published by the ADFC (German Cyclists’ Association), 29 % of Germans made day trips by bicycle in 2016, that is nearly 20 million people. 7.6 of all Germans made a cycle tour which included at least three overnight stays [ADFC 2017]. But these holiday destinations are in the majority of cases far away from their home towns since people can often not imagine cycling in their home region. This also applies to day trips.

A good way to activate this untapped potential is to convince the local population to make use of their bicycles for leisure trips in their own region as well, and to provide attractive cycle routes for this purpose. A simple possibility of developing this potential is the creation of regional themed routes with different highlights. It is more difficult to connect the region to a supraregional long-distance cycle route. If this can successfully be achieved, cycle tourists visiting the region will not only give a boost to the local business world but will also show the local residents that their region is attractive and that the bicycle can be a useful means of locomotion.

Planning of tourist cycle routes

A key prerequisite for the planning of new tourist cycle routes is an attractive routing away from motorized traffic. Cycle tourists are quite willing to accept circuitous routes provided that beautiful and quiet tracks take them through contrasting landscapes. Asphalted tracks are not absolutely necessary but they increase the acceptance and also have a positive effect on the intended everyday use by the local population. Missing sections of such tracks must be constructed or existing farm and forestry tracks must be strengthened. Ideally, the cycle routes should be connected to the local rail network - at least at both ends - so as to enable cyclists to reach these routes even without a passenger car. If this is not possible, a bike bus may be offered as a useful alternative solution.

Mit dem Radanhänger durch die Natur
Mit dem Radanhänger durch die Natur © Daniela Schmidt

Regional themed routes

Every region has its special features and places of interest. The ideas for and the names of regional themed routes can be derived from such specific characteristics; the routes can be designed either as a circular or straight-course tour. As a rule, regional themed routes are designed for day trips or at least for weekend trips. In the case of straight-course tours, it is important that the cyclists can easily and safely return to their place of departure or that they can go on further tours from their place of arrival. Examples of regional themed routes are the Storchenradweg in the Havelland region, the Puderbacher Land cycle route in the Westerwald region or the Balkantrasse panoramic cycle route in the Bergisches Land region.

Supraregional long-distance cycle routes

According to ADFC estimates, there are approximately 150,000 km of cycle routes in Germany; the around 220 long-distance cycle routes with a length of more than 100 km account for nearly 50,000 km of these [Jennert 2013]. Supraregional long-distance cycle routes pass through several regions and often cross federal states’ borders, in some cases even national borders. Frequently, popular long-distance cycle routes follow the course of rivers. For some years, the top 10 most popular long-distance cycle routes have primarily included cycle paths along rivers such as the Elbe cycle route (in 2017, for the thirteenth time in a row, the most popular long-distance cycle route in Germany!) or the Danube cycle route. It is only the cycle route along the Baltic Sea coast and the cycle route around Lake Constance which - as cycle routes not running along a river - can regularly be found among the top 10 [ADFC 2017]. Nevertheless, there are also long-distance cycle routes away from bodies of water which pass through hilly countryside but are becoming more and more popular due to the increasing use of pedelecs. Examples include the Lake Constance-Lake Königssee cycle route, the Via Claudia Augusta or the Burgenstraße (Castle Route).

Facts and figures: The 10 criteria of the ADFC quality cycling routes

The ADFC certifies long-distance cycle routes of 100 km or more on the basis of 10 quality criteria. In this context, the cycle routes are assessed from the perspective of cyclists by means of a uniform checklist. A high-quality classification raises the prominence of the long-distance cycle route and consequently increases the number of cyclists using it [Jennert 2013].

The 10 criteria of the ADFC certification:

  1. Quality management (mandatory, exclusion criterion)
  2. Clear name and “route of national importance” (length at least 100 km, mandatory, exclusion criterion)
  3. Serviceability (width, staggered barriers, bollards)
  4. Surface (material and quality, pushing section, transverse grooves, big holes, steps)
  5. Directional signage (type of signage, wrong direction, lack of signposts, wrongly sited signposts, poorly legible font, in contradiction to the German Road Traffic Regulations - StVO)
  6. Routing (noise exposure, unpleasant smells, dust, detours, non-compliant with the theme, cumulative elevation gain, monotonous routing)
  7. Volume of motor vehicle traffic (car-free, categories according to motor vehicle traffic, crash barriers, danger spots, unprotected crossings)
  8. Tourist infrastructure (i.a. accommodation structure, restaurants, bed+bike businesses, tourist information (i brand), information signs, bicycle stands, bicycle box/bicycle station, playground, shelter, picnic site)
  9. Connection of the long-distance cycle route to public transport (frequency of long-distance rail services with bicycle carriage, frequency of public transport with bicycle carriage, bike bus)
  10. Marketing (i.a. available maps and publicity material, depending on scale and up-to-dateness, web site, events, flat rates etc.)

Since 2013, it has been possible for entire regions to obtain certification as an ADFC cycling region. For this purpose, for example the route network, the regional routes, the tourist infrastructure, marketing activities as well as the accessibility of the entire region are assessed.

More detailed descriptions of the individual criteria for the ADFC quality routes as well as for the ADFC cycling regions can be obtained from

Rail trails

According to the website, in February 2017, 731 German cycle routes with a total length of around 5,200 km ran on former railway lines.  A comparison among the federal states shows that North Rhine-Westphalia with 192 routes, comprising 934 km, and Bavaria with 97 routes, comprising 973 km, are way ahead of the other federal states. In North Rhine-Westphalia alone, 300 km of rail trails were constructed between 2008 and 2015 within the context of the “Förderprogramm Alleenradwege” ("rail trails" support programme ) [BEG 2010].

Highlight des Bahntrassenradelns: Mit dem Rad durch einen Tunnel der Wuppertaler Nordbahntrasse
Highlight des Bahntrassenradelns: Mit dem Rad durch einen Tunnel der Wuppertaler Nordbahntrasse © Tobias Klein

Rail trails offer routes that are objectively and subjectively safe, without any noticeable gradient, almost without level crossings and in most cases away from vehicle traffic. Therefore, they are ideal for local recreation but, depending on their routing, they are also an optimum alternative for commuters and school children. According to Lennertz/Nikolaus [2016], public authorities and policymakers are often astonished to see that rail trail projects meet with great interest among the population. A great advantage for the conversion of rail lines into cycle tracks is that expensive structures such as bridges, viaducts and tunnels are already in place, the disadvantage is that they have to be maintained. But it is these very structures which are the highlights of the route for tourists and at the same time they enable utility cyclists to move quickly and easily. Examples of especially successful projects are the Bergische Trassenverbund (route network including inter alia the Wuppertal northern railway line), the Vennbahn cycle route or the Sauerland cycle route. Large sections of the Ruhr cycle superhighway (RS1) have been or are to be built on former railway lines. The main target group here is the commuters in the region, but holiday makers will also be offered a new opportunity to discover the Ruhr valley.

Supraregional cooperation

For the planning and construction of a long-distance cycle route, close cooperation at supraregional level or, in the case of shorter themed routes, at least cooperation across local authority boundaries is necessary. A central project office is extremely beneficial for the establishment of a long-distance cycle route. The task of this office is to get all decision-makers and local municipalities on board and to assume the network management. Working parties consisting of representatives from districts and municipalities can deal with different subjects such as infrastructure and marketing.

Directional signage, information material and maps

Good directional signage makes it possible for non-local cyclists to move quickly without having to stop at every intersection in order to look at their map. The signage should be made in accordance with the guidance concerning the signage of cycle routes (HBR) which slightly differs from one federal state to the other (e.g. North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Brandenburg). Direction signs for cyclists also show the local population that there are cycle routes in their region. In connection with signage it must, however, be taken into account that utility cyclists prefer other routes and head for other destinations than cycle tourists (see below).

Radwegweisung am Neckar mit den Routenlogos von Paneuropa-Radweg, Burgenstraße, 3-Länder-Radweg, Odenwald-Madonnen-Weg und Neckartal-Weg
Radwegweisung am Neckar mit den Routenlogos von Paneuropa-Radweg, Burgenstraße, 3-Länder-Radweg, Odenwald-Madonnen-Weg und Neckartal-Weg © Tobias Klein

According to the ADFC [2017], 79% of cycle tourists use the local signposting for orientation. Thus, signposting is the most important source of information en route, but classic paper maps (64%), smartphones (48%), the internet (43%), travel guides for cycle tourists (41%), GPS devices (32%) and tourist information offices (30%) should also not be underestimated [ADFC 2017]. It is therefore important to make information about the region and the route available through different media. This makes it possible to make arrangements and get information in advance. Collaborative schemes with tourism associations, online portals and publishing houses ensure the distribution of this information via different sources.


Cycling tourists, too, prefer to use asphalted routes with only a small percentage of motorized traffic. If this is not possible on all sections of the route, the unpaved paths should, nevertheless, make it possible to move quickly and easily. Pot-holes, sandy spots or muddy surfaces make cycling much less enjoyable. At idyllic sites or near places of interest, it is worthwhile providing picnic areas; seats and shelters as well as displays with information about the route and the place make these sites more attractive. Cycle stands and lockers offer the opportunity to explore town centres on foot. Clearly signposted rental stations, repair shops and a tourist information office complete the range of services offered.

Rastplatz mit Infotafel am Bergischen Panorama-Radweg
Rastplatz mit Infotafel am Bergischen Panorama-Radweg © Tobias Klein

Economic effects of cycle tourism

In statistical terms, cycle tourists have a higher income than average holiday makers and spend relatively large sums of money during their holidays. What is more, they like to spend their holidays in Germany; according to ADFC [2017], 61% of the respondents indicated that they intend to make a cycle tour in Germany in 2017. Thus cycle tourism safeguards jobs in the regions, in particular in the catering, retail and services sectors. That is the reason why cycling schemes often meet with widespread approval among the population and industrial and political circles in the relevant regions.

The Ruhr valley cycle route, which was opened only in 2006 and has been certified as a four-star quality cycle route by the ADFC since 2010, has for some years been one of the most popular long-distance cycle routes in Germany. In 2016, it ranked third and in 2017 even second in the Bicycle Travel Analysis of the ADFC. Between 2006 and 2011, the turnover of the businesses along the cycle route increased by 40%. In 2014, the Ruhr Tourism GmbH performed an evaluation of the Ruhr valley cycle route and of the Römer-Lippe route in order to better assess the economic effects of cycle tourism and to develop new strategies for the future. Measurements of bicycle traffic and surveys illustrated that investments made by the local authorities and districts show positive effects in terms of tax revenue and employment rates from as early as the second year. Proof was also furnished of the high level of satisfaction among the cyclists, who will then recommend the route to other cyclists, which is an important factor for the tourism industries [Lottritz 2015].

Apart from the quality of a long-distance cycle route (ADFC quality cycle route, bed+bike collaborative schemes), good marketing is also essential for economic success. It is also imperative for all municipalities and districts to intensively work together within the context of the overall project.

From cycle tourism to utility cycling

Measures and investments in cycle tourism are also beneficial to the local population, be it for local recreation or for everyday cycling. The provision and signposting of good routes enhances the accessibility of areas by bicycle, especially in rural regions.

Die Nordbahntrasse hat in Wuppertal sowohl den Alltagsverkehr wie auch Naherholung beflügelt
Die Nordbahntrasse hat in Wuppertal sowohl den Alltagsverkehr wie auch Naherholung beflügelt © Tobias Klein

When optimizing cycling networks used for purely tourist purposes to become attractive for utility cycling, the different requirements of cycle tourists and utility cyclists have to be taken into account. In this case it is useful on certain links, if necessary, to provide  an alternative route with the appropriate signage, which might not pass through interesting scenery but is a direct connection and has a paved surface. If this alternative route is to be used in the evening or in autumn, it would be beneficial to install lighting systems. If there are two routes, it is important that the signage is adapted accordingly, i.e. indicating the route for utility cycling and the route for cycle tourism. In general, when planning tourist routes, provision should always be made for utility cycling, and this should ideally be the case vice versa, i.e. likewise taking tourist purposes into account in broader cycling planning.

Cycle tourism can generally be considered as a good marketing tool for the bicycle. 30% of cycle tourists will increasingly use their bicycle in everyday life after their cycling holiday [ADFC 2017].

FACTS AND FIGURES: The example of the city of Arnsberg

Until the opening of the Ruhr valley cycle route in 2006, cycling did not play a major role in the city of Arnsberg; it was only considered as a leisure activity. Many measures for the cycling sector were politically controversial and in most cases they could not be implemented. The new cycle route not only brought cycle tourists to Arnsberg but the local population also discovered the bicycle more and more as an everyday means of transport. First counts concerning cycling furnished proof of the effects for the city and were a key issue for the political discussion: The increasing number of cyclists resulted in  higher turnover for the local business community, thereby raising the awareness of policymakers for the bicycle, and the issue subsequently developed a momentum of its own.

Based on the strategy “Everything serving cycle tourism is also beneficial to our citizens”, cycle tourism has been considered as an integral part of urban development since 2007, has been taken into account for financial planning and has been systematically promoted. Important factors here were that members of the specialized committee cycled on the route several times and that a cycling officer was nominated; public participation and more publicity campaigns also played a major role. Thus, the city succeeded in firmly establishing the issue of cycling in people’s minds and in politics so that since then hardly any objections have been raised to cycling schemes.

First of all, it was intended to improve the quality of the Ruhr valley cycle route by adopting pre-defined planning principles. Attempts were made, among other things, to make the route alignment more attractive and to relocate it closer to the River Ruhr. Picnic areas were installed at prominent sites and at the entrances to towns or villages and information displays were set up. In addition, new parking facilities were created and the signage was improved.

In a second step, the city developed planning principles for utility cycling. Then, advisory cycle lanes were marked on major transport arteries, cycle-only roads were designated, pedestrian precincts were opened up to cyclists and municipal roads were redesigned to create liveable urban spaces. By late 2015, 70 of the around 90 measures defined in 2007 had already been implemented [Vielhaber 2015].

Summary and Outlook

Successful cycle tourism supports the acceptance of cycling among the population, policymakers and industry. For this reason, cycle tourism can open the door for utility cycling. If we succeed in convincing important stakeholders and persons of influence of the positive economic effects of cycle tourism, it may be easier to achieve majorities for the necessary investments in general cycling schemes. Especially in rural regions this may contribute to a stronger promotion of cycling. Even hilly upland regions, where cycle tourism has up to now been of minor significance, will in the future benefit from the increasing popularity of pedelecs.

Checklist: Cycle tourism as a stepping stone towards utility cycling

  • Plan attractive regional themed routes and/or participate in a supraregional long-distance cycle route
  • If possible, connect the routes to the local passenger rail services network
  • Construct the necessary connecting routes or strengthen existing farm and forestry tracks
  • Provide links to settlement centres and places of interest
  • Prepare information material and maps in printed and/or digital form
  • Signpost the route in accordance with the guidance concerning the signage of cycle routes
  • Provide signs pointing to information centres, places of interest, restaurants and overnight accommodation as well as town and city centres, stations and bicycle shops
  • Provide picnic areas, information displays and general maps
  • Provide cycle parking spaces in key locations, if necessary lockers or boxes for baggage
  • In cities: Provide a cycle hire scheme for tourists and the local population
  • Integrate and, if necessary, construct direct and quick links for utility cycling
  • Supplement the signposting for cycle tourism by signposting for utility cycling


[Jennert 2013]
in: Stadt und Gemeinde interaktiv 7-8/2013, S. 322-324
Jennert, Raimund (2013)
[Kalwitzki 2015]
in: Verkehrszeichen 3/2015, S. 4-8
Kalwitzki, Klaus-Peter (2015)
[Landesbetrieb Mobilität Rheinland-Pfalz 2014]
(Abruf am 27.03.2017)
Landesbetrieb Mobilität Rheinland-Pfalz (2014)
[Lennertz/Nicolaus 2016]
Folienvortrag im Rahmen der Seminarreihe 4 2015/16 der Fahrradakademie
Lennertz, Thomas, und Volker Nicolaus (2016)
[Lottritz 2015]
Folienvortrag auf der 9. Fahrradkommunalkonferenz am 10. November 2015 in Rostock (Abruf am 28.03.2017)
Lottritz, Christoph (2015)
[Vielhaber 2015]
Folienvortrag auf der 9. Fahrradkommunalkonferenz am 10. November 2015 in Rostock (Abruf am 27.03.2017)
Vielhaber, Thomas (2015)
Meta Infos
SPT 08
Date (Text as of…)
7. February 2017
Tobias Klein (Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik)
Handlungsfelder NRVP
Cycle tourism
Geographical aspects