(CNN) -

If you're taking a strict view on the world's most bike-friendly cities, the eventual list would mainly take in a smallish patch of northwest Europe.

One such rating table, produced by the Denmark-based cycling advocacy group Copenhagnize, has more than half its top 20 bike-friendly places clustered around the Netherlands, France, Germany and Denmark.

Instead, we'll spread our net more widely, rewarding aspiration, ambition and progress, as well as just endless ranks of smiling cyclists pedaling sensible bikes on segregated paths.

Utrecht, Netherlands

Lists such as this one traditionally begin with Amsterdam, but while the Netherlands' most populous city is definitely bike friendly, we're marking it down for the hordes of wobbling tourists on bright-red rental machines.

Instead we're heading southeast to Utrecht, a city that has a fair claim to being the globe's most pro-two-wheel destination.

In its center, up to 50% of all journeys take place in the saddle and local authorities are building a 12,500-space cycle parking facility billed as the world's biggest.

As in all Dutch cities, visitors from places with a more belligerent traffic culture might be struck at how normal it all feels.

Cycling in Utrecht is treated on par with walking, with helmets and high-visibility garments rarely used, not least because of the protection offered by segregated cycle lanes.

One well known English cycle blogger, Mark Treasure, was struck by the range in ages on a visit to Utrecht.

"I find it hard to imagine children this young cycling into the center of any UK city at all, let alone cycling in and looking so happy and relaxed, and so ordinary," he writes.

"Yet in Utrecht, families cycling around together is commonplace."

Seville, Spain

Seville is the answer to those who say promoting urban bike use is too ambitious and takes decades.

In 2006, the Andalusian capital's government, vexed by the city's four daily rush hours (yes, four! This is siesta-taking southern Spain) decided to take action.

There was plenty of naysaying.

Critics pointed out Spain has scant tradition of commuter cycling.

Some questioned who would ride in midsummer through Europe's hottest regions and risk arriving at work as damp as if they'd just pedaled through a mechanical car wash.

Undaunted, the city established about 50 miles of cycle lanes within a year (there's now about 80 miles) and commissioned a municipal bike rental plan called Sevici.

The result?

Within about six years, journeys made by bike shot from less than 0.5% to about 7%, and city transportation chiefs from around the world suddenly had the perfect excuse to arrange week-long fact-finding trips in the sun.

Montreal

By long tradition one of the few North American cities in these sort of lists, Montreal began constructing bike paths in the 1980s and now has almost 400 miles of them.

The addition of its popular and pioneering Bixi municipal bike-share plan, the model for those later rolled out in Paris and London, has meant a remarkable amount of cycle use, especially for a place where daytime winter temperature above 10 C (50 F) is viewed as dangerously tropical.

Cycling stats for Montreal indicate the city still has work to do and cycle groups say too many riders are nudged onto busy roads.