Cycling is a great way to get around. The distances between cities, villages, nature reserves and archaeological sites are relatively short; many highways have wide shoulders (though drivers can politely be described as erratic, and cycling is forbidden on some major intercity routes); and there is a growing number of off-road bike trails and scenic byways. Biking is also a great way to meet people and experience the country at ground level. Best of all, it’s free and environmentally friendly.
The main drawback to cycling, other than the risk of being run over, is the heat. Always set off as early in the day as possible and carry plenty of water. Choose your route carefully: while the coastal plain is flat enough, the Upper Galilee, the Golan and the Dead Sea region have lots of steep hills, and the Negev Desert and the Jordan Valley can be mercilessly hot. One of the best one-day bike trips is around the Sea of Galilee (bikes can be hired in Tiberias).
Bicycles can be taken on intercity buses for no charge and are allowed on all trains – including those serving Ben Gurion Airport – except during rush hour (6am to 9am and 3pm to 7pm) Sunday to Thursday and on Saturday evening (there's no rush hour on Friday and the eves of Jewish holidays so all trains are bike-friendly then). Folding bikes can travel with you inside buses and can be taken on all trains.
Some bike shops will rent out bikes by the week, and may agree to buy a bike back from you at a reasonable price if you purchase it new from their shop. You’ll find plenty of bike shops in Tel Aviv (eg along HaHashmona’im St), Jerusalem, Haifa and other cities; the two largest chains are Rosen & Meents (www.rosen-meents.co.il) and Matzman & Merutz (www.matzman-merutz.co.il).
Some airlines allow you to bring along your bicycle for a reasonable fee while others charge a small fortune so check before you book.
Bike paths have been going up in cities all over Israel but the most developed network is in Tel Aviv, which has a municipal bike rental program called O-Fun (http://ofun.co.il).