His comments, made at a private meeting of MPs, illustrate the government's divided loyalties on transport and have angered campaigners who accuse Labour of reneging on its commitment to support cycling.
The government has already abandoned its target of doubling the number of cycling journeys by 2002 - set by the Tory government four years ago - but is still hoping to quadruple cycle use by 2012. Cycling accounts for fewer than 2% of trips in Britain, compared with 10% in Sweden, 11% in Germany and 18% in Denmark.
Although the government has publicly pledged its support for the bicycle, lobby groups complain that the material benefits in many areas are paltry. They complain of lack of segregated routes in urban areas, poor facilities at railway stations and inadequate efforts to make school routes safer.
MPs in the all-party parliamentary cycling group say the comparison is flawed, however, because cycling levels in the Netherlands are so much higher than in Britain.
Despite cyclists' claims that the labour government dismisses them as 'cranky', there are signs of a bicycle revival. Next month 5,000 miles of the National Cycle Network will be opened across Britain - a third of which will be vehicle-free.
The new network - developed by the Sustrans charity and partly funded with a£43.5m lottery grant - runs along disused railway lines, canal towpaths and country lanes. By 2005 the length of the network will have doubled and half the population will live within two miles of the route.