Cycling with heels goes to Copenhagen

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Almost every street in Copenhagen is lined with bikes

“Wow…just look at all those bikes.”
My friend sighed impatiently. “I’m hungry. I need food. Let’s find somewhere to have dinner.”
“But…bikes!”
“Food!”

We’d arrived in Copenhagen early Friday evening, just in time for dinner. As anyone who’s ever travelled anywhere will know, that’s never a good time to arrive in a strange city. After checking into the hotel, we headed out into the unfamiliar streets in search of some food. While my friend focused on the task in hand, I found myself being somewhat distracted. Almost every street we walked along was lined with bikes – red bikes, blue bikes, green bikes and black bikes, bikes with wicker baskets and metal baskets, bikes with big, Dutch-style frames, shiny new bikes and rusted old ones. Row upon row upon row of bikes.

Imagine being able to leave your bike unlocked outside a bar

Imagine being able to leave your bike unlocked outside a bar

There are, as I was discovering, a lot of bikes in Copenhagen. Everyone cycles, or so it seems. According to my guidebook, around three in every four Danes own one, and around half cycle on a regular basis. As a result, Copenhagen is one of the most cycle friendly cities in Europe, if not the world.

It’s certainly the most cycle friendly city I’ve ever been to. Everywhere I went, I saw people on bikes. Not just the typical cyclists you get in London – invariably young, male and kitted out in expensive gear – but also children, older people and middle-aged people, women as well as men, all dressed in everyday clothes.

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Separate cycle path? Check. Women on bikes? Check. Ordinary clothes? Check. No helmets? Check.

Hardly any of them wore helmets. And why would they? Cycling isn’t the dangerous activity it’s seen to be back home. There are clearly marked cycle lanes throughout the city, physically separating cyclists from both the traffic and pedestrians. At junctions, cyclists have their own sets of traffic lights. They don’t turn left (the equivalent of our right turn) across junctions – they’re not allowed to. Instead, they get off their bikes, cross with the pedestrians, and get back on at the other side.

I saw none of the animosity between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers that we get back home. No-one, it seemed, would dream of straying onto a cycle path. And no cyclist, it seemed, would dream of running a red light (at least I never saw anyone do it). Unlike back home, so many of those drivers are also cyclists and pedestrians, and likewise the pedestrians are also cyclists and drivers, and the cyclists are also pedestrians and drivers. As a result, they respect each others’ right of way.

Did I mention there are lots of bikes in Copenhagen?

Did I mention there are lots of bikes in Copenhagen?

There’s also a massive difference in the style of bikes I saw people riding in Copenhagen. I hardly saw any sleek, expensive racers. Instead, many people ride simple road bikes with few or no gears, and heavy, traditional bikes – the ‘sit up and beg style’. These bikes aren’t designed for going long distances, up hills or very fast. Instead, they’re designed for leisurely pootling around – popping to the shops or meeting up with friends for coffee or lunch – which is what everyone uses them for.

Isn't it beautiful? *sigh*

Isn’t it beautiful? *sigh*

Incredibly, no-one seems to lock their bike up – or at least, they don’t lock it to anything. They simply leave it wherever they feel like it, and trust that it’ll still be there when they get back. As a Londoner, that was probably the one thing I had the most trouble getting my head around – if anyone did that back home, their bike would be gone within half an hour, if not sooner.

It would be fair to say that I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love with the many, many beautiful, old Dutch-style bikes and their shiny new modern counterparts (like this one). But, more than that, I’ve fallen in love with the whole idea of being able to get around easily and safely by bike.

This is how it should be for cyclists.

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11 thoughts on “Cycling with heels goes to Copenhagen

  1. Well we can all dream. In London there’s a long way to go in mutual understanding between motorists and cyclists. A motorist once wound down her window to admonish me for not wearing a helmet. I asked her why she was asking, was it so that she could run me over?

    • I know! I think it also says a lot about their culture as a whole. I think over there they have more respect for each other, and other people’s needs – whereas we’re far more individualistic. It would take a massive shift in attitudes for us to become more like that. I’d like to think it could happen…but I know I have to be realistic.

  2. Next time you come to Copenhagen, please try this out:
    Bike the City
    Now Anton Ryslinge´s home-grown company Bike the City has created an updated and independent alternative:
    hand-crafted, guided bike tours, but yet with the freedom to ride at your own pace and in the company of your choice. The result is a whole new bicycle experience where visitors can take their time as they go treasure hunting for both classic highlights and local hotspots.
    The technology is simple: an easy-to-use GPS/audio-guide which is placed on the bicycle. The system guides you safely along bike-friendly streets while the integrated audio-guide provides all the anecdotes and background information you could wish for at each hand-picked destination.

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