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