bikebritain Says August 26, 2010

......shall we cycle Danish Style?

Being a regular traveller to Denmark and it occurred to me on a recent trip that the Danes are arguably bigger into bikes than the Dutch. Controversial maybe, but there are bikes literally everywhere. In fact you could say the place is littered with them. And all things considered, riding a bike in Denmark makes alot of sense.

The cycling experience is one that attracts girls and boys, young and old alike One morning, walking to work, I saw this old chap on an ancient bike smoking a pipe. Brilliant! It's not a sight I see very often. The typical style of the bikes ridden in Denmark is quite different to Britain say. Around Copenhagen for instance, the 'sit up and beg' city tourer is the typical of the bikes you'll see. It's a relatively old fashioned design, quite heavy, but perfect for navigating the the cycle lanes through the city and surrounding connurbations. One of the clever things about these bikes is their integral lock. Rarely do you see the type of locks we cart about, wrapped around the saddle post or tied in an ungainly fashion around your handlebars. These bikes come with a bolt that slides through the back wheel and locks in place.  Clever; plus removes the need to carry anything else. They also tend to be drum geared - so the relatively minor inclines that Denmark does offer are catered for.
Let’s refer back to the subject of cycle lanes. These are not the pitiful excuses for cycle lanes we have in the UK. Bits of old pavement re-surfaced and with a bike painted on, working on the pretence it was always planned to be there. No, these are cycle lanes in the Continental sense of the word - an organised, planned system where bikes have teir own lights and motorised vehicles or obligated to give way where appropriate. It probably helps that everyone seems to ride a bike as well because there is a sense of bikes sharing the road with car as well as pedestrians. The roads are wider than at home - but then it's not a problem if you plan your neighbour and housing accordingly. Indeed outside any of the many flats and apartments in Denmark you'll see a row of bikes parked up outside like soldiers on parade. Of course venture into the city and order gives way to volume - the shear numbers of bikes mean they do clutter up parts of the city - and it only takes one bike to fall over for it to create a good old fashioned domino effect - just on a larger basis! Generally though you will see bike racks outside all public buildings so there's also no need to chain your bike to a lamp post or some other inconvenient inanimate object.
A couple other observations if I may. With the use of bikes being so prevalent, it encourages the kids to be mobile, to be active, enjoy some freedom and become road aware at an early age. These are all posiitve benefits. Surprisingly though, the wearing of helmets does not occur. I think it's fair to say that one attribute that Danish people share is caution. They prefer to think things through, provide rationale argument, discuss, (enjoy a drink) and make a decision. It's all pretty logical - all under control. So I don't understand why the helmet 'uptake' is low. I don't know whether the Danes are particularly adverse to 'helmet hair'? Or if it's because everyone is travelling at relatively low speeds it's just not perceived to be a risk - but whatever the reason, you are definitely in the minority if you wear a hat in Denmark. Likewise if you own a road bike, you also stand out. The populous rides commuter-type bikes - so speedy road machines are few and far between. So not only do you see alot of bikes but they are also look different to the bikes in the UK. Many Danes use their bikes to take their kids to nursery or school. This breeds all sorts of trikes that are designed to carry the little ones to and from home. Trailers are popular but the type I like are the ones where the kids sit in the frontso they can see exactly what's ahead of them. A great idea - and an entertaining way of getting about. (I am seriously considering buying one of these when my son gets a bit older.) If you are visiting you can also hire bikes from one of the many locations in Copenhagen. You won’t win the Tour de France on them, but if you fancy a gentle amble through the city, up to the Little Mermaid and perhaps over to Christanania, then this is an ideal way to do it.
One final note. Riding a bike also makes financial sense. To buy own a car in Denmark is fiercely expensive. We complain about the cost of motoring in the UK but it is insignifiacnt when you compare what the Danes pay in tax when buying a new car for example. It's circa 400%. So it's not unusual to see senior people in our business drive cars you would consider not being far off bangers in the UK. I'm not saying the bikes are cheap  - but it's all relative. 
So with designated cycle lanes, a culture that has cycling  as part it’s daily life and a very friendly welcome  - why not visit Denmark (and wonderful Copenhagen!) and see for yourself. For more information about cycling in Denmark, try this link here -
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