4 minute read

Copenhagen Bicycle Culture

By Kay Xander Mellish

Bicycle culture is one of the reasons I moved to Copenhagen. I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, yet in a car you generally find yourself in a bubble, sealed off from the world. On a bicycle, you’re face to face, human to human, with all your fellow commuters. Slightly-late-to-the office workers, small schoolchildren beneath very big bike helmets, trim grannies zipping ahead of you on their electric cycles – you’ll meet them all in the Copenhagen bike lanes.

Bike infrastructure is not an afterthought in Copenhagen, as it is so many big cities. Most busy streets have separate raised lanes in both directions for bicycle traffic. There are also bicycle-only highways that cut through the city in places cars can’t go, and several cross-harbor bridges for bicycle and pedestrian traffic alone.

Bicycles for tourists

As a tourist, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced Copenhagen if you haven’t seen it over the handlebars of a bicycle. Many hotels have bikes for their guests to borrow, and there are also bicycle rental shops around town. The shared electric bikes you book with an app are great for short trips in the center of the city, but if you want to venture out a little further – say, to Bispebjerg Cemetery to see the cherry trees blossom –you’ll benefit from a lighter bike that can go up hills.

That said, there are relatively few hills in Copenhagen. The city’s flatness is one of the reasons bicycling is so popular. But Denmark’s changeable weather means you might face the dreaded “modvind,” or a headwind blowing from the direction your bicycle is supposed to be going. On a pretty spring day this might be a sweet breeze and a mild inconvenience. On a dark black evening in the depths of winter, as icy pellets angle into your eyes, it can be a horror.

Through the wind and rain

And make no mistake, Copenhageners bike all year round, summer or winter, rain or shine. If you are in the city on a wet day, you may see bicyclists in “rain suits”, which is a kind of plastic tracksuit that allows them to ride through the rain and arrive looking somewhat presentable at their destination.

Biking to work is part of Copenhagen cul- ture. While cars are common in the suburbs, the hassle of parking and the high cost of fuel means many city residents avoid owning one.

In some countries, having a shiny and powerful car is an executive status symbol, but in Denmark many high-powered business leaders bike to work.

You can spot them in their brightly colored racing Spandex, whooshing past everyone else in the bike lane as they speed towards their very important business. On arrival, they take a quick shower at the company gym before dressing up in their office attire. (Competitive biking events in Denmark have largely replaced golf as the best way to network with movers and shakers.)

How to follow the rules

Do bike in Copenhagen, but make sure to follow the rules. Stay in the bike lane and stay to the right so that quicker cyclists can pass you. Pedestrians crossing the lane have the right of way, especially if they are getting off a bus. If you’re bicycling into an intersection, be certain that the vehicle next to you isn’t turning right into your path – this is how a lot of accidents happen. And if you’re planning to turn, signal. Just reach out your arm in the direction you plan to go.

When the Copenhagen bikers can’t tell you’re a tourist, you’re doing it right.

Kay Xander Mellish is the voice behind the “How to Live in Denmark” podcast and the author of “How to Live in Denmark” “How to Work in Denmark” and “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans.” Follow her on Twitter at @how2liveinDK or at howtoliveindenmark.com



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