Aucklander Keri Bloomfield is living the new parent dream – in Copenhagen, where she gets to bike around town with her baby as a matter of course. You can follow her her adventures on a beautiful blog (check out how to never be mistaken for a Dane while riding round Copenhagen) and via great videos on her FB page. Here, Keri gives us an overview of the top ten two-wheeled pleasures of her new home town…
Before moving to Copenhagen, I lived in Auckland. A great city to live in but it was painful to commute in. Onewa Road, while giving me many hours of reflection in the car or bus, very nearly stole my soul – and Wynyard Quarter (bike vs. tram tracks) literally stole my front tooth. After the Wynyard episode, my Auckland cycling adventures ended, to be replaced by adventures in modern dentistry.
But now that I’m living in Copenhagen with my Danish partner and half-Danish half-Kiwi baby, there has really been no choice but to quite literally get back on the bike.
Nine out of ten Danes own a bike, with only four out of ten owning a car. Danes pay 150% tax on cars which tends to help you decide pretty quickly if you really need a car in your life.
In Copenhagen, cyclists ride 1,240,000 km every day, and 56% of Copenhageners who work or study in the city commute by bike. This month, bikes were reported as outnumbering cars in the city for the first time ever – 265,700 bikes vs. 252 600 cars.
So in the interest of best ‘integrating’ into my new life in Copenhagen, it would have been rude not to use some of the 454 km cycle lanes in the city (that’s the last set of numbers, I promise). After the grateful loan of a bike, I’ve been giving it my best shot commuting around the city on two wheels.
The extensive cycling infrastructure and bike culture in Denmark is incredible and inspiring. It’s extremely easy, quick and convenient way to get around the city, and cycling is completely normalised. Public transport is built complementary to the cycle lanes, with extensive bike parking at most metro and train stations, and bikes allowed to travel for free on the trains.
If one could choose a city in which to be exiled without a car, Copenhagen would be your first choice by far. It is the city of cycling where its popularity drives its normality. And the extensive cycling network and facilities have made me feel hugely protected – so much so that I rode without a cycle helmet for my first 6 months living here, something I would never have even considered in New Zealand. I have now invested in a helmet, but this perhaps helps explain to those who haven’t lived in Denmark why you will see so many people not wearing helmets (less than 30% of cyclists in the bigger cities wear helmets), and why it is not compulsory to wear them.
Here are 10 more great things I’ve discovered about living in one of the world’s leading cycling cities:
- Real men and women ride bikes in Copenhagen. In fact pretty much everyone rides a bike in Copenhagen. You’re more likely to stick out if you aren’t cycling than if you are cycling. With 9 out of 10 Danes owning a bike, you see all ages and abilities cycling, every day, in all weather. Even mobility scooters are a regular sight in the cycle lanes in Copenhagen.
- Statistically, I now need to bike for 2800 years before I will be involved in a serious accident. (Random fact courtesy of The Cycling Embassy of Denmark – yes, they have a Cycling Embassy!) My remaining real front tooth should therefore (touch wood) be safe.
- I am no longer a moving target. In New Zealand, I very much felt like a moving target when on my bike. So it has been amazing to experience drivers patiently waiting for me to pass first. Drivers in Denmark are noticeably more vigilant around cyclists, with minimal dumb behaviour and flipping-the-bird.
- There’s a bike shop on every other corner. Bike shops are to Denmark as Starbucks is to San Francisco, with 289 bike shops in Copenhagen alone. I can easily count at least ten bike shops within a 2km radius of our apartment. Most also have ‘hole in the wall’ repair stations.
- You get to bike with a basket. Baskets aren’t just for children or for making your bike look nostalgic or quaint. They are an extremely practical and necessary accessory for transporting shopping and possessions. Men (real men included) also happily bike with baskets.
- You can buy cool and sparkly helmets. There is great access to some very cool bike accessories in Copenhagen, from sparkly helmets to stylish bells. This is the city to totally bling out your bike.
- You can turn right on a red light (although not at all red lights). After a trial earlier this year, cyclists are now allowed to turn right on red lights at 33 selected intersections. In addition, cyclists also have their own sets of traffic lights throughout the city, which often give you a few seconds head start before the cars get a green light. For those who remember the Footrot Flats Theme Park in Te Atatu and its mini ‘drivers town’? It’s just like that 😉
- Cyclist resting stations are found at many intersections throughout Copenhagen. They are simple bars which you can glide up to on your bike and rest on instead of having to dismount. I personally have varying success with smoothly gliding into these resting stations.
- Bells are compulsory. Every bike in Denmark must have a bell. With the volume of bikes in the cycle lanes there is great value in letting people know you’re approaching from behind, overtaking, etc. Although, in something of a cultural paradox, Danes really try not to ring their bells, as it can be seen as being a show-off. Danes in general like to blend in; they don’t like to confront.
- I can cycle easily and safely with my baby. Cargo bikes, Christiania bikes and cycling trailers are all very common sights in Copenhagen, with parents using these on a daily basis to transport their children around the city and to and from school/childcare. We use a Thule cycling trailer and it has given me huge freedom to explore the city with our now one year old daughter since she was 7 months old, something I don’t know I would have done in New Zealand.
Overall, I’m feeling blessed to currently be living in a city where cycling is the norm. If you ever travel to Copenhagen, you need to get on a bike to experience the city fully. Although hopefully before then, wherever you live in the world, a little bit of Copenhagen may have found its way to you. Because seriously: along with pastries, these Danes know a thing or two about cycling and they should most definitely be selling it to every other country in the world.