I saw the future, and it was filled with bike lanes, free education, and free healthcare. It was also filled with cigarette smoke and broken glass, but you can’t have everything, right? This past weekend, the Mrs. and I took a transcendent trip to the cycling city of Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen, half of the population commutes by bike, and even 63% of the Danish parliament cycles to work. In fact, there are more bicycles in Copenhagen than there are people. Much like it is in Amsterdam, parked bicycles cluster up, clinging to poles and fences, overflowing out of designated bike parking. It really is an incredible sight for people who’ve never seen so many bicycles in one place.
Forgetting where you park your bike here is like forgetting where you parked your car at the mall, except every car is roughly the same make and model and there’s no key fob to press that will make your bike beep back at you.
We had scheduled a bike tour of the city with a Danish man by the name of “Bike Mike”. Mike’s a one-man operation, taking tourists around the city to see both the expected tourist spots and also the places he deems important himself, which is to say, important to Denmark. He is fiercely nationalistic-- and quite a character.
Mike took us around to several of the local government buildings, all of which were impressive in their architecture. Many sculptures adorn the city, from famous philosophers and government figures, to Greek gods and little mermaids. We probably saw a dozen on the tour without really going out of our way to see them.
Although Mike preferred to ride through non-standard (and non-recognized) thoroughfares, we also had the opportunity to utilize some of Copenhagen’s world-famous cycling infrastructure. Copenhagen has been expanding it’s non-car roads for several years now and continues to push vehicular traffic outside the city, giving those roads back to pedestrians and cyclists. Towards the end of the tour, we approached a bridge that I instantly recognized, in spite of having never been on it in person: the Cykelslangen, or “Bike Snake.” Connecting two separate parts of the city as it spans over the water, I was very excited to ride on it.
There is a very delicate balance between the historic and the contemporary here; what is classic and what is modern both occupy the same spaces, yet it seems to work. The bicycles people ride on the streets exhibit this same principle. The basket-clad utility bike, in service for almost as long as bicycles have been around, is rode alongside the newest, technologically advanced bikes. The most striking example is the city’s very own bikeshare program, which are known as GoBikes.
Like New York’s Citibikes, London’s Boris Bikes, or any other city with a bike share program, the Copenhagen GoBikes are located in various spots around the city, available to check out from their kiosks. These, I should note, are mammoths compared to any of those, however. They have solid, puncture-proof tires, GPS and turn-by-turn navigation on an integrated touch-screen, and electric-assisted pedaling (which you need, considering how much each one weighs.)
As gimicky as most of the locals seem to find them (how successful an idea is bike share in a city where everyone already owns a bike?), I really wanted to test one out. Unfortunately, they were near impossible to find for some reason, and as universal as they are engineered to be, were too big for the Mrs. to pedal comfortably, even with the seat lowered all the way down. (She’s really not even that short!) So it was a very abbreviated hands-on with the GoBike system. Thankfully, if you’re visiting Copenhagen and you need a bicycle, there are many local bike shops and hotels that will let you rent a normal bicycle by the day.
We ended our trip with a visit to Tuvoli Gardens, the second-oldest amusement park in the world, for some music and ice cream. Altogether, I enjoyed Copenhagen very much; I would recommend it to anyone looking to visit somewhere incredibly bike-friendly. There’s so much more to see than we were able to squeeze into a single weekend there, and there's so much more to say than I can fit into a single blog post. If you do go, and Bike Mike isn’t away on an adventure somewhere, definitely book a city tour with him at http://bikecopenhagenwithmike.dk.
- Bicyclist Abroad