A Taste of Bike Culture in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is often touted as the most bike-friendly city in the world.  It’s not for its rolling single-track or steep descents, so bear with me, but being surrounded by bike culture at every turn is seriously awesome.  Over 50% of Copenhageners commute daily by bike and, according to www.visitcopenhagen.com, there are more bikes than inhabitants.  More bikes than inhabitants.  But, Copenhagen doesn’t really exemplify The Mountain Bike Life (Continue bearing with me);  it is, after all, an incredibly flat city.  However, for my MTB life it was pretty damn exciting, as I tried in vain to bunny hop my borrowed bike complete with metal basket and rear rack.  Or as I, a rebellious American, rode off the specified bike path, onto the sidewalk, and tried to jump off the curb, something I didn’t see once amongst the extremely law-abiding citizens of Copenhagen. Seriously, they don’t even jaywalk.

More bikes than inhabitants, this proves it.


As soon as I arrived in Copenhagen at 12:45am, I walked down wide cobblestone streets with my girlfriend, ogling every bike rack we passed. Of the few inhabitants wandering the streets this late on a Wednesday night, most were either on a bike or walking a bike.  Cars barely tread in the city center of Copenhagen, which is clearly evident every time a storage van tries to navigate through.  The vans are out of place and awkward, as if they’re lost and took a wrong turn. Pedestrians and bikers pay them no mind until they absolutely have to, and I began to look at the vans as one might look at a lost puppy.  I’m told that biking is so successful and so popular and Copenhagen because it’s simply the easiest form of travel.  It’s not a matter of wanting to be environmentally friendly or cost effective; the way the town is laid out is just incredibly conducive to bike travel.

My steed for the weekend.
And with that introduction, I give to you my steed for the weekend, borrowed from my girlfriend’s roommate.  Some of you may cringe, as I may have, had I not ridden a bike since January.  Yes, January.  Notably small and heavy, it graced me with a 1xSomething rear derailleur and coaster brakes.  Front handbrake was present but ineffective.  I really can’t complain because I actually did use the front basket to transport my luggage to my rented accommodation, and the wheels were functional.  I had a great time speeding through wet sections of asphalt and slamming on the coaster brakes to the alarm of my girlfriend who led the way.  As you can probably surmise, Copenhagers don’t do this.  What they do, is use their bells when necessary, hand signal at every turn, give proper distance to other riders, only overtake on the left, and they never go on red lights.  Bike etiquette was pleasingly prevalent.  We effectively moved across town through intersections and numerous lanes of bike traffic.  After a time, I felt more like a car in terms of awareness.  My favorite part was being stopped at a bike-specific traffic light with 10 other bikers, which was surprisingly reminiscent of driving, but considerably more personal.
Bike lanes are marked in intersections by blue lanes such as this.
The way traffic works in Copenhagen favors bicycles.  Two types of traffic lights exist, and those for bikes allow a start up time for stationary riders.  While at a red light, the light will turn yellow before it turns green again; this yellow period is for bikers to remount and get pedaling before the green happens.  Basically, it gives bikers the necessary head start over the cars in adjacent lanes.  In some areas, the city is implementing foot rests on the curb so that bikers won’t even have to dismount (the equivalent of grabbing a tree on the side of a trail for a short break).  Also in the works are bike traffic lights that give riders right of way in the rain, to minimize the amount of time that someone on a bike has to spend sitting uncovered in the rain.  Combined with some of the flattest stretches of road, the city truly is incredibly bike-friendly.
The Copenhagen adaptation of my GT Karakoram. Or so I imagine.
Bike shops grace almost every main street, in addition to bike parking areas and racks.  I really have never seen so many bicycles in one place.  Though I kept my eyes peeled all weekend, I only a saw a few legitimate hard-tail bikes, mostly Cube brand.  In Copenhagen, the most stylish bikes were the fixies: color coordinated, minimalist, and perfect for the flat roads.  Also very popular are bikes with covered carts in the front to transport the thousands of ski-suit clad babies that live there.
I left Copenhagen wanting nothing more than to live in a place where commuting by bike is so safe and efficient.  I made a vow to spruce up my yard-sale road bike when I return home, as well as give some much needed loving to my Karakoram.
Loved the geometry on this one.

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