Cycling in Copenhagen: the pleasure and the pain

Photo from Flickr by Mike_fleming, reproduced under Creative Commons licence

One fairly major advantage we had going for us before we moved here was that, living in Oxford, we were well used to riding our bikes daily. We both biked to work each day, and even the kids were ferried to and from school and childminder in our trusty Burley double trailer, rain or shine. I thought Oxford was a pretty bike-centric place – until I got here. I was amazed. The city is so well set up for cycling and handles thousands of bike commuters everyday. [Hat tip to my lovely sister in law who flagged up this interesting article on the subject: apparently bikes now outnumber cars in Copenhagen!]

The cycle lanes are ubiquitous and double width on most major roads. Cyclists even get their own dinky traffic lights at many junctions, and cars are (by necessity) very bike aware and have to wait for bikes to pass by before they can turn right across a bike lane.

Our landlord kindly sold us his Nihola cargo bike which, I have to say, is much easier to cart the kids around in than our trailer (which Nathan was almost too big for. Once you get the hang of steering it, it is surprisingly pleasant to use (unless you are battling a fierce headwind with the kids in tow). Back in Oxford there were a few of these cargo bikes around, here they are everywhere – probably every tenth bike you see will be some flavour of cargo bike. With the cover on and a blanket tucked around their knees the kids are cosy as can be (the same cannot always be said for the driver of course!). They are also great for lugging the shopping home – since we no longer have a car!

The pain part? Well, firstly, and most painful in the wallet region: punctures. Perhaps I have just been spectacularly unlucky, but last week I was plagued by not one, but two of the damn things in the space of six days (one on my bike and one on the cargo bike) and both of them at really inconvenient times and locations, not to mention the expense of buying replacement ‘anti-puncture’ tyres at around £50 a pop. Ouch. I suspect the culprit was broken glass, since there seems to be a LOT of it about depending on where you are. My ‘broken glass radar’ is now on high alert since if we keep getting punctures this frequently the kids will be going without Christmas presents (only joking nippers).

One other useful tip: if you find yourself biking around Copenhagen do observe local biking etiquette. Copenhageners cycle fast, and will properly shout at you if you don’t follow the rules. Obviously we ‘drive’ on the other side here. If you are going to slow down to stop, you raise your left hand up to shoulder height (elbow bent to keep your hand close to your shoulder) to signal to cyclists behind you. Whatever you do, don’t try to turn left at a junction by pulling up to the middle of the road ready to cross at a gap in the traffic. The ‘Copenhagen left’ as it is (apparently) called, means that in order to turn left at a busy junction, you first ride straight on the right side of the path through the junction, signalling as just described with your left hand raised, stop on the opposite side then turn 90 degrees to the new direction you want to travel. Then wait until the light turns green in your new direction and on you go! (Hard to describe, but if you watch out at busy junctions you’ll see what I mean.) I was blissfully unaware of this last one when I spent a day cycling around the city apartment-hunting and very nearly got mown down by an angry motorist… a sure-fire way to mark yourself out as a tourist…

Speaking of which, if you do come here on holiday, check out the fantastic white city bikes available at many locations around the city. Not only do they have a tablet-type screen inset on the handlebars that makes navigating around the city as easy as tapping in an address and following the sat nav, they also have a motor that can be switched on when you get a bit weary (or need to go uphill, which thankfully is rarely in Copenhagen). They can be hired by the hour using the Bycyklen app from multiple locations around the city and have a clever pin-code activated lock mechanism that works via the touch screen. When you’re done, just use the touch screen to hunt for your nearest docking station, and leave it locked up and charging for the next person. (From personal experience, the battery for the motor won’t last a whole day if you use it a lot, so factor that in to your plans.)

The other ‘painful’ part of cycling of course will be when the winter weather properly kicks in. Thus far I think we have got off pretty lightly, but before we moved here there were predictions of a harsh winter to come. I am not exactly relishing doing the school run for two kiddos in the snow or the windy, freezing and wet conditions that the city is known for in winter. Still, as they say in these parts, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. Waterproofs and balaclava at the ready then…



One Comment

  1. I hope you all have the ‘right’ clothing, Emma, before it gets chillier. It’s been pretty parky here in Oxford too. Xx

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