Friday, November 16, 2007

Copenhagen Bike Culture

Copenhagen is a bike city. Seriously, what boats are to Annapolis, bikes are to Copenhagen. I guess I have a habit of living in beautiful waterfront cities that favor alternative transportation. I would estimate that there are probably 1.5 bikes per person in Copenhagen (a lot of people have extras laying about, and who knows how many are sunken in the canals!). I would also estimate that approximately 70% of the Greater Copenhagen population commutes via bike everyday, whether it's warm, cold, raining, or shining. I bike everyday on my SCOcycle; which is specially engineered for the Scandinavian climate... it says so on a small label right on the bike! Some days, I wish that special engineering included a heated seat or handlebars or something. Maybe the fancy Kildemoes bikes have that... Anyway, Copenhagen is a great city to bike in. It is relatively flat (though there are some exasperating little hills), they have bike lanes everywhere and, after pedestrians, cyclists get the right of way. (The hierarchy is peds, cyclists, cars, and busses, I think). One of the things I like best about Copenhagen are the different characters you see whilst cycling. Now that I have been biking for four months, I feel I have become an expert in character cyclist spotting. Below is my guide to Copenhagen Cyclists.

  1. The Christiania Cyclist – These are the bikers that have the huge Christiania Cycle boxes attached to their bikes. They are generally harmless, but annoying because they take up no less than 2/3 of the bike lanes and move slightly slower than everyone else, especially if they are toting their kids in the box. Beware if you must pass one of these cyclists whilst simultaneously passing a tree. This lane narrowing situation is dangerous. Also, they make wide right turns and sometimes don’t signal because manhandling their kid box seems to require both hands on the handlebars.

  1. Kronan Man (Woman) Kronan is a specific brand of bikes. They each seem to come with a kind of license plate on the back with (presumably) serial numbers. They each say Kronan, making it look kind of like a custom license tag. I’ve taken to calling these people Kronan Men and women. I wonder if anyone that owns a Kronan bike is actually named Kronan...? That would be cool.

  1. The Lance Armstrong – These are the people with the hardcore road bikes, you know, the kind with the rounded handlebars. They bike really fast, all bent over in that “professional cyclist position.” Sometimes they wear full out spandex and change when they get to their destination. These may be people that live outside of Greater Copenhagen. They probably bike an hour everyday and think they are so great because everyone else in their area takes the train. Maybe they are all hardcore environmentalists, but I doubt it. I don’t have any idea what they are training for… Perhaps they go to Bornholm on weekends to practice for the mountain legs… or not.

  1. The Amsterdamer – Cyclists in Amsterdam are notorious bell-ringers. Amsterdamer cyclists in Denmark are the cyclists that feel the need to ding-ding-ding their damn bells whenever they pass someone, even though it is the standard here to bike on the right and pass on the left and generally you don’t need to ding to get by. These people are generally tolerable if you, like me, listen to music on your commute at a loud enough volume to drown our their annoying dings-dings.

  1. The Power Chair Pensionister – These people aren’t cyclists, per say… or, well, at all actually. They are old people in their power chairs that think they own the road because they have put in enough time on the Earth to have earned it. The move really slowly and never signal. Luckily, most of these people are retired, so they aren’t a huge problem during commuting times. You’re most likely to run into one of them on a weekend or if you're cycling mid-day.

  1. The Foreigner – These people aren’t to be feared, but you’ll know them when you see them and definitely take notice. As a general rule, are never blonde and never have blue eyes. Sometimes you might even see one that is non-white. These people are extreme rarities because Copenhagen is probably one of the most homogenous, white places on Earth. If you're on the look out for The Foreigner, go to Nørrebro. It's the mecca for them.

  1. The Businessman – These guys are often in a hurry, off to make their next big deal or transaction the seconds the markets open. They are easily identifiable because they are always biking in suits with those little slap bracelet things around their right ankle to prevent their pants from getting stuck in the chain of their bike. They usually are carrying a messenger tote. During the evening commute you will often see them with flowers, probably bringing them home to the wifey.

  1. The High Heeled Wonder Woman – These are the women that bike in heels no less than 3” high everyday. Beware if their heels happen to be stilettos, rather than a slightly chunkier variety. Stiletto-wearers need to be given space to stop. There is always the fear that they won’t come to a complete stop with their brakes and skid out when they put their piddly little heel down. Give them room, but otherwise be impressed by their skills.

  1. The Motorcyclist – One of the most annoying jerks on the road. These guys ride motorcycles/motorscooters, NOT BIKES! They seem to only use the bike lanes during times when road traffic is high. Other times, they use the regular car lanes. How convenient that they get to pick and choose. Unlike the Amsterdamer, they don’t seem to have bells. They just roar up behind you and expect you to scoot. The one thing I like about the motorcyclists is that they always leave a trail of that gas smell, which reminds me of motorboats at home in Annapolis and makes me slightly homesick for the Chesapeake Bay every time one of them roars by.

  1. The Recumbent – These are a rarity, but you should still look out for them. People on recumbent bikes are tricky because they are hard to see until you are right, well, practically on top of them. Some of them are in little enclosed capsule things that look like spaceships. I think these guys are probably science geeks.
Also, check out this fun Copenhagen Biking Blog: Copenhagen Cycle Chic


Sophia's Monde said...

Hi Sarah! I saw this link in your profile and had to check it out. Very amusing post... Europeans do love their bikes. I don't like them personally, my butt always hurts afterward. I just do a lot of walking here in Lannion, plus a lot of train travel.

Libby said...

write a new post pige. your fans are getting restless.