Thursday, April 10, 2008

Copenhagen Biking A-Z

A is for accidents, which do happen. I’ve been “in” two since I’ve been here, neither of which were serious or my “fault.” The first incident happened when I was on my way to work a few months ago. I had just biked across Lance Armstrong Intersection (see ‘L’) going the non-Lance direction (towards the movie theater/downtown. The Lance direction is towards the lakes). Some dummy was biking in the road instead of the bike lane and, without warning, decided to swing a right hand turn by Palads, the movie theater. This stupid move cut off a whole bunch of us in the bike lane, with me (being the speed demon that I am, of course) being first in line. I slammed on my hand breaks so hard (my bike has both hand and foot breaks for fast and slow stops, respectively) that my back tire flew up and whipped around to the left, thus causing a domino effect of people that had to stop short. Luckily, everyone behind me knew it wasn’t my fault because they saw the asshole that cut me off. Instead of handling it like an ever-so-cool-and-collected Dane, or even more basically, a lady, I got all American Psycho on him and yelled “Pas på, you fucking idiot!” (Pas på means watch out in Danish. The fucking idiot part was in English, but I think it’s actually the same in Danish…). Oops.

My second “accident” wasn’t my fault either. It was completely a force of nature. I was biking to the gym after work one day and the blustery Copenhagen island wind was particularly blustery. I was biking across an intersection and, as I steered left to avoid a car turning right, the wind gusted extreme and blew me right into the car. I smashed into the back but quickly took off across the rest of the intersection. I guess that’s technically a hit and run, but I don’t think there was any damage.

B is for bike lanes. Currently 32% of Copenhageners bike to work or school every day. The city's bicycle paths are extensive and well-used. Bicycle paths are often separated from the main traffic lanes and sometimes have their own signal systems. (See more:

C is for cykel. That’s the word for bicycle in Danish. It’s pronounced ‘sue-kell’.

D is for Det Grønne Bud. These green spandex clad guys are essentially bike messengers. They are very expensive to use, but you can call them up to come to your home or office, give them a letter or package to be delivered somewhere in the Greater Copenhagen area, and they will cycle off to hand deliver it straightaway. A lot of them are also really hot and eat lunch on Gammeltorv (old square) near where I work every day. Too bad all that cycling makes them rather stinky by lunch time. See one in action here:

E is for evasion. Just like car drivers, cyclists are subject to random police checkpoints where they can ticket you for anything from biking the wrong way down a one-way street to drunk biking. These checkpoints are best avoided if you see them. Even if you think you’re doing everything right, they can usually find something to get you for. Sneaky police.

F is for Freetown Christiania. You’re not allowed to bike or drive within the walled in limits of Christiania. Pedestrians only!

G is for ghost-riding the whip. Sometimes when I listen to rap music while I’m riding, I get the mad hyphy vibe and wonder if I could figure out a way to ghost-ride my bike. I'm thinking perhaps I could stand on the bar. This probably would be way more difficult for men because they have way higher bars. I’m a complete loser, I know. :)

H is for helmet. In Copenhagen, helmets are optional. Most people opt out, presumably because they look so uncool and mess up your hair. See more thoughts and questions on helmet hysteria here, in Copenhagenize:

I is for ipod. I jam to mine whenever I’m riding alone, rather than with friends. Lots of Copenhageners jam to music while they ride. My favorite jammers are the ones with the huge, over the ear, recording-studio style headphones.

J is for jumping the curb. This is always an option if you want to make a right hand turn from Studiestræde on to Nørregade and there are queued cars blocking your way. Just jump onto the curb, cut across the cobblestones of Bispetorvet, and pop down again onto Nørregade. I’m not sure if this is legal (pretty sure it's not, actually), but I do it a couple of times a week. I have to go the long way to do it, but in doing so, I am avoiding the more illegal option of going down Vestergade the wrong way (esp. bad because they often have police checkpoints to ticket cyclists that do this…).

K is for kickstand. Kickstands, though intended to help your bike stand up, can sometimes serve just the opposite purpose. If you kickstand (yes, using it as a verb) your bike among dozens of others and one falls down, they inevitably suffer the biking domino effect and all fall down (ashes, ashes…). The kickstand then often serves as a hook, getting caught in the spokes of another bike and further tangling your bike among the others and making getting your bike out a thoroughly annoying, messy, and physical task. Situations like this do, however, generally result in quasi-altruistic acts because in getting your bike out it's usually easiest just to stand the rest of the domino-ed bikes up again.

L is for Lance Armstrong Intersection. Okay, that’s not really what it’s called. It’s actually the combination of the two intersections by Vesterport station, Hammerichgade and Vester Farimagsgade, biking in the direction of the lakes. I call it Lance Armstrong Intersection because the lights aren’t synched up well. The Vester Farimagsgade light changes to green waaaay before the Hammerichsgade light. In order to make it through both lights (rather than having to wait at both to finally make a clean break towards the lakes) you have to pedal like hell the second the Hammerichsgade light turns green. If you’re good, you can fly through the Vester Farimagsgade light just as its turning yellow. I’ve gotten pretty good at perfecting the timing, though I probably look like a fool, pedaling hard and fast like I’m being chased. The more I do it, though, the better I’ve gotten at resisting the urge to pump my fist in air as a sign of victory when I make both lights.

M is for multi-tasking. You know how people, particularly in the United States, are criticized for doing other things in the car while they should be concentrating on driving? Talking on the phone or applying makeup, for example. Well, people do the same stuff here in Copenhagen - on their bikes. I’m particularly impressed by the guys that ride with no hands, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and talking on their cell phone with the other. Impressive.

N is for necessary components. There are three things every bike must be equipped with to be “street legal” in Copenhagen: Lights, brakes, and fenders. Helmets are NOT required for cyclists and most people opt out, though they seem to be becoming more and more popular. Something that's not popular yet? Ground effects. I bet they are "street legal," though.

O is for obstacles. Obstacles that must be avoided when biking include, but are certainly not limited to, glass, low-flying pigeons and seagulls, the occasional intact beer bottle, tourists who are unaware that they are dangerously standing in the bike lane, and people embarking and disembarking from buses.

P is for priority. In Copenhagen, transportation priority as far as right-of-way is as follows: Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Automobile Drivers.

Q is for quality of life. Quality of life is extraordinarily high in Denmark, one of the highest in the world. I’d like to think that the insane amount of biking we all do might have something to do with it.

R is for road-rage. Yes, even cyclists get it (see 'A'). Signs that you have or are the victim of road rage include excessive bell-dinging, being ridden by in a fast, angry huff, and/or getting yelled at.

S is for side saddle. This is how you should sit if you are riding on someone’s rattrap. I learned my lesson the hard way back in November. My friend Collin was riding my bike and I was sitting on the rattrap with one leg on either side. If a gynecologist, social worker, or police officer had seen the bruises on my inner, upper thighs the next morning, they probably would have insisted on giving me a rape kit. Ouch.

T is for transportation. That’s all biking is to me. It’s certainly not a workout. These days I think of biking in the same way I used to think of walking to class: simply a means of getting from one place to another.

U is for u-turns. Rules regarding u-turns for automobiles are remarkably unclear in Denmark. I’ve seen cars randomly hang u-ies in the middle of super busy, big streets. You’ve gotta watch out for u-turn lunatics if you’re biking.

V is for vectors. I always think about unit vectors and centripetal force when I am flying around the sharp turn by Palads movie theater. This is saying quite a lot, given that I fly around the turn before 9am every morning. But, I mean, who doesn’t think about vectors before lunch?! Regardless, if I don’t slow down, one day I’m going to bite it and scratch the hell out of the left side of my body, for sure.

W is for work, which is where many people are heading on their bikes in the morning. Copenhagen businessmen, take note: if you are wearing a suit and riding your bike, you are likely going to work. Stop riding like you are in a spinning class. You look foolish.

X is for xtra awful. (Okay, this one is a stretch). Though biking conditions in Copenhagen are generally pleasant, sometimes they can take a turn for the worst. One of the worst biking experiences I ever had was biking uphill, at night, over cobblestones, in heels, during a hailstorm, while drunk. Misery.

Y is for youth. Whenever I’m riding around Copenhagen with friends, I always feel transported back to my youth. It reminds me of when I was a kid and used to spend endless summer nights riding around the neighborhood with friends. On weekends, a bunch of us will often all hop on our bikes and travel together in a pack, like a motorcycle gang except, you know, obviously without the motors. We’ll shout directions back and forth on the way somewhere and, on the way back, we generally engage in shouting varying foolish things (esp. if there was alcohol involved in our evening). One of my favorite things to say at the beginning of a friendly ride somewhere is “Let’ ride or die, *expletive* and/or *racial slur.” Totally appropriate for the gang mentality cycling with friends evokes.

Z is for “zoo hill.” The hill by the Copenhagen Zoo is the worst/highest in Copenhagen. It’s “incredible” (by Danish standards… this is a relatively flat island/country) height not only makes it awful to bike up, but also scary as hell to fly down. I’d say it’s singlehandedly taken about 3 months off the lifespan of my brakes.


Zakkaliciousness said...

Now I'd say C is for Cycle Chic and Z is for Zakkaliciousness... but then i'm biased.

the trick with Valby bakke [zoo hill] is lingering at the top of the hill and learning to time the traffic light at the bottom. Once you get the timing down, you just push off and fly down the hill, right through the lights and coast halfway to city hall. :-)

Libby said...

a delayed post -- i agree with zakkaliciousness. one should NEVER brake down valby bakke. it's the most fun hill to fly down in cph! also, you should cut through the courtyard under vester 10 to get to work. then you don't have to go out of your way to nørregade, or worry about the legality of curb-jumping.