An Adelaide Cyclist in Copenhagen

Earlier in this year (in March) I embarked on a big tour of Norway and Finland to go chasing the Aurora Borealis (aka ‘The Northern Lights’)

 I had a couple of days in Stockholm (Sweden) and a couple more in Copenhagen (Denmark) and for the benefit of some cycling friends here in Adelaide I have collated a few photos to help de-mystify the Scandinavian bike thing.

Unlike my great trip a few years ago where I hired a bike and rode around Manhattan my experiences of this trip were limited to being an observer as foot traffic and occasional taxi rides.  Sounds like a cop out but considering my grand stuff up from Feb 2013 (I broke my leg slipping on ice in St Petersburg on day 2 of a 6 week holiday!), my notion of risk was highly elevated and jumping on a bike was ruled out.  I really wanted to go for a ride and there was certainly plenty of opportunity, but for this holiday hopping on a bike was not going to happen.

 On arriving in Stockholm I instantly noticed that there were a greater number of people cycling. It was winter, albeit a very mild one with the daily maximum temperature around 1degree and there was no snow on the roads and minimal ice.  Every main street had bike lanes.  Some were painted white lines like here in Adelaide and others were a discrete bike way with a low kerb between the parallel pedestrian footpath and another kerb marking the vehicular part of the road.  I was walking along a footpath when a cyclist slowed down, hopped off his bike and hey presto, out of the blue there was a pole with air hose and compressed air. Neat-oh, a bike station.

We caught the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen and on arrival in the central station I could see that there were bikes everywhere.  And I mean bikes, not cyclists!  Abandoned bikes sprawled across the ground and rows and rows of bikes outside the train station. After a few days there I still found it amazing that there were so many bikes lying on the ground.  Some looked like there were in a rideable condition yet they were just there on the ground. 

Surely someone would take them.  But perhaps people did and what I was looking at were the stray bikes out for free hire for whoever was down on their luck without a bike.

The bikes were not the mountain bikes or roads bikes that dominate the scene here in Adelaide. The most common bike design, as you can gather from the photos had swept back handle bars (sparrow bars) and more of a comfort design. I’m not going to be able to describe it well other than to say, they were Danish bikes!  There were plenty of people on MTB, flat bars, hybrids and single speed bikes, but the dozens of brands of Danish bikes were the most abundant.

 

I met some Danish guys at a restaurant and afterwards they took us to one of their favourite pubs for cleansing ale.  One of them had ridden his bike to the restaurant but it was no big issue at all about calling for a taxi and having the taxi driver put the bike on the back of the taxi. The drivers keep bike racks in the boot of the car. Bikes can be loaded up and ready to go in minutes - all part of the service.

I asked them about the whole cycling thing in Copenhagen and they said they’d always had bikes around them since they were kids and they always rode, just like walking.

Driving around town late at night in the taxi there were still lots of people out on bikes.  This was in winter and so they weren’t sheepish about using a bike on what we’d think is crap weather.

I also noticed that drivers pay a lot more attention to cyclists than here in Adelaide.  If they are turning right (our equivalent to turning left) they slow down and look very carefully in wing mirrors to check for riders continuing straight ahead in the bike lane on the right hand side off the car.  For a cyclist to pass a car in the inside is pretty hazardous, but everyone over there knows what to expect and you look out for people.

The Danes are a fashionable lot and this winter the colour to wear was black.  Not the most brightest of colours to wear, but those are the clothes that people wanted to wear. They were cycling in the clothes that they were wearing for their destination.  I saw a few black ninja cyclists but many night riders had adequate lights.

Pedestrians knew to keep out of the bike paths and cyclists didn’t cycle on the footpath.  Its probably because the pedestrians are also big cyclists and know how feaking annoying it is if someone walks in a bike lane.  It all seemed to work well and everyone knew the rules and pretty much stuck to them. 

And a few more pictures around Copenhagen:

Bike boxes at lights, blue painted lanes at intersections, some people wear helmets, others don't.

Looking down onto a small lane in the old city from the top of the Runde Taarn (a tower)

Even the clock tower had a bike on it! The thermometer shows 3 degrees - Apparently during a heat wave in summer Copenhageners noted that the max temp of the thermometer only went to 27 degrees.

This photo shows how grey the weather was. Whilst I loved the holiday 4 weeks of not seeing the sun or shadows must have got to me. I love Adelaide weather and the intense white sun and sharp shadows.

 

In northern Norway the cycling thing was still pretty strong in some of the bigger ‘University’ cities like Trondheim and there were some gutsy efforts of cycling in cold and damp weather conditions.  While driving through a small town in far northern Norway I saw a young girl riding on a snow covered foot path.  Totally not fussed about cycling over something that I’d be a bit anxious about walking over.  Nearly everyone had bike tyres with metal studs.

So there are a few photos here that hopefully sheds a bit more light on what all the fuss is about.  When I got back from my trip I had a fleeting look at AC and it looked like the last thing anyone wanted was photos of freakin' copen-bloody-haven!

The more interesting part of the trip was northern Norway and far north Finland.  Four weeks of cloudy sky made it look like a pretty pointless aurora spotting trip.  But there were two nights it cleared up enough and thanks to some sun spot activity and coronal mass ejections I saw one of the season's best displays near Bodo.

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Comment by Don (Who's lost?) Nairn on May 5, 2014 at 11:09

Interesting report.

Were there lots of obvious bike shops and bike mechanics?

Comment by Jan Cloppers on May 5, 2014 at 17:02

Thanks Peter. 4 weeks of not seeing the sun. Sound like you went in Summer :-)

Comment by Peter Hill on May 5, 2014 at 18:25

Hi Don, yes, saw lots of bike shops (but I didn't stop to browse).  I spent more time in bakeries and food places!

Comment by Brian Jenkins (BJ) on May 5, 2014 at 20:46

Thanks Pete.  That last photo is AWESOME!!!

Comment by Ken the Dane on May 6, 2014 at 0:07

Brilliant post Peter. Allow me to make a few comments which I hope add to the description:

 “…I could see that there were bikes everywhere.  And I mean bikes, not cyclists!  Abandoned bikes sprawled across the ground and rows and rows of bikes outside the train station. After a few days there I still found it amazing that there were so many bikes lying on the ground.  Some looked like there were in a rideable condition yet they were just there on the ground.  Surely someone would take them.  But perhaps people did and what I was looking at were the stray bikes out for free hire for whoever was down on their luck without a bike”.

All (or most at least) Danish bikes have an integrated bike lock. The look like this and is attached (screwed or welded to the seat stay). No need for a additional chain/U lock. Insurance (home/content) will cover if you can prove by receipt that there was a insurance approved lock installed on the bike (no need to prove you actually locked the bike). Does it get abused –yes sometimes, but then again a typical bike might only be worth 3-500$ after a few years. Bike are tools much like vacuum cleaners. They live a rough life and when they break down or disappear you get another (N+1 in a different format – always nice to have a spare just in case).

The large number of bikes around stations is explained to some extent by some people having a bike at either end of the train/bus trip. One from home to station A, another from station B to work. Despite that bringing bikes on trains are easy and free. Bringing bikes on buses are generally not as possibility with a few exceptions (including harbour buses (mini ferries)).

City bikes or rental bikes are generally for tourists. Copenhagen recently introduced new city bikes with GPS/tablets etc. so it might change, but the old ones were very heavy and clunky.

"The bikes were not the mountain bikes or roads bikes that dominate the scene here in Adelaide. The most common bike design, as you can gather from the photos had swept back handle bars (sparrow bars) and more of a comfort design. I’m not going to be able to describe it well other than to say, they were Danish bikes!  There were plenty of people on MTB, flat bars, hybrids and single speed bikes, but the dozens of brands of Danish bikes were the most abundant."

Bikes are tools. Meant to bring you from A to B. Hence integrated lock, lights, anti puncture tire, stand, mud guards, basket, etc. all serve a purpose.

“I met some Danish guys at a restaurant and afterwards they took us to one of their favourite pubs for cleansing ale.  One of them had ridden his bike to the restaurant but it was no big issue at all about calling for a taxi and having the taxi driver put the bike on the back of the taxi. The drivers keep bike racks in the boot of the car. Bikes can be loaded up and ready to go in minutes - all part of the service.

Taxis are required by law to be able to take 2 bikes. Cost $4 per bike. A simple steel frame on the towbar – not suited for carbon or shiny chrome but incredibly handy when you want to bring your date home in style.

“I also noticed that drivers pay a lot more attention to cyclists than here in Adelaide.  If they are turning right (our equivalent to turning left) they slow down and look very carefully in wing mirrors to check for riders continuing straight ahead in the bike lane on the right hand side off the car.  For a cyclist to pass a car in the inside is pretty hazardous, but everyone over there knows what to expect and you look out for people.”.

Motorists are obliged to look over there shoulders before indicating and again before turning. The habit fades with age/confidence/skills but yes motorists are very vigilant (relative at least). They likelihood of there being a cycling is obviously a lot higher but the penalty (fine, demerit point, loss of license, public guilt) is also a lot higher. Sustainable safety/strict liability (part of driver training) and a system where school kids are educated about general road rules helps a lot. Pedestrians/cyclists always have right of way at intersections with traffic light!

“The Danes are a fashionable lot and this winter the colour to wear was black.  Not the most brightest of colours to wear, but those are the clothes that people wanted to wear. They were cycling in the clothes that they were wearing for their destination.  I saw a few black ninja cyclists but many night riders had adequate lights.”

Most cyclists are pretty good are carrying lights. Not necessarily to light up the road- street light takes care of that - just to indicate their presence. Again it is the motorist (the bigger/heavier) road users that is supposed to look out for the smaller/softer/vulnerable road user.  A lot of bikes now have integrated inductive lights installed, which means you don’t have to worry about carrying light in your pocket (yes these will get stolen otherwise) or changing batteries all the time (it is dark for a long period of the year as you noticed). By law bikes also need to have reflective badges/indicators on the side of the bike. Either badges to attached to the spokes or alternative by having reflexive stripes on the tire.

“Pedestrians knew to keep out of the bike paths and cyclists didn’t cycle on the footpath.  It’s probably because the pedestrians are also big cyclists and know how feaking annoying it is if someone walks in a bike lane.  It all seemed to work well and everyone knew the rules and pretty much stuck to them. “

Years of training helps but also important to note that the raised/segregated bike track helps pedestrians (and existing car passengers) think about why they are stepping up and down and remind them they are entering a bike track. Paint will never do this. Cyclists are not allowed to ride on foot path above the age of 6 years. Allowing cyclists on foot paths is a symptom of bad provisioning for cyclists.

The list of subtle yet effective measures that ensure high levels of safety and ease for cyclists goes on. None of them are patented and all ready to be replicated or adopted to local needs. No need for hi-vis, MHL, registration etc. etc.

Comment by Michelle on May 6, 2014 at 12:03

Amazing thanks for sharing Peter. Sounds like a different world in we can only hope that the relationship between car and cyclist could be half as good as this we would be onto a winner :-)

Comment by Jules Begg on May 11, 2014 at 10:16

Great post & pictures

Comment by Peter Storey on May 13, 2014 at 14:23

@Ken it was my understanding that cyclists going straight on actually had right of way over right turning motorists, it certainly seemed that way when I was in copenhagen.

Comment by Ken the Dane on May 21, 2014 at 11:07

@Peter. Correct. Turning motorists are obliged to always give way to cyclists (and pedestrians) that are continuing straight – no matter whether there are segregated or no bike lane prior to the intersection. Failure to do so will most likely result in a hard slap to the bonnet/roof and the motorist being told in no uncertain words what is wrong with them. Unfortunately this is also a weak point where the majority (of a relative small number – 15 a year I think it is) of cyclists are injured/killed every year by trucks (these days mostly driven by east Europeans that are not familiar with Danish rules) which despite 3 different types of mirrors, sometimes cameras etc. still fail. Mostly it is female cyclists who seem to be less aware of trucks doing a ‘counter swerve’ to get the end of the vehicle around the corner and hence don’t register the dangerous situation before it is too late.
I have commented a few times elsewhere on AC about the law, which I think it essential in improving conditions for cyclists in Australia. Motorist needs to look out for and respect cyclists. Even if the rule is not perfect it makes a hell of a lot of difference that you a cyclists can focus on you own riding (direction, road condition, speed etc.) and not having to calculate all the time whether the x number of cars in you vicinity are going to turn in front of you.

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