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