So Simon said - "Let's go to Copenhagen..." There is a running joke in our office about my cycling day trips with colleagues from work and that everyone seems to have gone out with me on the bike at some point! They even have a name – ‘Brokeback cycle tours'! However, when my colleague and friend Simon suggested that we head over to Copenhagen to cycle around the city for a very short trip, I needed no persuading despite the banter!
We are both lovers of Scandinavian culture with a keen interest in Nordic design, modern architecture and 20th Century history. I have been to Copenhagen a couple of times before, but this would be Simon’s first time to Denmark and my first time in the city on a bike.
We found some £40 return flights with EasyJet, a very reasonable hotel close to the Central train station and a cheap place to rent some bikes for the day near the tourist information centre. Simon also has the look of an extra from a Danish TV drama with his slight hipster beard and urban utilitarian sense of style whilst I share a similar surname to the famous Danish cyclist ‘Ole Ritter’.
Maybe this is the reason we both felt so at home here...
Copenhageners cycle a collective 1,240,000 km per day...
Cycling in Copenhagen is world-famous for being world-class. According to pressure group Copenhagenize, residents of the city cycle a collective 1,240,000 km each day and we were more than happy to contribute to this figure on our visit! The reasons for such an ingrained cycling culture in Denmark and Copenhagen, in particular, was due to a modal shift from car use in the 1970’s fuel crisis to the bike.
Copenhagen hasn’t always been a cycling city and many parts of the city such as the Stroget (the longest shopping street in Europe) were rammed full of cars until pedestrianisation. The Danes have spent the past fifty years perfecting bike infrastructure and adding into Copenhagen's street network segregated cycle paths, cycling-specific traffic lights and making use of the waterways that traverse the city.
There are now even bicycle-specific bridges and bikes that also double up as pedal-powered people carriers to ferry goods and people! This kind of cycling infrastructure is the dream of cities around the world and many strive to achieve this to varying success.
Following the new Harbour Circle Cycle Route...
After collecting two Danish bikes from a small, independent bike rental shop near the Central train station for only 100 DKK (approx. £10), we rode around the city for approx. 30 miles following the new Harbour Circle Cycle Route that links key sights around Copenhagen’s famous waterfront.
If you are ever in the city, I recommend visiting the iconic modern Opera House gifted to the city by the shipping magnates behind Maersk, the Black Diamond Library that houses one of the largest book collections in Europe and the coloured houses and bars of postcard-perfect Nyhavn (New Harbour).
The Little Mermaid statue is an iconic emblem for the city and along with Carlsberg beer, one of Copenhagen's enduring symbols and famous exports, however, it is also one of the smallest and if you blink, you'll almost certainly miss it!
We also headed back out towards the airport to the Kastrup area of the city to admire the new, modern aquarium. Whilst at the building, I realised that I had a puncture. I couldn’t believe that after cycling daily on the awful Manchester roads with generally no tyre issues at all, I got a puncture in Copenhagen whilst using some of the best cycling infrastructures in the world!
I’ve often thought that it doesn’t matter whether you are riding in the Tour de France or just mooching to the supermarket, punctures can happen anytime and have the same deflating effect.
Fortunately, we were close to the airport, made a swift return to the terminal we just arrived at and had picked up our excellent value Copenhagen City Cards from the Tourist Office, so twenty minutes later, we were back in Central Station. We continued riding around the city visiting more sights including the national football stadium and the trendy city areas of Norrebro and Christianshavn.
Cycling around the city centre in rush hour...
After 1600, we saw the first-hand effects of Copenhagen’s ingrained cycling culture as we joined the swarm of people leaving work and heading home on their bikes. I’ve personally witnessed the growth of cycling in the U.K especially in London and Manchester, but Copenhagen is on a different level. There were hundreds of people on the cycle paths all heading in different directions, but creating an orderly flow on back-pedal brake Danish upright bikes.
What I found interesting was that in many other countries the locals would have been in cars clogging up city streets. Instead, we were riding like locals in a swarm as part of the rush hour cycle to our hotel near Copenhagen Central. I have to say that riding in Copenhagen’s rush hour was not as relaxed as expected with people weaving in and out of each other making several close passes.
Stopping at traffic lights often led to bunching so it is essential to make a clean start to avoid being closely overtaken by a faster cyclist on your left. Another observation of riding in Copenhagen is that the segregated cycle network makes getting around very rigid and the cycle paths almost take on the role of a railway line with only certain points to enter and exit different lanes and junctions.
Given the choice between riding in this safe, yet completed segregated cyclist-friendly environment or my daily ride home from Walkden along the unpredictable A6 to Manchester, you can give me Copenhagen any day.
A must-see visit for fans of cycling culture...
Overall we enjoyed our time in Copenhagen and experiencing cycling culture in one of Europe’s best cities for riding a bike. As lovers of cycling and generally passionate about all things ‘bike’, going to Copenhagen was essential to visit to show us how good riding a bike in an urban area can be.
We saw some seriously impressive bike handling skills by the locals, cutting edge architecture and enjoyed spending time in trendy bars and eateries around the city. We were only in the city for 30 hours and experienced so much in such a short amount of time.
Copenhagen is a demonstration of what can be done with the political will and vision to make cycling the main mode of transportation in a city. There is still an excellent public bus, ferry, underground metro, local train and road network in place that is very extensive for a city of only 500,000 inhabitants. It’s just that for most Copenhageners, going by bike over short distances just makes more sense...