|SMART CYCLING IN COPENHAGEN!
She’s out today. The pert golden girl confidently wheels an ancient bicycle into the morning sun. Her prim, umbrella-bearing, raincoated sister remains in the shadows.
These life-sized “weather girls” sit atop a tower in Copenhagen’s City Hall Square. Here, cyclists rule!
Free bikes? I suspiciously eye a rack filled with modest two wheelers secured by chains better suited to a decent quality bath plug. A cheap pair of pliers and a deft wrist could clear the lot in seconds.
But then, I live in Vancouver where thieves believe you are merely the temporary guardian of a flash new titanium, 50-geared roadster. A graduation present from Aunt Nellie? Not for long in our city where 1700 bikes worth $2000,000 were reported stolen last year.
So what’s the scoop?
It sounds simple enough. Insert 20 Kroner around $4 - into the slot, and bingo! My bike of choice is unleashed from its chain, like a supermarket cart, complete with compact city map screwed to the handlebars. Mine, until I reattach it to any of 100 lock-ups and retrieve my coin for a hotdog with all the trimmings!
My bike has logo-crammed red disks covering the wheel spokes. I am spreading the good news about MacDonald’s, Yoplait Yoghurt, and the benefits of Brasso (a Danish invention) All proud sponsors of “City Bikes”.
Copenhagen is flat. The centre is compact with most sights in easy walking or cycling distance.
Blood curdling screams and the rattle of walker-pushing seniors draw me to Tivoli Gardens. I add my trusty steed to a clump of two-wheelers outside this granddaddy of theme parks.
The magical combination of heart-stopping rides, free concerts, flowers and chill-out park benches inspired Disney. Tourists and locals have flocked here since 1843. kd Lang and The New York City Ballet got star billing this summer.
I retrieve my wheels from the motley mix. Locks are as rare as accidents. Helmets are optional.
I admit to feeling insecure. Relearning a childhood habit requires space. Many roads in central Copenhagen are divided in half. One side for cars, the other for cyclists who make up a third of all commuters. On main thoroughfares a curb separates the two.
Next, I’m off to Nyhaun, a canal area once filled with ‘thieves, prostitutes and sailor boys!’ Best stay on the pedestrian streets until I get stabilized.
The canal bridge is up, halting traffic and allowing resident yachts to access the river. Morning sun has brought dazzling hues to pastel coloured houses. A busking trio entertains patrons already lunching on outdoor patios of trendy restaurants. A couple of students, in uniform sailor caps, sip beer on the canal wall.
I note to return for a tour of the waterways. If I boot it I can still make the changing of the guards at The Amalianborg Palace by noon. A splendid daily event not to be missed.
The Royal Yacht sits at anchor along the way. I am reminded of the Queen of England and her loss of The Britannia. The Danes take good care of their Royals.
In a day spent pedalling from churches to museums; ogling scantily dressed picnickers in The Kings Gardens; cruising by converted riverfront warehouses; admiring tasselled army caps and the pomp of a military parade, I ponder the question.
Why, in Europe’s most cycle-friendly city, is theft not a problem? Unlocked bikes are abandoned against lampposts, along sidewalks, in alleyways, for days. Are the Danes, known as the happiest people in Europe if not the world, free of crime?
No! I lost that piece of ideological nonsense when my credit cards were lifted by a light-fingered gypsy at an almost deserted KFC restaurant in City Hall Square.
The answer is cultural. Copehageners prefer workhorses to thoroughbreds. Bicycle ownership is all about reverse snobbery. Old maybe worthless, but it is cool. A beat-up model held together with wire, string or duct-tape, is super cool. Extra points are added for high handlebars and a basket to transport a briefcase or a bag of pastries to your mother. There’s no profit for a thieving middleman.
You won’t see a flash mountain bike or a neon street racer for that matter. Padded neoprene shorts and electric-green wick-away shirts just don’t blend with blue eyes, flowing blonde locks and a miniskirt! Admire the rider not the bike!
Vancouver and Copenhagen share more than cute sculptures of girls on rocks. (Our “Girl in a wetsuit” was inspired by their “Little Mermaid”). Each has a core population of around 500,000. Seasonal temperatures are similar.
When the prim, umbrella-bearing, raincoated weather girl gets her turn Well, their cabs are equipped with detachable bike-racks to rescue drowned or tipsy riders!
Yes. Copenhagen is the ultimate bike friendly city. A fact embraced by its inhabitants 1/3rd of whom commute to work on two wheels!
IF YOU GO
Copyright © 2008 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.