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Copenhagen's Cycling Culture

Variation on a kickstand - photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen They moved silently as a dark mass of coats, scarves and hats. Non-plussed by the misty air, darkening clouds or water splashing at their galoshed feet, the stoic Danes rode on, each turning left or right as needed, ignoring cars and pedestrians as they careened down their designated lanes.

To hell with cars, they seem to say. To hell with carbon emissions and dependence on oil, gas, noise. Yes, we understand our cobblestoned streets are perfect for walking, but we’d rather ride with the wind in our hair and time on our side. Damn it if we don’t look fantastic while doing so.

At least, this is my internal dialogue as I watched cyclist after stylish cyclist ride passed me, heads held high—their posture a result of the high-seated frame more than any imagined pride. And though it is a chilly November, and most days seem to channel Hamlet’s melancholy eventually, there is a certain hubris in these cycling Danes: they have a measure of control in Copenhagen’s environment.

It’s hard not to notice the bikes in Copenhagen. They are everywhere. Some are locked, most are not. You’ll find them outside cafes, leaning up against walls. Off Strøget, they are walked by their owners who nonchalantly kick down their stands only to disappear into a shop for who knows how long. The fact is, Copenhagen loves its bicycles.

Looking at numbers alone, roughly more than a third of Copenhagen’s population bikes daily, and this includes the Greater Copenhagen area. A third. That’s a lot of cyclists for a relatively small European capital. Further promoting the nobility of cycling, there’s the city bike program, which releases 1300+ bikes for rentals to anyone in need at stations around the city.

But let’s forget about the facts for a second and appreciate the aesthetic value of the situation. Scandinavians are already notoriously beautiful but coupled with their tall, black bicycles, they somehow transcend this stereotype into something more. Watch the Danes. In simple black peacoats paired with brightly colored scarves, Copenhageners are anything but disheveled. But it’s not limited to basics, oh no. There’re capes and capelets, hats and boots, gloves and saddlebags. A Copenhagener’s style is effortless, a nonchalant exercise in grace. There’s no sweat; it’s too cold for that but even so, it’s like Danes couldn’t sweat if they tried. There’s no evident exertion, no huffing and puffing.  They’ve seemingly deigned to leave Valhalla for a quick jaunt. Men and women, whether on their own or with their children riding along in carts, are Just. So. Elegant.

So sure, I can rent a bike upon visiting, join in the collective masses and see Copenhagen the way it’s meant to be seen—from atop these steeds of cylinder, metal and chain—but will I resemble one of them? Hardly. That’s like asking a goose to pose as a swan: a lot of honking and none of the class.



Cycle Parade in Copenhagen from Copenhagenize on Vimeo.


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