Bicycles at the Queen Louise Bridge in CopenhagenBicycles at the Queen Louise Bridge in Copenhagen.
By Dianna Waggoner
Okay, I know it's trite, that every cyclist who comes to Copenhagen feels compelled to write about the hoards of cyclists on the streets, and this is no exception. But I believe I've noticed something different or more to the point, something not so different. Today, sitting in what's become my favorite coffeehouse – because of its unbeatable combination of excellent coffee and a great view of the street and sidewalk watching the morning rush hour – I was struck and moved by the ordinariness of the riders. Businessmen in suits, moms and dads hauling kids, kids on their own, ultra cool teenage girls wearing micro skirts text messaging with one hand and steering quite competently with the other.
There's a respectable number of grey-haired men and women, a smattering of stuffed-saddle-bag tourists and the occasional, almost always male, racer in full Lycra crouched over his handlebars. Locals call him The Kamikazi. Everyone else glides past, sitting happily upright and wearing the same clothes they’ll don for the rest of the day. No special gear for them.
As Bo Kjeldgaard, Copenhagen's mayor of technical and environmental administration, said yesterday: "Copenhageners may not identify themselves as cyclists. They're just people who use a bike to get from one place to another."
They're carrying or in some cases hauling everything imaginable – leather briefcases, fancy purses, groceries, tiny shopping bags, schoolbooks, each other, the family dog… Many must have looked at the sky on their way out the door this morning because I see raincoats stuffed into lots of front baskets. A middle-aged man just rode past with his pink helmeted young daughter on the rear carrier with dad's lunch box clutched in her hand.
The pink helmet is noticeable because only about 20 percent of the riders I've seen actually wear one. Baseball caps and hats are much more popular among anyone older than about 10 years – although younger riders usually have helmets. This is a new site for me, as, back home in Vancouver, British Columbia, riders are required by law to wear helmets. For the first time in at least 30 years, I'm riding around with my hair blowing in the wind, which makes me feel equally euphoric and vulnerable.
A couple days ago, my husband and I picked up our loaner bikes, courtesy of the Velo-city Global 2010 conference, and were tickled to discover that we'd chosen identical black, step-through frames, seven-speed internal hubs, front and rear fenders (a necessity, not an option, in this rainy, snowy city) and a wide soft saddle. His has a bell, wire basket and rack, mine has none of these practical items. Yet. In the evening, when we decided to become part of the rolling scene, we found ourselves surrounded by half a dozen black step-through clones. So much for the romance of matching bikes.
The vast majority of cycles here are built for comfort and the weather – rather than speed – but there's the occasional, again almost always a guy, fixed gear rider. I want to point out, though, that commuters and folks doing errands frequently zip past me at a surprisingly brisk rate without, I might add, looking at all sweaty.
This uniformity of equipment does raise an interesting question: how the heck do you pick your anonymous bike out of the herd at the almost-certain-to-be-fully-packed bike rack? Answer: remember where you parked. I'm stuffed into the middle of the rack, or it's the one near the light pole. Of course, some people actually decorate their faithful steeds or apply a bit of paint, but most seem to have an unerring instinct for immediately finding their friend among sometimes hundreds of others. Kind of like a mother cow finding her calf in the middle of the herd, I think. Pure animal instinct.
Another note about equipment: the wimpy locks that, as a big city kid, make me very, very nervous. It's a lightweight spring-loaded rod mounted on the rear of the frame above the wheel. You simply turn a key which throws a bolt between the spokes. That's right, a thief with any ambition whatsoever would simply throw the bike over his shoulder. Apparently it doesn't happen that often. But, still, I worry.
As yet another wave of cyclists rolled past this morning, I was once again struck by how normal they looked, by the delightful variety of sizes, ages, types. Fit and not-so-fit, older, younger. And right in the middle of the pack was a slightly overweight elderly Asian woman, gold slippers firmly planted on the pedals.