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Monday, September 16, 2019

Why You Should Rent a Bike in Copenhagen

There's something about just jumping into the culture of a new place, surrendering what you know and what you are used to to do things a little differently.  That's the beauty of travel, isn't it?  

Traveling in Europe opens your eyes to slower meals, a decent amount of wine, a lot of walking, a ton of second-hand smoke and a completely different culture across the pond.  Various European countries follow this similar pattern, each with their own little flair and Copenhagen is no exception. There are slow meals and wine and still a lot of smokers, but to me, there were two things that really set Copenhagen apart.  First off, this city was so damn clean but even more noticeable - 

There are so many bikes.   

So in Copenhagen, if you want to do as the Danes do, you need to jump on a bike.  
Here are all the reasons why you should. 

We were immediately amazed and slightly intimidated by the bike culture in this city.  We walked out of the train station that first day in Copenhagen to see hundreds of bikes parked outside the train station, restaurants, and public spaces.  And then there was the web of bike lanes weaving through the city, with bells ringing and commuters flying by.  This wasn't just an illusion as bikes now outnumber cars in central Copenhagen and 9/10 Danes own a bicycle and 44% of all children aged 10-16 cycle to school.  

We saw all types of bikes from cruisers and commuters to bikes with baskets and wagons (called Bike SUVs or cargo bikes).  Picture a bike with the cart in the front, a cart that held your kids, your wife in heels, your groceries, your dog, or a combination of all of these things.  

Truth be told, biking around town like the locals was probably our favorite part of the trip.  There's something about seeing the city on two wheels, traversing the city as locals do, enjoying perfect sunny August days along the canal.  We biked over to Ameliaborg to see the changing of the guards and the beautiful garden.  We biked along the canal and over to the swimming areas.  We biked to dinner and over to Nyhavn to watch a killer sunset, the basket being the perfect way to transport a bottle of wine and a glass.   The whole weekend, we did not get on a single bus, taxi, or subway.  We got around by foot or by bike.  I guess what I am trying to say is if Virginia is for lovers, Copenhagen is for cyclists. 

Not only do the Danes bike everywhere, but they do it in style.  No spandex shorts and clip-ins in this city.  Nearly all of the women were dressed in their "going out clothes" typically a calf-length dress and sneakers for safety and comfort - SO many sneaker and dress combos.  The guys wore nice slacks, shorts, and button-ups or polos.  It's like everyone is on their way to a dinner party and is getting there via bicycle.  So in doing as the Danes do, I grabbed a bike with a basket and threw on a long dress to bike the city.  I just couldn't adapt to the dress and sneaker combo, sandals would have to do. 

As far as cars and traffic go, you don't have to worry.  A lot of the city has protected bike lanes and even elaborate bike highways.  Bicyclists even have their own traffic lights and well-marked crossing lanes weaving throughout the city.  As long as you pay attention to the signs, the bikers and cars around you, and the traffic laws - you will be fine.  What you do have to watch out for is the everyday locals who take biking to a whole new level.  Although they are all friendly (but not afraid to use their bells...) they are rushing to work and events and it is best to save the passing lane for them.  Danes bike hard and fast so let this be your final warning to stay to the right in your bike, leaving room for them to pass on the left.  

The locals are also really into safety and used some modern technology to update bicycle helmets.  I spent a full day wondering what this neck pockets everyone was wearing actually was.   At first, I was pretty convinced it was a neck brace, and then some weird scarf with pockets.  Turns out, they were inflatable bike helmets.   They are cheap at 200 danish krone (about $30).  It inflates before impact and can be thought of as an airbag for cyclists.  Pretty genius way to bike around the city in your dress without ruining your hair.  See how it works here

Most hotels rent out bikes for a fair price (our's was about $20 for the day, parked right outside our hotel).  They also came with this amazing built-in bike lock that locks the back tire, but not the bike to a fixed structure.  Park the bike where you want, turn the key on the frame, grab the key and boom, your rear wheel is locked without needing a bike rack, making it easy to park and harder to steal.  In a town where there are more bikes than people (a 2016 article cites 650,000 bikes to 520,000 humans) you don't have to worry about theft like you do in cities like New York.

You can rent bikes at the hotel, at various cycling centers, or street bikes at various posts around the city (much like our cities here).  Read all about rental options here. 

Copenhagen has been ranked the world's top cycling city for two years in a row.  And from what I saw, its a well-earned title.  If you go to Copenhagen, promise me you will spend some time on a bike, experience the streets of Copenhagen as the locals do.  

Happy Biking, 

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