Copenhagen Is Full of “Bikings”

The descendants of Medieval pirates traded longships for two-wheelers. And they’re loving it!

Bicycles are to Danes what cars are to Americans.

But, while in the United States, automobiles signify status, in Denmark, bikes mean equality.

And that’s when Scandinavians feel freest.

Though Denmark introduced bicycles in the 1880s, it wasn’t until the 1920s-30s that they became widespread.

Danes from all walks of life began to ride shoulder to shoulder for commuting and recreation, and a national identity based on human-powered mobility was born.

The phenomenon coincided with the arrival of the Northern European social contract of a tax-funded, robust safety net.

Although in the 1950s, Danes flirted with automobiles like the rest of the industrialized world, a pivotal event—the 1970s Oil Embargo—provided a wake-up call.

The Danes had the vision to dust off their beloved two-wheelers and end their dependency on gas for good.

Today, you will see lawmakers on their way to parliament, families grocery shopping, and couples going on dinner dates on this healthy and convenient mode of transportation.

Nine in ten people own a bike in Denmark. And they ride .9 miles on average every day.

As a result, they request 1.1 million fewer sick days, help reduce CO2 emissions by 20 thousand tons a year, and save $1.16 million on health benefits per .6 miles traveled.

It’s a productive partnership between the citizens and their government. In 2022 alone, the Danish Ministry of Transportation invested $458 million in “cycle superhighways.”

With fewer stops, safer intersections, and resting areas equipped with air pumps, these cycle routes connect residential and commercial districts to public transportation networks.

Along with other incentives, like taxation on motor vehicles, these measures will help Denmark reach its goal of 50 percent of the population commuting on bicycles by the decade’s end.

No wonder Danes and Bikes is a life-long love affair.

Preschoolers attend “kiddy biking schools,” where they learn road safety from an early age. Similarly, the government funds programs for new immigrants and refugees so they can learn how to properly navigate the country’s more than 7 thousand miles of cycle routes.

The Danes even ride in the afterlife.

Funeral homes use cargo bikes to transport the deceased to their last resting place in a “final ride,” with mourners often following on their bikes.

It’s the most environmentally friendly burial procession.

All of which make bicycles part of the Scandinavian landscape as much as the understated, functional, and pastel-colored architecture or the elegant, green urban spaces.

Bikes are everywhere: tangled by the dozens in massive lots across town and parked (not locked) outside offices, schools, stores, restaurants, bars, and even churches.

But, mainly, they’re on the road.

For someone used to the chaos of American city cyclists—who generally ride against traffic, on sidewalks, and disregard traffic lights—witnessing the sheer number of compliant Danish bikers perfectly choreographed around proper regulation is fascinating.

As a driver, pedestrian, or fellow cyclist, disrupt this order at your own peril.

While among the world’s most polite people, Danes will lose their cool, to say the least, if you cut them or otherwise step on their path when you’re not supposed to.

They’ll probably even deport you from their country. And rightfully so!

All this social order doesn’t mean Scandinavians are dull or uptight—quite the opposite.

At Copenhagen Pride, a late-August city-wide, week-long celebration, Danes of all stripes dismount to join the street festivals, have a pint (or two) of beer, and dance with friends and strangers alike.

And you don’t even have to know how to speak Danish to partake.

Thanks to their top-notch educational system and exposure to American culture (in Denmark, movies and TV shows are subtitled, not dubbed), Danes speak Standard American English better than your average American.

Even when they haven’t set foot in the United States.

Like Oliver, the 20-something Copenhagen server who dreams about coming to New York City one day.

He learned British grammar in elementary school and American slang by watching reruns of “Friends.”

Growing up, Rachel was his crush, and Joey his role model (he also wants to be an actor).

He also thought Ross and Phoebe were the coolest.

Yes, Oliver, but imagine how much cooler they would’ve been had they ridden bicycles all over Manhattan.

Author: Alex Marin

Natural-born explorer and storyteller. I grew up in Caracas and moved to New York City 20 years ago to pursue a career in media, which led me to work with broadcasting and tech companies. Last year, one month into my dream job with a famous social network, I had a significant health event that forced me to learn how to walk again. And now I'm training for the New York Marathon. All the words and photos in this blog are mine. You can reach me at Cheers!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: