Denmark, like many other European countries, has embraced the bicycle as a means of transport. This has to do with the country being relatively flat, so the only challenge for cyclists is the weather. As a foreigner working in Copenhagen, I arrived in the country sans bicycle, having deposited a number of rusted examples in the skip before leaving my home in the UK. Since the buses, trains, taxis and boats in Copenhagen are excellent, there’s no need for alternate transport. Yes, they have a boat-bus too. It was with great amusement, therefore, that I would exit the office on a blustery day and watch rows of cyclists toppled, like a row of dominoes, off their bicycles and onto the pavement (or ‘sidewalk’ for the American readers) by a strong gust of wind.
‘Fools’, I would think to myself. At least I think I thought it to myself. Then again if I said it out loud, then no-one would have heard me anyway because of the storm. I couldn’t understand why they would insist on using their bikes although filthy weather had been forecast days before. Perhaps the weather people should invent a sign like the one for no-smoking but for bike riding instead with a big red line through the bike and rider. However, knowing the Danes as I now do, nothing keeps them away from their bicycles.
It came to pass (forsooth and verily) that the young Polish guy, with whom I was sharing an apartment at the time, had arrived at the end of his work contract and was returning to Poland to take up employment there. He offered me his bicycle at a such a fair price that it would have been impolite of me to refuse. However, I vowed to be sensible and ride only in fair weather, using public transport for the rest of the time. I guess I don’t need to state the obvious – that it wasn’t long until I too was battling to work against strong winds and riding home in pouring rain just like the rest of them. There. I stated the obvious…although I didn’t need to. I think it’s the idea of having a form of transport that’s not only quick and loads of fun, but is also totally free and excellent exercise. There is parking for bicycles everywhere around the city even down to special bicycle parking garages at shopping centers and apartment blocks. The same can be said of Amsterdam where I saw a multi-storey bike park at the main train station.
Having been a pedestrian for many months and being careful not to stray into bike lanes for fear of being cut down in my prime, I was aware of the fierce and forceful nature of cyclists in Copenhagen. They’re a force to be reckoned with. They travel at such speed and with such determination that only the bravest of the brave will attempt to use a zebra crossing when there are bicycles whizzing by in the cycle lane. Of course the cyclists have their set of rules as do the car drivers. One such rule is that, when a bus opens its doors at a bus stop, the passengers have to alight and cross the cycle lane to get to the pavement. This means that the cyclists are obliged to come to a halt until all the passengers are safely across the divide. I’m aware of this rule and, as a bus passenger, was always grateful for it. However, in a moment of daydreaming, I forgot to stop when a bus stopped just ahead and was nearly decapitated by an elderly gent swinging his walking stick at my head as I flashed past him leaving a humble ‘Sorry’ lingering in my wake. He, in turn, verbalised a ‘%¤&**~3% Idioot!!!’ at my retreating back. I have no idea what word he used as the adjective, but I’ve censored it here anyway, as it seems like the right thing to do. However, I’m familiar with enough European languages to know that ‘Idioot’ has a similar spelling in English. I felt suitably chastised, but at the same time elated and driven by some unseen force that compelled me to keep going faster and faster until I reached my destination safe and sound. To be fair, there was no way he could have caught up to me even with a motorized walking stick. Perhaps it’s the hint of competition in the daily cycling activities that urges cyclists to achieve greater speeds. Cyclists are notorious for bending the rules, however, and I did have occasion to see, in a surreal moment, a bicycle being pulled over by the police and reprimanded for infringing some law or other.
There is an element of danger in cycling at speed. One wrong move can send a rider hurtling over the handlebars and onto the flower pot that they wear on their head. However, I refuse to cave to peer pressure and to let such an unflattering item ruin my hairstyle. In all the years since my youth (a very, very long time!) that I have been riding a bicycle I have never seen a serious accident, so I question whether such safety accessories are really necessary.
I now feel just a little more Danish as a result of having acquired my second-hand mountain bike. I ride my bike in most types of weather, scorning the lazy commuters travelling by bus and train. ‘Fools’, I think to myself as the water drips down my trousers and fills my shoes.
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