I’ve never considered myself a cyclist. As someone who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and has two automotive engineers in the family, I’m more comfortable around cars. When I was 14, my dad taught me how to drive a 1980s Chevy Beretta with a manual transmission in the parking lot of the bank behind our house. Since then, I’ve always had a car… until last year.
I bought my own bike for the first time when I was 25, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a cute Raleigh women’s hybrid, perfect for taking on leisurely rides along the Monongahela River. The bike came with me to Silicon Valley, where I used it to cycle around Mountain View and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito (still one of my favorite rides ever). I biked to work a few times.
But my main mode of transportation was always a car. I found both Pittsburgh and San Francisco too hilly for cycling; the traffic too dense and drivers too impatient; the bike lanes too few and far between.
When I moved to Copenhagen from San Francisco, I sold my 2011 Mini Cooper S and immediately felt a sense of freedom. With its flat terrain and wide bike lanes separated from traffic with a curb, Copenhagen seemed to be designed for bicycles.
In Copenhagen, I bought a used bike at a small shop in Nørrebro. It was an olive green ladies’ bike, meaning I could sit comfortably upright, and it looked like new. I was ridiculously nervous about cycling. My hands clutched the handlebars tightly and my heart pounded as I rode the 5 kilometers back to my apartment in Vesterbro.
After a few days, biking felt natural and not at all scary. I bike every day now: to work, to Danish class, to the grocery store, to clubs. At night, in the rain, in the snow, and at 3 am after I’ve been drinking (not that I would recommend that, of course!). I walk my bike next to me if I’m going somewhere with a bike-less friend, just so I can have it with me at all times.
I love my bike.
I miss it when I go back to the U.S. I’ve gotten used to the fact that there are parking lots for bikes here, and during “rush hour” you might be four bikes deep waiting at a traffic light. There is such a thing as bike road rage.
After using a bike as my sole form of transportation for over a year, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about biking in Copenhagen. It might seem like no-brainers to the Danes and most Europeans, but for an American girl who grew up in the Motor City, it’s all new and exciting.
Here’s what I was surprised to find out:
1. You can bike wearing pretty much anything you want
Wearing a long skirt? No problem; just bunch it up so it doesn’t get caught in the gears. Wearing a short skirt and heels? No problem; girls here bike in mini skirts and high heels all the time. My Danish female friends tell me that biking in heels is way easier than walking in them.
Lately I’ve been wearing my chin-to-ankle down coat (aka, “the Sleeping Bag”) to keep me warm and that’s fine too.
Really, anything goes if you have an upright ladies’ bike. Just put your bag in the front basket and you’re good to go.
2. Weather-appropriate gear will make biking in rain and cold much less miserable
I didn’t buy rain pants until about 6 months after living here. This meant that even with a coat, hood, and boots, I would arrive at work with my jeans soaked knees-to-hips. I didn’t want to waste money on something I’d only wear 15 minutes at a time, but I finally gave in, went to Bilka, and bought an inexpensive pair of rain pants. It was the second-best decision I made about biking.
Warm gloves are also a must-have, and if you have touch sensors on them, even better! In the winter I wear wool mittens with leather backs; they keep my hands warmer than anything else I’ve found so far.
3. It’s super safe to bike here in Copenhagen… but you (and I) should probably wear a helmet
Cycling here is so safe that it lures you into a false sense of security. Copenhagen drivers are (mostly) very patient and will look out for bikes when turning right, which almost never happened in the U.S. It’s actually other bikes that seem to cause the most accidents, and riding after drinking should be avoided. Which leads me to point four…
4. All of the taxis have bike racks
That’s the nice thing about living here in Copenhagen. If you’re drunk, don’t bike home — just get a taxi! It costs a little more but it’s totally worth it to avoid falling off and breaking your wrist (like, ahem, a colleague of mine).
You can also take your bike on public transportation, like the metro and subway, but be aware that you do need to pay extra for it.
5. You can transport an incredible amount of stuff on a bike
Best bike decision I made? Installing the back basket. With two baskets and two bungee cords with hooks, I can fit a surprisingly large number of items on my bike. For example, while biking I have transported:
- 4 large bags of groceries (3 in the baskets, one hanging from my handlebar)
- Everything I needed for a weekend trip (in a soft duffel bag and giant purse)
- A sleeping bag and tent
- A vacuum cleaner
- A lamp and a side table (in boxes)
- A very delicate Danish-designed lamp which I bought used and pre-assembled (this was tricky — I ended up balancing it between my body and the handlebars so I wouldn’t damage it)
- A carry-on sized hard suitcase with four wheels (this was the hardest as it was so heavy)
- 6 packing boxes… to be fair, I had help with this one; we balanced the boxes on the back of the bike and walked it beside us
And of course, if you have a Christiania bike, which has a bucket in the front, you can use it to transport kids, your girlfriend, or even your dog.
If you’re going to bike with something heavy, just be aware that your center of gravity is going to be off. You don’t want to tip over by accident.
6. Yes, you can bike in snow
It’s similar to driving in snow; make sure you have all-weather tires, go slowly, and give yourself extra braking time. I was very proud of myself for biking in the snow this winter, as you can see from my text.
7. About the only thing people steal in Copenhagen are bikes and bike equipment
I left my cable lock in my basket one day and when I came back, it was gone. Lesson learned. I have a friend who lost her bike seat, and another friend whose bike was taken while he was in a grocery store. So, lock your bike, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and consider getting bike insurance.
I still have much to learn about cycling. I’ve only been on a road bike once, which was strange, but also pretty great. I’d like to know how to avoid helmet hair.
But overall, I’m happy with my bike experiences so far. After living in Copenhagen, it’s going to be hard to be anywhere less bike-friendly.
Originally published on Medium.