What better place to be in over Christmas than the cycling capital of the world, Copenhagen. This was Ride Velo's first visit to the Danish capital and we were eager to see why and how Copenhagen has earned its place as the most successful cycling city. So armed with Rapha's City Cycling Copenhagen guide, we hired bikes, donned our warmest clothes and set out on our latest European adventure.
The facts and figures are impressive: 55% of Copenhagners cycle to work in the city, travelling a total of 1.2 million km a day, according to the Rapha guide! London could take a leaf out of Copenhagen's book here, with properly dedicated cycle lanes throughout the city, and a network of segregated one way cycle lanes with their own traffic lights alongside the regular traffic.
Cycling here is just a way of life and that's the first thing you notice when you arrive. No matter what the weather (and the climate here isn't exactly balmy!) the citizens just get on with it; when the heavens open, the stylish lady cyclists just don a cape. Cycling here is the way that Copenhageners get about, whether it's parents taking their children to school on cargo bikes - we've seen plenty of Bullitts and Christianias on our travels, office workers dressed in suits, and elegant ladies with lap dogs in baskets.
Talking of dressing for cycling, we haven't seen one hi-vis jacket here or anyone wearing a helmet, though a few of the more sartorially aware have been spotted sporting a fedora as they ride. Absolutely no lycra is on view in these city streets and this is because there is an accepted code that no-one sweats when they ride. Everyone travels at a leisurely 12mph (or less) so there's no need to shower when you arrive at the office.
The other most noticeable difference between riding in the UK and Copenhagen is the bikes themselves because almost everyone seems to ride a 'sit up and beg' style bike complete with front basket. No fixies, no racers, no mountain bikes, a couple of standard tourer style bikes and that's it.
We hired three Jensen bikes and found them very weird to ride. First of all, if you back pedal, you brake which means that you can't easily position your pedals for a nice smooth start. Instead we were left looking very ungainly at the lights, wobbling around on the road like foals finding their feet. The locals do that 'mounting while moving' thing that my grandparents used to do which I've never managed to master!
Robbie found the riding position so laid back he was practically horizontal as if in a comfy armchair, but the bikes were easy enough to pootle around on, taking in the sights and bumping over the many cobbles. One briliiant invention was the locking brake mechanism - basically a key, which stays in the bike while you ride (like in a car) and when you stop, just flip down a lever on the brakes, remove the key and off you go - no-one's going to be nicking your bike any time soon. A much quicker, easier and lighter way than carrying round a D lock then forgetting you keys!
A fine example of the cycling philosophy here is encapsulated by hthorr Bikes, a bike shop on the island of Christinhavn that creates new bikes by recycling old bikes. They're dedicated to the great, old, simple, robust bicycle and the end product is simply gorgeous.
Our ride started off along the docks outside the Admiral Hotel. It was Christmas Day and lots of the locals were out and about for a bracing ride or walk on this beautifully sunny day with clear blue skies. We just about managed to decipher the Rapha guide, although the map was miniscule, and there were times when we were in need of a magnifying glass!
We rattled along the cobbles with the wind whipping up choppy little waves in the open stretch of water on our right, and up to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen's little Mermaid before heading westward into parts of the city we would probably never have discovered without this suggested route from the guide book. Riding through Copenhagen, one is never far away from water and we crossed canals, vast lakes and over bridges that passed over rivers. A favourite was the lake Sortedams Sø, over which elegant townhouses overlook and a cycle path gives a lovely flat, gentle potter along its shore. Crossing over to the other side we were very taken by the little network of streets of 'potato cottages', known as Kartoffelraekkerne, built at the beginning of the 20th century, originally established as decent housing for poorly paid manual workers, but now some of the most sought after addresses in Copenhagen for their community feel, quaint design and tranquil surroundings.
We headed back into the centre, parked up the bikes and popped into the Tivoli Gardens for a bit of kitsch fun of rollercoasters, market stalls and Italian restaurants. It was an opportunity to warm up with some Gløgg, a spicy fortified wine, and soak up some Christmas spirit as families enjoyed the festive atmosphere and indulged their children on candy floss, cheap rides and cuddly toys.
Then it was time to head off to our favourite side of town, Christianshavn, for its cobbled streets and cool warehouse conversion flats and canals crowded with house boats. There are some great bike shops here too, most notably Pedersen Bicycles known for their hammock saddles (as we featured in the vintage cycle rally) and Christiania for their cargo bikes who have been helping cyclists transport children or groceries, and sometimes both at the same time, for many years. You'll also find hthorr bikes here, though sadly not open on Christmas Day.
Any trip to Christianshavn has to include a visit to the Freetown Christiania with its self explanatory "Pusher's Lane". No photographs allowed here as little shacks openly sell bricks of hash while tourists expose their little ones to an alternative culture after all those museum visits. Its a curious mix of slightly depressing rundown housing littered with supermarket trolleys, packing crates and pieces of salvaged metal, the unmistakable whiff of cannabis, vegetarian food stalls and a skate park. Sadly, the hippies seem to have gone now, replaced by rather intimidating guys in balaclavas pushing their wares.
It was time to head back to the hotel for another Gløgg and rest before our Christmas dinner, well deserved after all the ground we'd covered in a day. We weaved our way back, stopping off for a short wonder along Nyhavn to admire the boats moored along this picture post card canal, then a short hop back to our base as night fell illuminated by sparkling Christmas lights.
What a great Christmas Day: no family arguments and post turkey stupor in front of Downton, but a great tour of this wonderful city, we are endorphin and Gløgg-fuelled as we look forward to New Year celebrations back in Blighty.