13 March 2010

two wheels are just enough

i think the most beautiful thing i know in copenhagen is the chorus of merging bicycles during rush hour. on the wider streets, like h.c. andersen's boulevard, the bike lane is divided into three invisible lanes with the fastest riders passing on the far left, often while being narrowly passed by a bus just as crowded as the bike lanes. but unlike those passengers, we have fresh air in our lungs and the feeling of the wind on our cheeks, for better or for worse.

in the innermost bike lane, the slowest riders take their time, often taking in the view or texting. old people, women in fur coats and heels, people with heavy loads - like christmas trees, furniture, and oversized musical instruments - and fathers with children in tow cruise along, pedal-pumping, sentient machines. the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever built, and what could make for a more democratic mode of transportation?

in denmark, biking doesn't count as exercise. to get to your fitness center, you ride your bike. same with a party. you bike to work and then to work out, and then maybe to a game of soccer with your friends. in denmark you do see overweight men, occasionally in the rare jogging suit leftover from the 80s, a matching windbreaker and nylon pants divided into a struggle of hues unique to that decade (teal, electric purple, and such the like), on a casual ride through town, passing the tivoli gardens, city hall square, and the lakes. you also see businessmen with their pointy-toed leather shoes, ipods, full-length wool coats, and houndstooth scarves on three-speeds. you see girls on pale blue european uprights with wicker baskets and hipsters on hyphy fixies doing track-stands, waiting for the light to change from red to yellow to green.

there isn't really a problem with bikes being stolen here, nor does the competition within the american bicycling scene really seem to exist here. maybe that is precisely because bicycling in copenhagen is not a scene: it is ubiquitous, it is a way of life, it is simply what people do. everyone has a bike (this is a welfare state, remember?), so no one needs to steal one. i'm not saying that bikes don't get stolen, but a lot of the bikes that are stolen have been left unlocked and, shall we say, borrowed. it's common knowledge in the city that if a bike is unlocked (and really, what kind of owner who actually wants to keep his/her bike doesn't lock it?), it's up for grabs. it is equally common knowledge that people will often leave their older bikes unlocked so someone will take it and they can report it stolen to the police, collect the insurance money, and buy a newer, nicer model.

with the propensity of people to always want newer, better things aside, there really isn't much of a status quo attached to bikes here. sure, there are the subgroups who are really into road- or mountain- (someone explain this to me, because there are NO mountains in denmark) biking and have bikes that meet their needs specifically, but the vast majority of copenhageners just has a bike that will get them from one place to the next without breaking down and making them wait for the bus (which always takes longer than going by bike). i like the egalitarianism in that regard here.

here are a couple of views from my bicycle:

today it was a balmy 4 degrees (39 fahrenheit) and, for a short while, sunny. for the first time in over four months, i wore open-toed shoes and only one pair of tights under my skirt. it was also the first time since fall that i felt like taking my time biking because i wasn't totally freezing.

approaching rÄdhuspladsen. green lights.

and some photos not from my bicycle's point of view:

last weekend i went to louisiana, denmark's museum of modern art. this piece blew my mind, then the guard told me to put my camera away.

i guess the museum does have a sense of humor, though. that's a diving board traversing (there has to be a better word for it than that) a window, and sweden in the distance.

just a normal dog day afternoon at the bank.

i started biking really differently when i moved here, though. in california, i pretty much had to fight for my life every time i got on my bike. most of the bike lanes there are maybe a meter wide, if they exist at all. drivers don't respect bicyclists (and vice versa) and there are always doors to watch out for. in santa cruz i biked fast, hard, and anarchistically. i don't think i ever thought about using hand signals. the point was to get where i was going as fast as possible, preferably without being run over. i'm a cautious person, but even so, there was a lot of dodging obstacles - cars, potholes, pedestrians - and rolling through stop signs.

when i got to copenhagen i discovered that none of that really works. there are traffic lights for the bike lanes here, for one thing. rolling through an occasional red is still a possibility, but more a late-night treat than anything else. there is a pack mentality and atmosphere here, and biking in a hurry won't really get you to your destination any faster (unless you're really, really fast). you have to use turn signals so you don't cause an accident, and, worst of all, there are no right-turns on red lights allowed. so as my experience has been here, it's worth it to slow down and just enjoy the ride.


Barbara said...

I appreciated your observations on biking. Pretty much true in Lund, although the bike lanes in Copenhagen are definitely a step above.

We are in England and I really miss the walkers having the right of way like they do in Sweden!! And when the walk sign is on it is so short I can hardly make it across the intersection, and I walk fast....

Back to MN by the end of this week!

maya said...

barbara! i was just thinking about you and wondering when you were heading back across the atlantic! it was so lovely to meet you and the rest of your family in the winter. looking forward to whenver we meet again, and until then, see you on the internet!