31 August 2009

Copenhagen Design Week

It's Copenhagen Design Week this week and, as one of the foremost design metropolises, Copenhagen is buzzing and busy.

The bamboo bicycle, above is getting some press. Designed by Flavio Deslandes, it's a sustainble version of the preferred transport form in Copenhagen.

The good people at Copenhagen X - 'Your Shortcut to an Evolving City' is their slogan - are putting on a bunch of activities, too. They're all about new architecture and urban planning development and they have a bunch of free guided tours this week of the architectural and urban planning hotspots in the city. On the UK version of their website they have suggested bicycle tours for visitors and locals alike.

They're all around town this week, blogging and dicussing and hangin'. You simply cannot visit this city without checking out their website.

Bjerget - South Face Metropolis Down Harbour Architecture in Copenhagen VM buildings Inside Tietgens Kollegiet Metropolis by Night Copenhagen Frozen Harbour Another Bicycle Bridge Twilight

More of my photos of Danish architecture.

30 August 2009

History Repeating Itself

An Australian journalist has written a piece in which she voices displeasure at the distinct drawbacks of having to share the road/bike lanes with "lycra losers". 'Voicing displeasure' is probably a gross understatement.

This woman says:
"I cycle to work on my poverty-pack hybrid in my work clothes, cruising along at a leisurely pace as the lycra brigade whizzes past with audible groans of disgust at my clear lack of cycling style.

If I dare get in their way with a wobbly start at the lights, the verbal abuse would make your hair curl.

I just smile politely and totter along like a happy little tortoise, invariably catching up to the lycra brigade at the many sets of lights between home and office."

Reading the whole article is necessary to understand her point, her humour and her rage.

"It's all downhill for the lycra losers"

She has a personal aesthetic perspective about cycling clothes - she hates them and thinks they look ridiculous. She rages against the sub-cultural attitude of what she calls 'the lycra losers'. Basically, this woman in Melbourne just wishes she could ride her bicycle to work in peace. Enjoying the ride, as it were.

She rips into the lycra crowd on her streets and bike lanes with venom. You can think what you like about her point of view - and I'm sure everyone who reads this has an opinion about it.

What is interesting to note is that this is merely history repeating itself. Let's back pedal a bit.

In the mid to late 1800's, two-wheeled contraptions appeared with a variety of names. Among them, the Ordinary or 'Penny Farthing'. They were an instant hit among the wealthy, who were the only ones who could afford them. The young men of these upper classes, not having much else to do with their time, quickly figured out that it was rollicking good fun to race the machines and prove themselves to be the most daring daredevil on the block. 'Breakneck' speed originates from the early days of the bicycle, in particular the Ordinary.

For a couple of decades the bicycle was the domain of the wealthy, in particular the young men, and hardly anyone else.

Enter the Safety bicycle. Quicker than you can mount and set the machine in motion everyone was queuing up to buy one. There are countless references to how the Safety bicycle proved to be a fantastic democratizing tool. It liberated the working classes - giving them in the process the opportunity to thumb their noses at the Dandies - and it is even said to have improved the gene pool. In rural areas the bicycle gave labourers the opportunity to extend their travel radius and find work in towns and on farms farther away. The widened radius also gave them the chance to find wives in those now not-so-distant towns.

The bicycle liberated women as well. There was no "men only" or "wealthy only" signs hanging on the bicycles in the bike shops. Only a price tag with a number that was accessible to everyone. Women hopped on board.

“The safety bicycle fills a much-needed want for women in any station of life…it knows no class distinction, is within reach of all, and rich and poor alike have the opportunity of enjoying this popular and healthful exercise." "A Blessing for Women," The Bearings magazine, 5 September 1895.

All this popular embracing of a previously elitist hobby was not welcomed by the Dandies. There was a - mostly verbal - uprising against labourers and women who chose to ride. There was much mocking, spitting, threatening to be had. All over the world.

Fortunately, the draw of the bicycle and its democratic values were too strong and it soon entered the public domain. Liberation for all.

Back to Melbourne. The journalist writing this piece has an advantage over the women and labourers in the late 1800's. She need not bite her tongue like women in the past. She has the power of words and the media.

But her rant against the elitist cycling sub-culture who have enjoyed, in many countries, a sound monopoly of two-wheeled enjoyment for at least three or four decades, is understandable. Her reaction is merely history repeating itself. You can take her tone and wit or leave it, but her reaction is important.

Incidentally, here's another reaction, this time from San Francisco, referring to the 'hornets'.

There is so much chatter on the internet in the same vein. The slough of copycat sites emulating Copenhagen Cycle Chic is a testament to the fact that we are well on our way to redemocratising the bicycle. The Slow Bicycle Movement, as well. The Australian's article nevertheless underlines that while we have a tailwind, there is still a slight incline ahead.

Cycling is still growing, but marketing bicycle culture is paramount if we are reinvent our cities and place the bicycle back in its rightful place as BOTH a hobby pursuit and sport AND a feasible, acceptable and equal transport form for the masses.

Thanks to Mike Rubbo for the link.

29 August 2009

Trumpets on Bicycles

After the Danish bicycle battallion post, a mate of mine in England sent me this. Trompetterkorps Bereden Wapens from Holland. Which also wraps up, in style, the post about playing instruments on bicycles.

28 August 2009

Poor La Rochelle, Visionary La Rochelle

La Rochelle Sunset - Bikes and Towers
With all the hype about urban bike sharing and the Vélib/Velov/Bycyklen/Bicing/Bixi/etc/etc let's send a warm thought to the forgotten city that started it all, shall we? La Rochelle, on the French Atlantic coast had a legendary mayor back in the 1970's. Michel Crepeau. He was quite the urban planning revolutionary and the rest of France thought he was quite mad. At that time progress was built in concrete and asphalt.

Inspired by Copenhagen, he created pedestrian streets in the city centre and, in 1974, he started a bike share programme. Both Amsterdam and Copenhagen flirted with bike share programmes back in the 60's, but they didn't last. La Rochelle was the first city to make it stick. Until Copenhagen, in 1995, started their City Bike (Bycyklen) system and the idea started to spread.

He bought a load of yellow bikes and slapped them into racks by the harbour. The original idea was merely "take one, use it, bring it back." These days you can borrow them free for two hours if you leave some ID.

The programme never had a fancy marketing name like ByCyklen, Velib, VeloV, SEVici or Bicing, which is probably why nobody knows about it. But La Rochelle was the first, so hats off to them.

La Rochelle: Bike Share Transport
The classic yellow bikes have now been replaced with a modern bike share system, like in so many other cities in France. Indeed, there are over 30 cities in that country alone with modern bike share systems. And the fancy name came with it: Yello. But hey.

If you're ever in the neighbourhood, be sure to pay a visit. In the summer season the whole centre of the city is closed off to cars and the street life is absolutely brilliant.

It's my favourite city in France and the nearby Ile de Ré is a bicycle paradise.

Danish Bicycle Battalion

Like many countries, Denmark had bicycle regiments. On this website, I found these photos and detailed information about how in 1937 a Bicycle Regiment was formed.

Typical Danish response to a warmonger rapidly growing in strength to the south... "let's get some bicycles..." :-)

From what I understand, the 4th Battalion's Bicycle Regiment saw some action near Bredevad when the Germans invaded on April 9, 1940, and this picture is taken that day.

A support vehicle with a bike workshop and reserve bicycles. 1940.

The 4th Battalion's Bicycle Company training in 1938.


Via: L.A. Times.
He's my hero. A role model. Showing cycling as an enjoyable activity. Brilliant.

Greecing the Chain of Change

Thanks to Thedore from Podilates, in Greece for sending us news from a spot of folk activism in his country. This was back in May 2009 - I really need to clean out my inbox more often - and there were rallies in 33 cities and towns across the country.

The rallies were a cry for separated bicycle infrastructure, the right to take bikes onto subways and trains as well as better sidewalks for pedestrians.

The photos here are from Athens, where 4000-5000 people participated.

By all accounts, it looks like a fun day out.

26 August 2009

Copenhagen Bicycle Superhighways

Copenhagen has motorways, just like anywhere else. Being the capital city and the main metropolis in the region, all roads and railways lead to Copenhagen. The geographical layout of the city located on the sea resembles an outstretched palm with five fingers of infrastructure all funnelling towards the spot on the wrist where the pulse is found.

There are two main motorways leading to the city from afar. The E20 brings traffic from the rest of the nation and the rest of Europe to the south. It continues on over the bridge to Sweden and on to Stockholm. The E47 sweeps down from the north, where ferries arrive from Sweden.

Then there is a network of motorways that slice through the urban sprawl, bringing commuters into Copenhagen from different directions.

I rode out along the #16 Motorway the other day and the film, above, is the result. The #16 isn't that long. It starts about 30 km out, deep in surburbia near the town of Hillerød. From it's source it is already a funnel for a catchment area farther north. In addition, it picks up traffic from the urban sprawl along its length. When it approaches the city limits, three southbound lanes narrow to two and traffic is reduced to a crawl.

Ironically, most of the motorists have driven past a series of S-train stations with frequent departures, all leading to stations in Copenhagen.

But enough about that. What may be interesting is that along much of the length of the #16 there are separated bicycle lanes running parallel on both sides. Bicycle superhighways, as it were. Similar parallel bicycle routes run along many of the other motorways. One example can be seen in this post about me cycling to IKEA along the #19.

These parallel routes have been in place for a long while and are not to be confused with the new 13 super routes I wrote about not long ago. Those 13 routes are mostly being developed along regular city streets along the various fingers of the outstretched palm to boost bicycle traffic.

These parallel bicycle superhighways give people on bikes the opportunity to ride if they so desire. Along the #16 there are between 2000-4000 cyclists each day in both directions. Most traffic follows the motorized rush hour, but there a number of large companies farther out and people can ride away from the city in the morning.

Providing super routes along the motorways is logical. You don't get people to ride bicycles if you wag your finger about 'saving the planet' or blabbing on about 'getting healthy'. You get people to ride by providing safe and very direct routes to where they want to go.

Not where YOU want them to go... where THEY want to go. In the 1980's the City of Copenhagen tried to create bicycle routes through the city away from the busy streets. Thinking, logically and intuitively, that people would take short detours and add a few minutes to their commute in order to get away from traffic.

They were wrong. People continued to cycle along the most direct routes. People on bikes are no different than people in cars or on trains. They want to get where they're going as quick as possible. The result was that the City shrugged and starting the development of separated infrastructure along busy streets. It continues to expand to this day. The majority of cycling Copenhageners, when asked what their main reason for cycling is, say that it is because it is quick and easy. There's the rub.

Back to the #16. I used to ride out of town each day when I worked at Danish Broadcasting's former headquarters. Rain or shine, snow or wind - or both. Many cyclists on this route come from farther afield so it's here that you'll see some lycra and gear but there are also many, many cyclists that just pedal along in their normal clothes. Men and women alike - an almost even split even out there.

bicycle superhighway in copenhagen
Here's a satellite shot of a major motorway junction a few kilometres farther north from where I shot the film. You can see the bike lanes in blue. There are underpasses for the lanes in order to keep things quick and easy. In this photo you can see that the lanes are in the north-south direction, but there are no clear lanes on the motorway running east-west. Simply because the traffic is heading to and from Copenhagen and not along the ring motorway around the city. Sure, there are bicycle friendly streets in the neighbourhoods if you HAVE to ride that way but you don't build infrastructure where there is no potential traffic.
bicycle superhighway in copenhagen
In this photo, closer to the spot where the motorway ends and enters the city, the network of bicycle lanes is more pronounced. The parallel lanes still run through underpasses but there are lanes branching out in all directions.

The very best thing is that you get to roll happily past cars stuck in traffic, as you can see in the film. This direct and very visual aspect is a bonus to riding on the route. It can only serve to encourage those on bicycles to keep on doing it and, hopefully, encourage motorists to consider choosing the bicycle.

25 August 2009


A reader over at Cycle Chic was asking about photos of people playing instruments while cycling, as opposed to just transporting them by bike. About the only one I have is below, of a kid playing a childrens flutey thing while his dad tapped out a beat on the handlebars.
Musical Ride
But the youtube clip above fit the bill. Dutch girl band PEP with a video 'Fietsen' wherein they ride about and play instruments.

Baby Bike Kid Bike

Here's a common sight in Copenhagen. A newborn child in an auto-seat on a cargo bike. Having kids means you still have to get around the city and cargo bikes are our version of SUVs.

Our reader Kari sent a link to a Treehugger piece called When Should Tykes Be On Bikes? The author tries to be balanced, but the tone is typical of Emerging Bicycle Cultures where doctors, among other quirks, still tell women not to cycle when pregnant [it's virtually prescribed in Denmark].
Five Wheeler
In Denmark, according to the traffic laws, children are not allowed to cycle ALONE on the bicycle lanes until they turn seven. Up until then they must be accompanied by an adult. My boy was rolling along the bike lanes to daycare and back every day from the age of three and a half. With training wheels until he was about four and a half. It's all about education and spending time teaching your kids the basics.

There are few limitations to transporting kids by bicycle/tricycle when they're small.
Baby Transport
This chap took the top half of the baby pram, which clicks onto the bottom half, and made a clicking system on the top of the box of his cargo bike. He rolls around with his four-month old son [at the time] lying happily looking up at him. What a wonderful way to travel. Staring up at your dad's smiling face and at the new world floating past, all while being rocked gently by the soothing movement of the bicycle. Beats sitting inside a car filled with hydrocarbon particles.
Oh Baby - Copenhagen Transport Daycare
Just strap the baby carrier on your Short John or get creative with the pram.

Here's a bike seat for the back rack put inside a cargo bike.

Hey Baby
Or, just use a sling like people have used for a millenium or two. Like in this shot from Amsterdam.

Cargo Bike Training
For the older kids, most schools have a variety of bikes for them to play with. As you can see above, cargo bike training starts early.

Wham Ban

Uh oh. Oh dear. Oh my. The Helmetologists ain't gonna like this one.

This blogpost by one of our readers raises some interesting angles about how cycling is percieved in some [read: far too many] countries.

Be sure to read the whole post and be sure to understand the point. And be sure to comment over at Adrian's blog, since he's the one who wrote it. It all wraps up with this paragraph:

"Cycle helmets are the most visible and potent symbol of all that’s wrong with Britain’s (anti-)cycling culture. Cycle helmets say we cannot cycle without the right precautions, the right equipment, the right infrastructure, the right training. Cycle helmets say there must be more to cycling than a person, two wheels and the surface of the Earth. Cycle helmets say that cycling is more dangerous than not cycling. Let’s ban them now before it’s too late. Let’s lock up all the people who buy them, who sell them, who use them. Let’s drag them off to jail in handcuffs, in tears."

24 August 2009

Stripper Cargo Bike

This is so bloody irritating. On a visit to Larry vs Harry we were discussing what the world needs. We have a Cocktail Bullitt, a Newborn Baby Bullitt, a Bathtub Bullitt, a Karaoke Bullitt, a Sustainable Bullitt, a Rowboat Bullitt and a Dog Bullitt.

We decided that a Stripper Pole Bullitt would save the world.

Then Kelly, in NYC, sent this link. It ain't a Bullitt, but damn, it's a stripper pole on a bike. It comes near the end of the CNN piece.


23 August 2009

Checking Out the Competition

Marc, from Amsterdamize, and I both got a kick out of this.

He picked up this on his stats for his website. A visitor to Amsterdamize who arrived via Copenhagenize's post about the World's Most Bicycle-Friendly Cities.

Let's hope they're worried as shit because their time is running out.

21 August 2009

Happy Bicycles Normal Bicycles

Hello Bicycle
We have a library book at home at the moment, which Lulu and I read quite often. A pointing book where the kid has to find various items. It's originally German, translated into a Danish version. Komm mit uns durchs Jahr by Annette Fienieg, 2008.

We've read it about 50 times and Lulu loves it. I say "show me the bird/ball/umbrella" and she points. There's bicycles in the book, too, and Lulu's particuarly good at finding them. Not because her dad has a couple of bicycle culture blogs, just because she's a Danish kid. She sits on a cargo bike on her way to daycare each day and from her perch she is presented with a constant parade of human-powered movement. Not bad marketing at all from such an early age.

In her current, albeit rapidly-expanding world view, bicycles are all around. So much so that they don't register. They just are. If we lived in the woods, she wouldn't really think trees were strange. Her dad's certainly not a bike geek, so she doesn't see bicycles in the flat or see her dad oiling, adjusting, polishing bicycles in the back yard. She does hear "come on, Lulu, time to get into the bike..." or "we have to go... you can finish your banana on the bike". And other everyday references to our most used transport form.

Midsommer Children Boy and Dad Cycling to the Bakery
She shares the cargo bike with her big brother - her role model in many ways - and she sees him riding alongside. We don't talk about bicycles, we just use them.

She just sees bicycles and people moving about on them every time she steps out of the door into our city. Soon she'll be joining their ranks on her own bicycle. Quite nice that. A new instrument piping into the organic bicycle symphony that is Copenhagen.

Egon the Cycling Mosquito Childrens Book
I've posted about Egon The Cycling Mosquito earlier. At right is another book I grabbed from the bookshelf in my boy's room to illustrate other good examples of marketing the bicycle postively.

Lars Peter's Bicycle
The list of books for children featuring the bicycle in a leading role is long. I'll get around to blogging about them in the future.

I think it's brilliant that the bicycle features in so many Danish and European books as a normal feature on the urban landscape. Literature, even childrens' literature, reflects society in many ways, so it's natural that bicycle books for kids abound. It is, however, very important to keep portraying the bicycle as normal in literature and TV for children. We're battling car-centricism even here in Denmark so positive marketing of the bicycle must be continued now more than ever.

Not only for continue to strengthening our bicycle culture, but also as a symbol of enivironmental responsibility. Something that is and will be so much more important in my childrens' lives than it was in my childhood. Not to mention fighting the Culture of Fear and the frightening, negative societal consquences that it entails.

There is a show on Cartoon Network - don't know the name - that my son watches and the cast of characters includes a kid whose parents are quite afraid of... well... everything. Their entire home is fitted out with padding and then force the kid to wear the full range of safety gear... constantly. Needless to say these parents are frightfully uncool and ridiculed. A small step towards fighting The Culture of Fear, served with humour and irony.

Reading on Bicycles

I found this brilliant sign over at Will o' the Wisp, a website featuring four Dutch mothers who blog about life in the Netherlands with sharp, entertaining wit. (now defunct, it seems.)

They didn't cut any corners when writing about Dutch bicycle culture.

Like the sign above says, "Please refrain from reading newspapers while cycling". I often see people riding with books here in Copenhagen and lament daily the fact that I have, as yet, been unable to catch a photo of one. [I'm still waiting for the shot of a cat in a basket, too]

Newspapers would be frightfully tricky to control on a bicycle, however. Well, unless you were selling them, of course:
Newspaper Bike. Although the Italians figured out newspaper transport on bicycles decades ago.

I do have a photo of Felix reading a book on our Long John - back when we had the Long John - on our way to football training:
Going To Football
This is a common sight. Kids in cargo bikes reading books on their way home from school.

The archive photo I use for the Slow Bicycle Movement is from the heyday of the legendary Six Day Races. Back in the day the riders cycled literally for six days straight around the velodrome. At night, when your partner was catching some shuteye, cyclists would casually pedal in circles reading, like in the photo, with one leg up on the handlebars and the other pedalling. I've seen a photo of a cyclist shaving on his bike, as well, but can't bloody well find it.

In the morning when the crowds started filing back into the velodrome, the race was on again.

If you're ever in Copenhagen in February, you may want to catch the modern version of the Six Day Race at the Ballerup Superarena.