I'm Kieran, one of the 4 co-founders of Copenhagen Free Bike Rental. I've also been interning here at Copenhagenize Design Company for the past few months. At Copenhagen Free Bike Rental, our goal is to ‘salvage abandoned and broken bicycles and offer them to visitors so they can explore Copenhagen the way it should be done: on two wheels’.
It is partly an attempt to fill the gap left by the closure of the Copenhagen City Bike system, and its unsatisfactory 'GoBike' replacement and partly a response to the fact that in Copenhagen there are more bikes than people – and thus many unused bikes.
There were 4 of us involved involved in founding the project, and we are all students on the very exciting 4 Cities course. This means we've been travelling around Europe experiencing how cities work (or don't). And we've got a very good flavour of cycling conditions: not because we're particularly mad about cycling itself, but because we like to explore these new cities we keep landing in and a bike is the best way to do it.
Brussels, the first stop on our course, is really not so good, but Vienna is (slowly, and not without mistakes) getting there. So we were very excited about coming to Copenhagen. We felt like it was the next step of what seemed to be a progression towards some sort of cycling utopia. Which was justified in many ways, because Copenhagen is of course a fantastic city to cycle round. The one problem was that in Vienna, when we had visitors, they could register for a citybike for €1 and pay nothing else, and have a whole network of bikes across the city. But in Copenhagen, there's nothing like that any more.
So we found that at the beginning of our academic year, every time someone had a visitor the same question would be asked - 'does anyone have a spare bike?' and the same people, usually Copenhageners, would have a spare one. But often it would come with a caveat that it was broken. Amongst our little group we would have sessions to fix the bikes so they could be borrowed. We saw Copenhagen Free Bike Rental as a way to formalise this network a little, and open it up to more people.
The way it works is very simple: you fill in the form on our website, and we'll get back to you if we've got a bike available (sadly we always end up with more requests than we have bikes.) You come to where our bikes are parked, near the City Hall, every day at 6pm, and we give you a bike. You can have it for between 1 and 3 days, and then you bring it back at the same time, same place. Simple. There is absolutely no obligation to donate, but often people do, and this money helps us pay for new parts (the ones we can't find in the street) and locks.
We were delighted that our little scheme has been extremely successful. People love us. They are a bit surprised often as to why we're doing it, and sometimes a little sceptical about whether it is actually free, but once they find out a little more they are very happy. We're providing a little public service. Access to the city is a right, we believe, not a bonus. Copenhagen isn't the cheapest city, but it's got a lot to offer, both in terms of amusement, and also as a shining example of how all cities could be if they focussed more on people than on cars. And obviously, by bike, you can see more of it. We think that's important.
We ourselves are all students, and we started off telling students about this, via a few posts on some student Facebook groups. That's literally all the promotion we've done. So at first, we mainly got students who wanted bikes for visitors, like us. But now, through the myriad miracles of modern communication, word has spread and we get a bit more of a range of people, often tourists visiting and wanting to get around for a few days.
One of the best aspects of Copenhagen Free Bike Rental is how it works on trust. Trusting strangers is very important in society, especially in a cities, where we pass hundreds if not thousands each day. People who are more trusting are happier. We've rented out bikes over 200 times since October, and every single time they have been returned to us. Aside from everything else, we feel this in itself is some sort of small but not insignificant human triumph.
One of the questions we always get asked is where we get the bikes: the answer is a combination of donations and of assembling scraps. To start with the latter: one of the first things you notice about Copenhagen is the discarded half-carcasses of long-forgotten bikes. Usually it's just a frame here or a lonesome wheel there, which on their own aren't going to do much except get eventually rusty then swept away. This is the case in cities all over the world but in Copenhagen, where there are more bikes than people, the number of abandoned bikes is extremely high, and the city collects and destroys as many as 15,000 per year. So we collect these scraps, take them to our workshop and put them together into actually functioning bikes (We never take bikes unless they are clearly long-abandoned, unlocked and thoroughly incomplete). We fix them up ourselves, and we also run a number of workshops where people can come and learn a bit about basic bike maintenance, so they don't end up throwing their bike away if it gets a minor fault!
Not all of Copenhagen's unused bikes are on the streets of course, and we actually get a very large number of our bikes from very kind people who have donated them: a lot of students leave Copenhagen without selling their bike and so instead have very kindly have given them to us. We're very DIY and small-scale (we often don't have enough bikes for the demand, sadly), and of course in no way a replacement for a city-wide bikeshare system, but in both providing bikes for free, and getting people to think more about their relationship with bicycles, the city and waste, we think we're doing a little bit of good for Copenhagen.
We've had interest in our scheme and questions from people from all around the world, and we'd encourage people in other cities to try something similar. Even in cities with fewer abandoned bikes, there will always be people with spares - so give it a go. Feel free to give us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, and likewise if there is anyone in Copenhagen with an old bike that they don’t need any more, whatever the condition, you are also very welcome to donate it to us.
Copenhagenize Design Company is grateful to Kieran for all his brilliant work and passion during his internship and we are really proud of the amazing project of free bike rental which he set up during his stay in Copenhagen. Quite often, students may not stay long but the ideas they contribute with are fresh and fantastic.