A City On Wheels

How many wheels does it take to live in Copenhagen? Two-many. Okay, that’s a terrible joke – but it’s actually a Segway into this week’s topic: the bicycle.

If you are not aware of Copenhagen’s incredible cycling culture, then you are about to be. Living in Copenhagen is almost synonymous with owning a bicycle – today, just over 62% of all citizens jump on their bike when commuting to work, school or wherever they need to be1, so basically, you become the odd one out if you don’t own a bicycle.

Is it because it’s the healthy thing to do? Well, that doesn’t hurt, but no. Simply put, it’s the easiest way for the Danes to get around – it is a city designed for bikes and not cars.

Streets made for cycling (Cycle Chic, 2015)

Now, the city did not wake up one day and decide, ‘Hey, let’s all get bikes and show people how environmentally conscious we are’. Though, I wouldn’t blame someone for thinking so, given cycling seems to be fused into the Danish DNA at this point. Rather, it started back in the 1880s when bicycles were first introduced into Denmark. By the 1930s the bicycle had become a symbol of freedom and equality – it allowed people from all walks of life to jump on a bike and cycle through the city together2. Add in a fuel shortage from WWII, an energy crisis in the 1970s and an increased environmental awareness and you have a pretty successful recipe for creating a cycling city3.

Rush Hour in Copenhagen circa 1950 (Copenhagen City Museum, 1950)

Apart from social equity, the Danes have invested heavily in bicycle infrastructure. And why wouldn’t they? It’s cheaper, healthier and better for everybody. If you like numbers – more than 12 000 kilometres of cycle routes have been implemented in Denmark since the humble beginning4. Think beyond just cycle lanes on city streets – there are beautiful bridges, natural and green paths that connect the country and ‘cycle superhighways’ – routes specially designed with good pavement, traffic seperation and amenities such as lighting and air pumps along the way.

A well-versed example is architecture firm Dissing+Weitling’s ‘Cykelslangen’ or, ‘Bicycle Snake’ – a 280-metre bike bridge that attracts around 20 000 cyclists every day since its construction in 20145.

The Bicycle Snake (Hjortshoj, 2016)

This isn’t your typical grey, concrete ‘there because it has to be’ bridge, instead, it’s a beautifully curving construction that takes you over the water whilst offering breathless views over the Copenhagen harbour. An orange hue sets Cykelslangen apart between the glassy greys of the buildings between which it’s elevated. As a nod to both functionality and aesthetic, it touches back to the roots of Danish design: less is more.

For those after a green route, one of my favourite journey’s is along the ‘Søerne’ (the Lakes), a cycle path placed between shady trees and charming facades all next to the open water, taking you from the eastern district of Østebro up to the north in Frederiksberg, simple but satisfying.

Autumn cycling along the Søerne (Trolle, 2015)

Copenhagen’s cycling success comes down to more than one factor, but each year the culture continues to grow through the provision of infrastructure that is well-planned and considers the experience of the cyclist from A-B. If you give people the means to do something, it’s more likely they actually will.

On a personal note, you make more memories riding a bike than you do a car. From waking up after a night out having ‘lost’ your bike (when it was actually parked outside a Burger King) to crashing into another cyclist in ‘slow motion’ (aka the slowed reaction rate whilst drunk) – navigating your way home on a bicycle is still (mostly) safer than trying to drive a car. You can stop at whichever kebab shop you want and trust me, there are too many.

For something so simple, it is a beautiful thing that brings a city together and gives people a sense of camaraderie. Nobody knows or cares if you’ve been in the city 5 minutes or 5 years, you can simply get on a bike and join the ride.



1 Boseley, Sarah. “How Do You Build a Healthy City? Copenhagen Reveals Its Secrets.” (February 12 2018). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness.
2“A Nation of Cyclists.” Denmark.Dk, 2020, accessed March 19, 2020, https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/biking.
3“Bicycing History.” Cycling Embassy of Denmark, accessed March 19, 2020, http://www.cycling-embassy.dk/facts-about-cycling-in-denmark/cycling-history/.
4 “A Nation of Cyclists.” Denmark.Dk, 2020, accessed March 19, 2020, https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/biking.
5 “Cykelslangen: Infrastructure.” Danish Architecture Centre, accessed March 19, 2020, https://dac.dk/en/knowledgebase/architecture/cykelslangen-2/.

Cover: Copenhagenize. “Winter Cycling.” Copenhagenize. https://copenhagenize.eu/.
1. Copenhagen Cycle Chic. “Street Life at Peace.” Copenhagen Cycle Chic, November 15 2015. http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/search?updated-max=2016-11-19T06:00:00%2B01:00&max-results=15&start=39&by-date=false.
2. Copenhagen City Museum. “Gyldenløvesgade.” Flickr: Mikkel Colville-Andersen, 1950.
3. Hjortshoj, Rasmus. “Cykelslangen.” Topos Magazine, March 7 2016. https://www.toposmagazine.com/copenhagen-cykelslangen/#Rasmus-Hjortshoj-Cykelslangen-LARGE-16-631×440.
4. Trolle, Kristoffer. “Cycling Along the Søerne.” Flickr, October 25 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/kristoffer-trolle/22474914981.

Sasha Spasic

Master of Landscape Architecture student trying to finish her thesis and stay sane.