My first experience with biking in Copenhagen was not what I had expected. My friends who’d come here last semester told me that I had to get a bike. Luckily enough, my host parents said they had a special one they kept from their previous two students. And oh, it was “special” all right. At first glance it just seemed a bit old – a once bright-white stallion of a road bike that, like so many of its time, was constructed of solid steel. That, plus the weighty chain-lock meant that the bike weighed 30 pounds, if not more. But I resolved to enjoy it – I shouldn’t be picky about something I’d only use for four months, right? As I was pulling the old mustang off its hanger in the shed, my hand slipped and the bike fell with a resounding crash of rust and steel. “Ouch!” I cried – the bike had landed squarely on my right foot, and I was only wearing flip-flops! As I bent over to check what was left of my foot, I hit my head with a comical “Thump” on the shed’s crossbeam. My host father chimed in with an unhelpful “Why didn’t you just lift it?”
Sheepish and feeling like I had just entered a slapstick skit, I picked up the bike and resolved to make a fresh start. My host father gave me the key and went inside, still with a grin on his face, and I turned onto the path for a test-run. In the first 30 seconds, everything seemed fine. Then the front wheel started to wobble, and I heard a metallic “ka-chink-chink” as something that was probably important hit the pavement and bounced happily off. I remember thinking “Oh no….” and then I felt the bike stop mid-gallop and throw it’s rear end skyward as if bucking off an unwanted rider. I was tossed from the bike and landed in a muddy path of grass as the bike skidded to a halt beside me. I turned as if to say “What now?” and realized that the whole cross bar holding the front wheel, frame, and of course me had completely rusted-out and was rolling away on the path like a dropped horseshoe. Foot still hurting, mud covering my clothes but not my embarrassment, my lame steed and I hobbled back to the house.
My host father Jan is pretty handy and somehow he managed to repair the using a glue gun, duct tape, and a lot of laughter. I realized that the nonstarter of a test-run was pretty funny, and eventually managed to rib Jan back about lending me such a lemon. As I would come to find, this good-natured (and often surprisingly harsh and “too-soon”) teasing is a major part of Danish conversation, especially amongst good friends. With somewhat hesitant, but nonetheless renewed confidence in the stallion, I began to ride it to the train every day to get to DIS in the city center.
The great thing about Copenhagen is how ridiculously bike-friendly it is. Stairways almost universally have aluminum, grip-tape-lined trenches up which you can push a bike. Streets have wide designated lanes for the majority of workers who commute by bike, and the street lights even have separate signals for them. Bike racks are omnipresent, but anything from a lamppost to an open patch of grass serves as a parking spot because all the bikes have shoes (like police use for illegally parked cars) built onto the back wheel. Although the occasional drunk Dane will steal a bike to get home faster, the extremely high level of trust here means that most people just lean their bike up against a likely wall. Overall, Copenhagen is a bike haven.
The Shaky Stallion, as I began to call it, still jittered like an untamed colt over the cobblestone streets, and simply refused to stop when I applied the breaks, but it at least stayed in one piece for the rest of the semester. I felt like part of the city lifestyle on the bike, and I found a kind of relief in literally gearing down on the ride back to my homestay. Days jockeying around the city on that bike – despite its rusted bolts and our less-than-ideal introduction – have made some of my favorite memories here. Copenhagen is a city of bikers, and I had the privilege of joining them if only for a short few months.