28 October 2010

One for the road

Due to a glitch in my sleep pattern I am up at a way too early hour these days, and this has exposed me to a new development in  Copenhagen that I could easily have been without. The other morning, when the light outside finally turned pink, I realised there would be no sleep, and instead I went for a ride on my bike. Well.. almost. I got as far as to the lake at the end of my road, and it was like a crowded highway, only with bicycles. A mother was standing by with her young son, bicycles at side, waiting for a space to enter, and they were both intimidated by the aggressiveness. It was similar to deciding when to jump into a revolving door, moving a little too fast. His mother yelled at him now, NOW, go ahead I'll catch up, and he just managed to get his small bicycle in motion before he was eaten by the next wave. I was standing in the pedestrian area, parallel to the bicycle lane, trying to get a proper shot of it all, when a very aggressive woman racing by yelled "move to the side, auntie". I was not even in her path. Unbelievable.

Further down the road I had a chat with one of the men working hard to widen the bicycle lanes, starting on the bridge, and he was chocked too. He told me that several of his men had been torpedoed by bicycles as they tried to cross the lanes during work. Let me just point out that you can not torpedo anyone unless you are moving at a very high speed. If you ride at a normal speed, you can avoid collisions by simply putting a foot down. Racing on crowded lanes in populated areas is nothing but a display of poor judgement.

It is not about bicyclists, or bicycles, but about people behaving badly. And I am ashamed of them, how odd is that? The flow on the bicycle lane should be human, constant, of course, but if you want to race like a maniac and torpedo people, you don't belong on the road. This grotesque way of riding is probably responsible for people buying into the ridiculous bicycle helmets in the first place (as a matter of fact most of the bullies wear helmets, coincidence?). A vicious circle if there ever was one. I am going to come up with some kind of lecture for these assholes, I swear. This has got to stop.

Ah, those were the bicycle days:

Tip: if you want to fast forward to the undiluted bicycle action, go to 6.18.

This video is almost impossible to find anymore, they keep taking it off, I hope this one survives, even if it is a grainy copy. You must fogive the speaker for his 1930ish "the white man" line, he knew no better at the time. In the end they have a nice full shot of my bridge, Dronnings Louises Bridge, the very one they are widening the bicycle lanes on right now, it is a sign of beauty, I am moved to a mush every time.

Oh, and notice the "numerous repair stations scattered across the city", where did they go?

Update: Here is a link to Cykelhjelm.org a site that explains why the helmet does more harm than good. It is in Danish, but Google Translate is always up for an entertaining version.


  1. Yahaha, there are VERY aggressive cyclists around. A friend of mine used to be like that -racing like a madman, and hitting cars on the roof if they made the mistake of overlooking him... Now that he's a father he might have a slightly different perspective though :)

  2. P.S. Will have to come back for the video, the computer I'm sitting at is way to slow to play it :(

  3. I'd trade the aggressive drivers on my roads any day for aggressive helmet wearing cyclists. So spoiled in Copenhagen. :)

  4. It's kind of frightening to me how much the things I'm hearing about Denmark lately remind me of the U.S.

    Here, we don't have enough people riding bicycles all the time yet to have quite the same problem you are describing, but we have the problem of people on bicycles riding 20mph (32 kph) on paths shared with pedestrians and frightening them, knocking them over, or outright hitting them.

    I actually personally have more near collisions with other people on bicycles than I do with people in cars, due to the people on bicycles rushing around and riding very aggressively, passing where they shouldn't (and where you don't expect it), and just generally riding like they are in a race, rather than just going somewhere.

    I try to avoid motorized traffic as much as possible so that this doesn't happen between me and people in cars while I'm on a bike, but I know from driving that the attitudes of people in cars are not much different. They are mostly in a hurry, will not stop for anything in their path unless it will harm them, and are generally very uptight and aggressive, or else just completely not paying attention.

    This was one thing I have to say I immediately fell in love with in Amsterdam - it seems like people there, no matter which mode of transportation they are using, move purposefully, but in a relaxed manner. They weren't frantic. They move fairly quickly, but they are not intentionally trying to hurry for the most part. I felt like I could enter any public space there at any speed, and it would go ok. Of course, you stick to the rules and don't walk in the bike paths or in the road except to cross them (though in the center, you can walk in the streets and it's fine), but if you just meet basic expectations, everyone seems very ok with you being there. Riding a bike there was blissful nirvana compared to here. I never once felt that feeling I feel every day here of a car behind me revving it's engine just waiting for the instant they can floor it and get around me, or the buzz of some cyclist passing me at 20mph within inches because they just HAVE to get to work that 3 minutes faster.

    I find it hard to feel at home in a climate like this, and long for one that feels more like Amsterdam did.

  5. Hi Sabine, I think this is close to the point, growing older smoothens the edges. You should definitely check out the small movie when you can, it is so cosy!

    Hi Bryant, it is the same guys, just on different wheels, and even though they don't kill people, they spread terror, and suck the fun out of bicycling. I won't stand for that. But yes, in the larger scheme of things we are privileged to live in Copenhagen.

  6. Hi Portlandize,

    The rest of the day it is pretty harmonic, actually. I still get brushed by crazy riders, that cares for no one, and just have to get there, but they never get away without a reprimand. You may have noticed that I don’t like to let things fester? Haha.

    You are so right about Amsterdam, they have it down to a science, so incredibly peaceful. Denmark was like that too once, as you can see in the small movie, and we can get there again. Now we even have fancy bicycle lanes, so we are safe for the heavier traffic.

    I believe that we need to discuss this openly, get the unwritten rules brushed up, somehow, if these guys are confronted, their bullying or the effect it has will diminish. I really wish the Danish Cycle Union would wake up and smell their responsibility and recognise wherein the real challenge lies, instead of marching blind in this harmful direction. What we need is not to dress like we are going to war (and don’t get me started on how useless and completely unnecessary the plastic hats are), but to promote easy riding. Leave the drama at the door, and just enjoy the ride, for craps sake.

    As always so good to hear from you.

  7. @Sandra: yeah, I agree - cycling can be one of the most carefree things I do during my day, and I enjoy that so much.

    Those days when everything goes right (which really is the majority of days, overall), the time on my bike is one of the best parts of my day, and I hate to see that ruined for people by all the fear-mongering that goes on. It gets turned into this complicated, risky, sweaty, daring, thing that it really isn't at all, unless you make it that yourself. The worst thing is, it's not anything official, as helmets are not legally required for adults, nor is high-visibility clothing, but the unspoken rule is that if you don't have it, you're risking your life, and if you get hit, it's something *you* should have prevented (even people who ride bikes hold this opinion much of the time).

    Well, anyway, enough ranting :) In many ways, I'm lucky to be in Portland too :)

  8. Portlandize, I feel the same way. And really all I want is for the fear to leave the room. You put it just right. :-)

  9. ha! a good point my dear.
    strange thing though : i never wore a helmet, in cities as dangerous as paris and new york (well in ny i didn't ride my bike so much), but here, where it seems not so dangerous, i bought a helmet (i couldn't buy the profiled ones i chose a skate one). and i was wondering why i did that. i'm definitively not a bully (more the bullied), but then i remembered. i have a 6 yo son who needs both a role model and a mother :) yours is a scary story though. makes me think of a jacques tati movie...

  10. oh and by the way, talking of aggressive people, did you check the people riding their bike in central park? a nightmare!!! here in california it's more laid back, and very pleasant to ride along the ocean... i should do that more often.

  11. Hi Carole, it is so strange that all of the sudden everybody jumped that wagon, with the helmets. For the last hundred years everybody was fine just riding their bike, but somebody saw a market for this hat, and here we are. All of the sudden biking is labelled dangerous, and if you are not wearing a plastic hat you have “it” coming to you. Only there is no “it”, but no one is calling the emperors bluff.

    In my lifetime I have fallen on my bike only a very few times (mostly drunk, haha), and you just don’t land on your head. You scrape your knees, or bruise your hand, but seriously, you do not hit your head. There are more surveys that point to the fact that your head is in more danger with something strapped on. Because if you fall with that slippery thing on, it may get caught in something, and twist your head.

    Of course people can wear helmets if they like, but the reason I am on the subject, is that there are talks about making it the law here, that everybody must wear one. Can you believe that?

    Why do they insist on making something so natural as riding a bike sound dangerous? I can think of only one reason, and that is that there is a huge profit in selling these plastic hats. And if you scare people, you can sell them anything. Wars even. I just refuse to be scared.

    Oh, this is a long comment, sorry, got caught up here.


  12. To some extent, I also think the hysteria about safety equipment is to mitigate a system that is way out of balance and we're not sure how to pull it back from where it's gotten (or certain people/groups don't want to, because it also brings a lot of profit).

    People didn't need seatbelts in cars either when the cars only went 15mph. But we just have this obsessive need for "progress", which really just means throwing the world out of balance - and because we can now travel 80-100mph in the average car on the road, everyone is aware how much damage that can cause, but nobody wants to go against it, because it increases convenience (for those with enough money) and because it would just be silly to take a modern car and limit it to 20mph (even though you could get amazing fuel efficiency by reducing the power output), that would be reversing "progress".

    Of course there isn't much danger in riding a bicycle. No more than in walking down the sidewalk or taking a shower (people randomly have accidents and slip and fall and hit their heads all the time doing non-bicycle-related activities, much more so than they do on a bicycle, typically).

    While I think it's important to teach people to take theirs and other peoples' safety seriously, I think part of that is to teach people to actually rationally evaluate risk and weigh it against practicality and make an informed decision themselves as to what they are willing to do. Legally requiring helmets completely removes this.

  13. Sandra, I totally agree with you, people live on fear! And you made me realize that i got caught on that too, without noticing. they are insidious...


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