Cycling in Denmark : How to NOT look like a Dane

You may have seen from my cycling video last week that the cycle lanes in Copenhagen are a thing of beauty. They are simply the way of life in Denmark.  Yet they are still so very foreign to so many other countries with continual arguments over building and integrating cycling into cities (yes, I’m looking at you Wellington).  Yawn. 

The extensive network and cycling culture in Denmark makes it a very easy, quick and convenient way to get around.  If you travel to Copenhagen you must get on a bike to experience the city fully.

So I consider myself very lucky to now live in a world where cars slow down and wait for cyclists before they turn.  They don’t treat you as a moving target to try and speed up and cut in front of you to turn a corner. Because heaven forbid a motorist may be delayed for 2 seconds while a bike goes in front of them.  Not looking at anyone in particular but - Kiwi drivers you do suck at times.

The overwhelming acceptance of the bike as an equal form of transport in Denmark is inspiring.  And useful.  Especially if like me you have a New Zealand drivers licence that the Danish Government value about as much as an All Blacks collector card from a Weetbix box. This means I am unable to easily exchange my New Zealand Drivers Licence for a Danish one.  To gain a Danish drivers license I must re-sit both the practical and theory with professional lessons and a translator to boot.  Total cost approx. NZ$4000 (20,000kr).  Compare that to the Danes experience living in New Zealand where he paid NZ$30 (DKK 150kr) and was given (albeit not quite gift wrapped) a New Zealand drivers license.  He had no testing on either the practical or theory.  Zip. Nada.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

Back to cycling in Copenhagen.  The simplicity and success of the cycle lanes in Denmark should be boxed and sold to every country in the world.  It is ‘the’ way of life in Denmark with over 50% of Danes commuting by bike every day, whatever the weather.  Rain, sleet, snow etc.

The Danes will try and tell you that there is no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothing.  This advice is repeated often.  Don’t believe them. I've tried.  I've worn the right clothing and still ended up second best.

This blog was originally going to pay ode to the Danes who manage to cycle in all weather (rain, blowing or snowing) and still turn up at their destination looking respectable.  However as I am much better at impersonating a drowned rat while cycling in the Danish autumn weather I thought instead I’d share my secrets of how to perfect this look.

So here’s my 5 tips on how best to NOT look like an authentic Dane while cycling in Copenhagen or Denmark:

Tip #1:  Don’t have long or short hair.

What you need is in-between hair length.  Too long and you’ll have the ease of whipping it up into an effortless messy topknot bun.  This will make you look like a Dane within seconds.  I call it a Scandi bun. Do not do this. 

Similarly, if your hair is too short the rain will just bounce off your head and allow your hair to dry in seconds when you arrive at your destination.  Again, do not do this.

What you want is in-between hair length.  Something that you will struggle to find a hairdo capable of wearing a cycle helmet, woolly hat and/or rain jacket hood with. This is the perfect length to arrive without fail looking like a drowned rat.


Tip #2:  Wear a puffer jacket. BUT only if you are 5 foot 4 or shorter. 

Any taller and you’re again risking looking like an authentic Dane as the puffer to height ratio starts to even out allowing you to wear it without looking like a puffed up cycling cream bun.

Additionally when it is raining you’re going to need some waterproof leggings.  If you’re tall like a Danish Avatar you’re going to very quickly risk ‘blending in’ wearing these.  Therefore your ideal here is to (again) be five foot four with a couple of hockey thighs.  This look is sure to make you feel anything but Scandi-licious.


Tip #3:  Ring your bell

All bikes must have a bell on them in Denmark (it's a law) and because of the sheer volume of bikes in the cycle lanes it’s easy to see the value of them to let people know you’re approaching from behind overtaking etc. 

However an authentic Dane will NEVER ring their bell.  To ring implies you’re a bit grumpy and/or a show off that you’re overtaking.  Therefore to complete the non-authentic Dane look, ring that bell!

Tip #4:  Dismount on the left hand side.

Having been brought up in a country where we drive and ride on the left hand side of the road my autopilot system continues to ensure that I am dismounting/hovering on the left hand side when cycling.  You’ll notice in the cycle lanes in Copenhagen that most people will hover/dismount on the right hand side, away from the flow of the traffic. That’s smart.  But to do that you’re going to blend straight in.  To make yourself stand out, I reccommend dismounting/hovering on the left hand side.  Or, attempting to hover on the right hand side and make a desperate grab at the many cyclists ‘rest’ spots/stands which are often at the traffic lights allowing cyclists to hold on to something rather than take their feet off the pedals.  Remember though – you need to make a desperate grab at this resting station poles.  If you glide in too effortlessly people are going to suspect you’re a local.   

To really make an impression, try hovering at the lights and then fail miserably.  Start by not putting any feet down.  Rock back and forward.  Jiggle just enough to keep you upright on the bike and then just as the lights go green come to the conclusion you cannot possibly define gravity any longer and give up and put both feet on the ground.


Tip #5:  Overtake everyone and everything in the cycle lane.

In Copenhagen you’ll notice most people ‘cruise’ at a moderate speed in the cycle lanes.   The Dane tells me this is possibly because they do not want to get too sweaty on their way to their destination.  I’ve also pondered if it is because a lot of them also multitask and talk on their mobile phones while cycling.  No one wants a heavy breather if that is the case which makes a leisurely cycle pace your best bet.

However if like me you have the luxury of seven (yes seven!) gears then I fully recommend ripping into them and trying to pass as many other cyclists as you can.  Mobility scooters too.  Pass them all.  This shall break all sorts of cultural rules and ensure you leave a lasting impression.


In summary

Overall I most definitely have more tricks of the trade to learn while cycling in Copenhagen to ensure I look authentic.  But in the meantime I do indeed have my occasional days of totally mastering the 'how not to look like an authentic Dane look'.  BBB is however a good accessory to blend into the crowd who are also pulling/pushing/pedalling with their children and babies in the cycle lanes.  We've become quite pro at traveling around Copenhagen with me pulling her cycle trailer behind. On a sunny or dry day at least.

But however you cycle in Copenhagen or Denmark, just do it.  Because the cycle lanes are awesome, you get to see some great sights and it's as easy as A-B-C.

Happy cycling all!