A survival guide for cycling in Copenhagen

Image from ebw.evergreen.ca.


Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns when cycling in Copenhagen. 

Whilst Copenhagen may be wrapped up beautifully with its 400+ kilometres of cycle lanes, an integrated cycling infrastructure and an overwhelming mindset of normality towards cycling, there are still hazards. 

Think of the Tour de France and times it by 100.  That’ll give you approximately (give or take) the number of cyclists you'll be cycling with on your morning commute in Copenhagen. So if you want to survive, you're going to need to be match fit and street savvy.

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1.      Buses
Like a moth to a flame, these bright yellow beasts of Copenhagen have a reputation of being attracted to cyclists. Not in a ‘bowl you over’ kind of way, but more in an unwanted puppy following you home, kind of way. 

The bus lanes run right next to the cycle lanes, and when the bus reaches the bus stop, they hold all the power.  Cyclists cannot pass a bus which has stopped to pick up or let off passengers.  Lovely for the bus passengers.  But a pain in the arse if you’re a cyclist and you get caught in an awkward game of Chase.  One in which regardless of how hard you try to get away from the bus, it continues to clock the exact same speed as you requiring you to stop at EVERY single bus stop.

You can try and speed up (or slow down) to throw the bus off the scent.  But it seems to never make much of a difference. Cyclists beware.

2.      The Tinkerbell syndrome

This happens when someone (let's call them Tinkerbell) passes you and fails to correctly calculate their speed v’s your speed v’s distance covered (which is simple physics is it not?). 

As a result of their poor mathematical ability, they then abruptly pull back in front of you requiring you to slam on your brakes to avoid going up Tinkerbell’s jacksy.  None of which Tinkerbell is ever aware of.  Avoid Tinkerbells at all costs.

3.      Mobile phones


Copenhageners love to talk on their phones while biking.  Phone headsets are common and are normally accompanied by slow cycling in a bid to avoid the somewhat awkward heavy breathing syndrome.

I’m not sure of the exact correlation between slow talking and slow cycling.  But I know there is one.   This group is potentially a great match with the Tinkerbells of Copenhagen.

Although given the choice of following a slow talker or a slow smoker on a bike.  I’ll take the slow talker.  

Follow at your own risk.

4.      Roadworks

I’m torn over this.  Half of me loves the very matter of fact way roadworks (& construction sites in general) are handled in Copenhagen (in comparision to my home country). 

If the cycle lane needs to be dug up or blocked off, it is, and most likely with minimal warning signs.  Because they assume you have a brain and will, with the very best of use of it, work out the best way around or through the roadworks. Sometimes it takes you up on the footpath where you get to do a little cycle dance with pedestrians.

I love that they assume I have a brain and will use it to best negotiate blocked cycle lanes. 

However, on the other hand, it can also get a little tiresome dancing with unwilling pedestrians.   If you encounter roadworks, get creative.

5.      Bike Bells


By law in Denmark, your bike must have a bell and the first rule of using it is, that it should be rung when passing another cyclist.  This gives them a warning that you’re about to pass them and not to make any sudden movements. 

However the 2nd rule of cycling in Copenhagen is that you shouldn’t ring your bell.  

To ring your bells breaks an unwritten social rule.  It’s complicated, I know.  But it means you’ll rarely hear a bell rung. Even in peak hour.  If you do, you’ve most likely really f'd up and pissed someone off.

You are instead assumed to have a brain and to always be alert when cycling and passing others.  Naturally, some fail miserably at this.  But overall, people typically show high levels of alertness.

Ring in cases of emergency only.

6.      When the cycle lanes are mistaken for race tracks

The general flow of the cycle lanes in the morning is a comfortable pace with those wanting to go at a faster pace overtaking (on the left) before merging right again.  But occasionally you’ll get (what I call) the boy racers.  The ones running down anyone and anything in the lane. 

So buckle up and do your best to ignore them.  Even when you catch up to them at the next set of traffic lights. Because you will.  Which makes it all the more amusing.

7.      Adult waterproof onesies


It’s not so much the onesies themselves that are bad.  In fact, they’re bloody genius.  When it’s raining during your morning commute there is nothing more sensible than being able to pull on a head to toe waterproof onesie.  My problem with these stems from jealously.

Measuring 'Five Foot not much' I’m never going to make one of these things look good.  In fact the best I can achieve when wearing one is an impersonation of an Oompa Loompa from Charlies Chocolate Factory.

This is a garment made for the Danish Avatars.  Tall, lean (most likely blonde).  These women are rocking the adult waterproof onesies and I’m jealous.

Adult waterproof onesies - a hazard for all fellow 'five foot not much' cyclists.

8.      Brain farts

Largely, one feels incredibly safe cycling in Copenhagen.  It’s a city designed for cycling.  It’s a way of life.  However.  Brain farts still happen.

Trucks still pull out in front of out, cars forget to check their blindspots, cyclists get too close to each other and spills happen.  And it sucks.  I’ve come off my bike twice (thankfully I bounced well both times).  I’ve had a truck cut in front of me (big thanks to the guy who told me to move back), and I’ve had a pedestrian walked out in front of me and do a really (really) good job of impersonating a hedgehog stuck in the headlights.  So, yep.  Shit still happens when cycling in Copenhagen. People still have brain farts. Don't get complacent.


If after reading this you think I’m being a tad precious.  You’d be right. 

Copenhagen is a great place to cycle and I’m super happy that I have time to ponder such first world problems like these on my daily commute.