When people tell me it’s as easy as riding a bike, alarm bells start ringing. I don’t find cycling – particularly while pulling my son Charlie along in the trailer behind me – that easy at all! But after a few weeks in the saddle, I am beginning to re-discover how enjoyable and safe cycling can be.
So as I crawl along Copenhagen’s bike lanes, panting as I’m overtaken by yet another child on their way to school, with Charlie shouting ‘Come on Princess Leia! Faster! Faster!’ (what is it with boys and Star Wars?) I assure myself I am going to get quicker.
Because to live in this city you just have to ride a bike. More than a third of people here cycle to work or school every day. They take it so seriously that there’s even a Cycling Embassy of Denmark.
This though is not simply a nation of lycra-clad cyclists. Of course they exist, but most people I see on my morning commute are just like me (though traveling a little faster). The women look incredibly glamorous – some even wearing high heels as they chat away to their friend cycling next to them. (The cycle lanes are wide enough for two or three bikes.) They don’t even break out in a mild sweat. And bad weather seems to make no difference.
Even though I’m struggling to keep up, it’s so easy to cycle here. In and around Copenhagen there are 1,000 kilometres (more than 620 miles) of bike paths. Most are separated from the road by curbstones. It also helps that that this city is so flat.
If I’m honest I’d rather cycle here than drive. Motorists have to give way to bikes and turning right while trying to avoid cyclists (who are allowed to undertake) feels pretty hazardous. But there are strict rules that must be followed including using hand signals and obeying the traffic light system.
So it’s interesting to watch the UK cycling campaign from Copenhagen. London has made significant strides under mayor Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has pledged tens of millions of pounds to promote cycling across England. And in the House of Commons, in a couple of weeks time, MPs will debate how best to get people on their bikes.
But let’s remember it’s taken more than 30 years and a whole lot of cash to create such a safe cycling network across Denmark. In the UK that would mean a long-term strategy and a strong political will to change the status quo. Until that happens, I’m afraid I would still feel very nervous getting on my bike (or one of Boris’s) to take my son to school in London.
Also check out: cyclechic.com