The land of Pastries, Bikes and the Ten Pound Pint

I’ve started to spot a recurring theme: whenever I end up on holiday, it’s always centred around bikes. Some would argue that I do it on purpose, but I think it’s more of a natural attraction. A week in Copenhagen; I can tell myself it was for the Scandi architecture or the “modern art”… but really it was all about bikes and pastries and, you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The land of pastries, bikes and the ten pound pint (yep, I know, THE TEN POUND PINT ). Now I’m a big fan of all three. Well, maybe I prefer my pints towards the three to four pound mark, but when in Rome… It only ever hits home just how hilly Bristol is after you visit a place like Copenhagen. Not a hill in sight, there was barely a derailleur visible too, but then again why would you bother with gears when the biggest hill is the odd bridge here and there? The first thing that struck me was that, although there are loads of bikes, hardly any of them are any good. It’s not like Bristol in the way that if your bike’s not up to it the roads will eat it up and the hills will destroy your legs. In Copenhagen the cycling infrastructure is so well thought out that you don’t need a brand-new shiny bike. The second thing I noticed is that brands are almost irrelevant. No one cares if you have the new flashy on-trend road bike or a five-year-old banger; even bike shops are in on it. Almost every shop I peered into or went in to peruse the shelves was selling bikes by the gear number. It might be £200 for a single speed and then £250 for a double and so on and so forth. It was like a set menu for bikes, what’s not to love?

Another popular sight on the streets of Copenhagen was the humble cargo bike. I have a weird soft spot for the cargo bike, although I have no practical need for one – I just think they are the coolest. I can see why in a city like that they would be so popular; why pay to insure and service a car when most of your needs can be met by a cargo bike, be that kids in the basket or a week’s shopping loading you down? If it all gets a bit much, just get an electric version and you’ll be laughing. After a quick Google I found that the cargo bike was actually invented in Denmark. Lurpak and cargo bikes: is there anything these Danes can’t throw their minds at?

Now in the UK its probably fair to say we are going through a slight housing crisis. I’m no expert on Denmark’s socioeconomic problems, but they must not be suffering quite so badly as we are. After thinking many of the basement-level apartments seemed a bit empty and run down, I quickly realised that they were actually filled with bikes. It turns out that it’s fairly common to use the bottom floor in apartment buildings for bike storage. This must certainly cut down on bike theft! As I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure how popular it would be to turn perfectly liveable flats into bike storage in the UK but if you’ve got the space, why not?

Now I know you what you’re saying, “Oh George this is all great stuff but where is your obvious and tenuous link to Bristol Bicycles?” It’s coming up, don’t you worry.

Hire bikes… now a banned word within my family but I’m sorry Mum and Dad, I’m breaking the silence as we really do need to talk about how shoddy those bikes were. After one morning of failed Donkey bike hire (imagine if the Boris bikes had dropped out of school and gotten in with the wrong crowd… Bingo, you have Donkey bikes) we decided to cut our losses and hire bikes properly the next day. After traipsing around multiple hire bike places looking for that special Dibble price (cheap) we found what were to be our hire bikes for the day. Now these bikes were in no real shape to be on the road, but after having looked at multiple other places it seemed to be a recurring theme. We’re a friendly bunch but were not the most confrontational, so after we had picked up our bikes and found that one (Dad’s) was way too small we did the most British thing possible by keeping quiet and pretending it was all fine. Here’s a little check list of what you want to see in a hire bike (and what we pride ourselves at Bristol Bicycles).

What you want from a hire bike:

  • Healthy-looking tyres
  • no signs of rust
  • trued and straight wheels
  • brake pads with meat on
  • a good lock
  • gears that index.

Now here’s a check list of what you don’t want to see (and what I got):

  • worn-out tyres
  • not a spot left unrusted
  • a visibly wobbly front wheel
  • brake pads – what are they?
  • a lock attached by a zip tie
  • hub gears that can’t decide what gear they want to stay in.

In the shop every time we have hire bikes come back we do a good check over and test ride of every bike, even if it’s out for half a day. This really does help save the bike from getting any worse. This chap in Copenhagen was probably not checking his bikes very often. After we got back and explained the issues we found we were treated with a casual shrug and, “Well I wasn’t to know was I?” I’m not one to judge, but I think it may be his job to know. In all honesty we did manage to get a small refund, it seemed to change my dad’s mind and what was a terrible hire bike became a bargain day ride. At least one of us was happy.

I must admit I did enjoy my bike by the end of the day. The hub clicks became part of the charm, and I was starting to ease into the mix of upright ride position with a back pedal brake. I must come back to Denmark on my own bike though, maybe that’s the next tour. In conclusion, is Copenhagen the cycling city its cracked up to be? Well yes, of course. The bike paths are amazing, the flat roads are a breeze, and the general acceptance of bicycles makes it perfect. Not all bikes are built equal and Copenhagen seems to be full of some scary and cheap builds. I’m probably just being a bit of a snob, but it seemed that bikes had become so big in their culture that they really aren’t anything special, yet at the moment in the UK it can often feel like you’ve found a life hack when you start enjoying your bike commute. Also, sort your hire bikes out!