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Cycling in Copenhagen Explained by an Expat

By Adam Marsal

Ondřej Brož is a Czech expat living in Copenhagen. He has always been a fan of cycling, but started riding regularly in early 2015 when he bought a road bike. What were his first cycling impressions after he’d moved to Denmark? Is Copenhagen really a cycling-friendly city? Ondřej tells you all you need to know before you visit the Danish capital with the intention to cycle it!

Ondřej, what brought you to Denmark?

I got a job offer in Copenhagen so I decided to quit my job in Prague and give it a go. I work in wind energy industry, for which Denmark is a place to be. I moved in summer 2016, just in time to squeeze in a couple of rides in short sleeves and without leg warmers.

Did you bring your own bike?

Yes. I packed two bags and a bike box and jumped on the plane. I think I went for a ride on day 2 of my stay and joined a big group ride the first weekend I was here.

What was the biggest surprise when you started cycling in Denmark?

In terms of road cycling, it is just flat, windy and fast. Being used to the hilly areas outside of Prague, it took me a while to adjust to the long, quick and flat efforts here. You need a different kind of power here. Also, I quickly learned not to ride alone on a windy day.

Copenhagen is regarded as the most cycling-friendly city in the world. Is it true?

Yes, I believe so. The biking culture here is just part of your every-day life. The natural flatness, perfect biking infrastructure and the fact that Copenhagen is relatively small makes it an ideal bike-friendly city. It is something you do not really think about after a while. It snowed a couple of days back when I had to run some errands and I automatically went to the backyard of my apartment building to get my city bike and not once did I think about using some other form of transport. Of course, it helps that the city is designed for it – you have the priority on the roads, places where to lock your bikes, office buildings with locker rooms and showers, etc. The numbers are quite mind-blowing as well. I believe more than 1 million kilometres are cycled every day in Copenhagen and roughly 40% of all citizens commute on bikes.

What are the Danish drivers like compared with the rest of Europe?

In the city, it is very clear that bikes have priority, and drivers seem to be on board with it. I have driven a car a couple of times in Copenhagen, and drivers who are not used to cycling definitely need to adjust. For example, when turning right you have to let the cyclists go first. When I go out of Copenhagen on a road bike, drivers are good and give me enough space. However, if there is a bike lane and you ride on the road instead, you will hear from them. Not like outside Prague, though, where it seems that some of the drivers reach for the horn as soon as they catch a glimpse of a cyclist.

Which bike did you find the most suitable for riding in CPHGN?

I brought my regular carbon road bike, Focus Izalco. It was a fairly mild winter here, but I did miss out on some gravel and cycle-cross rides so I am definitely on the market for a gravel bike. I also bought a city bike for commuting. Bike theft is a problem here so for the city bike you usually go for the trade-off between quality and the likeliness that it will catch the eye of some asshole.

Have you entered any local cycling club?

There are a number of clubs or groups that one can ride with. I was lucky because exactly at the time when I moved to Copenhagen, there was Rapha Clubhouse opened here so I joined the Rapha Cycle Club Copenhagen chapter. It is quite an international bunch with a number of expats and Danes alike so it was very easy to join and find people to ride with. It is also great to have a base and a coffee shop for the before- and after-ride coffees. There are a lot of other opportunities to find groups for riding. Pas Normal Studios comes to mind for example. Additionally, there are many great bike shops where you can meet people and get gear and tips for riding, such as Soigneur or Velo Pave, a little outside of the city.

What do you like about cycling in general?

Hard to say what I like most about it. It is the solo efforts where you push yourself, it is fighting for the sprints and climbs during group rides, escaping the city, cleaning your head during the couple of hours in the saddle, exploring countries with famous cycling routes, enjoying the views when climbing in the Alps, coffee stops, comradery, I could go on…

What was riding during the winter in Copenhagen like?

I tried to put some kilometres in my legs even during the winter months. It was not too bad this year in terms of weather, but there definitely were some numb toes on one or two occasions. It really helps to have a group to ride with during the winter. I also managed to jump on a cheap flight to Tenerife for a weekend in December and went up the Teide to remember what cycling in sun and uphill feels like. And for the really bad days, I have a trainer at home.

Denmark is famous for being an extremely flat country. How does it affect road cycling?

The terrain is very different from what I am used to from riding around Prague. There you can easily do 80km rides with more than a 1,000m elevation. In Copenhagen, you will be happy to do 300m – 400m in 100km. The rides are at more constant pace and higher speed. You also learn to check the wind before the ride to see its speed and direction, and then you decide whether to go along the coast or try to hide in-land. Apart from that, you just put on good clothes, clip in and go for a ride like anywhere else.

What would you recommend to our readers before they come to cycle in Copenhagen?

For biking around the city, they should register for the local bike-sharing scheme at bicyklen.dk. Not only is it convenient but it’s also a great way to see the city. For road biking, I would be happy to go out for a ride with any of We Love Cycling readers. Rapha and the other groups I mentioned usually do some form of regular open rides, which is a good way to explore some of the classic loops north of Copenhagen with locals.