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SOCIETY

A nation of cyclists

In Denmark, people bicycle in all types of weather and at all times of day. Bicycles are used for pleasure, commuting, transport of goods, and family travel, and extensive networks of bike lanes and bike highways make it easy.

In Denmark, bicycling is one of the primary forms of transportation. Sunshine, rain, hail, snow - you will see bicyclists on their way to work, shop or social event. "The bike is a Dane's best friend" - particularly in the larger Danish cities that offer an extensive network of bicycle lanes. It also helps that the country's terrain is primarily flat. 

 

The Danes ride many different types of bike, from racing cycles to the large box-like cargo bikes used to transport goods and often children. At rush hour, bike lanes in Copenhagen can be as crowded as car traffic in other parts of the world. 

 

biking cyklist Denmark bike cycle
Photo: Cyklistforbundet / Mikkel Østergaard Østergaard

Did you know

  • Nine out of ten people in Denmark own a bike
  • Danes cycle 1.6 km a day on average 
  • Cycling accounts for a quarter of all personal transport in Denmark for distances of less than five kilometres

100 years of biking

Danish cycling culture is as old as the bicycle itself. Bikes were first introduced to the country in the 1880s, and during the 1920s and 1930s, the bicycle became a widespread symbol of equality and freedom. People of all social classes began biking side by side - in the cities on their way to work, and in the countryside on their days off.

The increased prosperity of the late 1950s saw some Danes replacing bikes with mopeds and automobiles. Just like their colleagues around the world, Danish urban planners believed the future belonged to cars, trucks, and ever-wider highways.

In the early 1970s, however, the Mideast oil crisis put an end to that development. ‘Car Free Sundays’ were introduced in Copenhagen, and there were protests demanding that all of Copenhagen became car-free. Strøget, the main shopping street in Copenhagen, became pedestrian only in 1962.

Over time, concerns about air pollution, climate change, and the need for desk-bound people to get enough exercise, have helped bicycles make a big comeback. Denmark's heavy taxes on petrol and automobiles are a factor too.  

During the 1920s and 1930s, the bicycle became a widespread symbol of equality and freedom in Denmark.

Born on a bike

Today, cycling is a deeply ingrained part of Danish culture, and newcomers, who do not know how to cycle, are encouraged to learn as soon as they arrive. Danish children usually learn to bike before they begin school at age 6 - and often much earlier. Until then, they are carried about in small seats attached to one of their parents' bicycles.  

Another alternative for families with children is the cargo bike - a sort of oversize tricycle with a large wooden box on the front invented in the 1980s at the Freetown of Christiania in Copenhagen. It's estimated that a quarter of all Copenhagen families with two or more children own one of these cargo bikes for transporting kids, groceries, and other necessities. Danish cargo bikes have has also won design awards and become an export success.

Christiania Bike - Buying Groceries
Photo: Christiania Bikes

Children in Denmark generally start with a small pedal-free bike at age 2 or 3 so they can learn how to balance before graduating to an actual bicycle. At school, children learn about traffic rules, road safety, and the importance of wearing a helmet as well as good cycling habits. Whether or not adult cyclists remember all these good habits is another question entirely. 

Cycle superhighways

In order to serve the large number of cyclists, contemporary urban planners in Denmark are working to develop the physical cycling infrastructure all over the country. Wide cycle paths and cycle bridges increase safety, and ‘cycle superhighways’ are being expanded in the greater urban areas to increase access and reach. 

A cycle superhighway is a cycle route, where the commuters’ needs have been given the highest priority – providing a smooth ride with fewer stop and increased safety. The main purpose of the cycle superhighways is to create better conditions for cyclists, and to connect work-, study- and residential areas, making it a lot easier for commuters to bike to and from work instead of taking a car. Furthermore, the cycle superhighways run near stations making it attractive to combine cycling with public transportation.

In order to be categorised a 'cycle superhighway', a cycle route must comply with a set of quality measures such as air pumps, footrests, safer intersections, green waves and traffic lights timed to average cycling speed. The cycle superhighways are marked by road signs as well as orange signage spots in the asphalt making way-finding easier for commuters day and night – they simply follow the orange C.

Find more facts and features on cycle superhighways on Supercykelstier.dk.

Did you know

  • There are more than 12,000 kilometres of cycle routes in Denmark
  • The city of Copenhagen alone has around 400 kilometres of cycle paths - all clearly separated from car lanes and sidewalks

Health, environment and economics

Commuting by bike is the fastest, easiest, most healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around the cities of Denmark. And the numbers speak for themselves:

 

  • Residents, who cycle in Copenhagen request in 1.1 million fewer sick days
  • Cyclist reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons a year, on average
  • Every kilometre travelled by bike instead of by car means €1 (USD 1.16) gained in terms of health benefits

 

On top of this, a recent study shows that if all Danes biked just 10 % more on an annual basis, an additional gain would be:

 

  • 267,000 fewer sick days
  • 6 % less traffic congestion in the major cities
  • DKK 1.1 billion saved in the public health care system

Find more facts and features on Danish biking culture and biking in Denmark on The Cycling Embassy of Denmark.