Tricky Dicky | Danes and the electric bike

English novelist and journalist George Orwell once wrote that “journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations”. So on that principle, this column about Danish attitudes to the electric bike would definitely be a PR exercise in Orwellian eyes.

Why do I say that? Well through my sustainability work at the international institute in Copenhagen, the very kind electric bike specialists at decided I would be a great ambassador for the often derided and unloved e-bike. (Notice I have just plugged two companies in one sentence, so my credibility right now is below zero.)

Having been given an e-bike over the summer, my simple task was to incorporate it into my daily life and hope that Copenhageners would be curious enough to ask me about my speedy Gonzales.

Well curiosity definitely got the better of the Danes and most days at least a couple of Copenhageners were asking to give my e-bike a short spin around the bike lanes of the city. (Trusting the Danes is a wonderful thing – knowing they were not going to ride off and suddenly vanish into thin air.)

Speed was definitely something everybody commented on. With a capacity to hit up to 25 km/h, everyone felt an adrenaline rush as the electric motor kicked in, zooming past those sweating on their traditional pedal bikes. Notice I use the word ‘sweating’ because this is one thing you don’t experience on an electric bike. You arrive at your destination in the same condition as when you left – unless of course it’s raining.

I can hear the cycle purists huffing and puffing right now saying the e-bike is for lazy people who aren’t interested in exercise and that ultimately this will make you fat! That the e-bike is “just not Danish” and that as a cycling nation we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be seduced by extra speed and an easy ride.

Well obviously they are right in one sense – you aren’t getting as much exercise as on a traditional pedal bike. Yet from my experience I started travelling longer distances, mainly because distance became an non-issue, so in the end I had much greater mobility around the city and the increased pleasure of a less sweaty back.

For example, from my apartment in the city centre, I would have normally jumped on the train if I had to go to a meeting in Kastrup. Yet now with my speedy machine and enough battery power to last up to 70 km, this thought didn’t even enter my head. Getting there was so easy-peasy and so much quicker than any bus, train, Metro or traditional bike. So I would argue that travelling longer distances became the norm and that I could easily be doing up to 40 kilometres a day and still getting some kind of exercise, as I still needed to pedal.

I think you can guess by now that I loved using my e-bike! I can honestly say I also didn’t worry about it being stolen, mainly because without the detachable electrical motor it was not much use to anyone. I felt very safe and very secure cruising around the city on what felt like a mini motorbike. And the competition between me and the cycle purists turned out to be great fun, like a cat and mouse game, seeing who would win the speed race when the lights went green.

So maybe the e-bike is like the unloved electric car and treated with suspicion because it is something new and somewhat alien to the Danish psyche? Yet I think it fits in perfectly with the laid-back attitude of the Danes.

Maybe it’s not for all Copenhageners, but for those living further from the city centre, it should be a more attractive alternative than biking ten kilometres each way, every day. Luckily Post Denmark has already realised this potential for delivering mail and it’s estimated to have helped save the company in excess of 40 million kroner.

The Dutch have also realised the potential of the e-bike and the Netherlands is now one of the fastest growing markets in Europe. It’s estimated that as many as 40,000 e-bikes are sold annually in Denmark and that seems likely to increase over the next few years. So maybe there is already a quiet revolution going on in the Danish suburbs and for once it’s the city dwellers who are lagging behind.