Conrad the Contrarian: Why cycling in Denmark is a joy … and a mystery

In July 2022 they’re bringing the Tour de France to Denmark. In many ways, given the way I cycle, I feel like I have already been living that race since I bought my first bicycle here.

I tend to cycle with the speed and agility of a Japanese hornet, whipping from the cykelsti to the pavement, down a gågade and across a patch of muddy grass with terrifying speed. I would win that race by cutting a few corners.

Lethal London vs Docile Denmark
My passion for biking truly erupted when I arrived in Denmark. Back in my hometown of London, biking is reserved only for those with a death wish. Your ‘bicycle lane’ is a skinny white line painted on a congested, narrow road. You are surrounded by traffic, ignored by motorists and hated by pedestrians.

In Denmark we are overwhelmed with cycling infrastructure: big fat paved lanes, our own little lights and a society that actually admires this activity. Instead of spitting at cyclists we actually celebrate them – it is gorgeous! And it is so popular there’s genuine cycling traffic. True crowds of bikes wheel-to-wheel at red lights in the early morning.

There is such joy to be found in cycling here. Unlike public transport, biking has an incredible feature: you’re only as late as you want to be. Using your legs, gears and sheer determination, one is somehow able to get to where you need to be in record-breaking time. It may mean speeding through some yellow lights or briefly using a slightly illegal route, but you can make it.

Work via the Champs-Élysées
There is also mystery, as there are some features, truly unique to the Danes, which foreigners will never understand. They’re so well-guarded, these secrets, that one feels it would be impertinent to even ask.

Such as the businessmen headed to work who already look like they’re in the Tour de France. Where are your clothes? Do you arrive at work in a lycra body suit and just slide into business-wear at the door?

And where is the sweat? I cannot understand how these people look and smell completely fine when they appear to have come to work via the Champs-Élysées. Working at the university, I would cycle 1 km downhill and stink like a Jylland pig farm. Do Danes have armpits?

David Blaine on a bike
Last question: how do Danes manage to seamlessly slide off their bicycles? After all, I stop awkwardly and dismount like a sack of sand falling from a forklift truck.

In contrast, locals have the incredible power to shift their entire body from sitting to standing beside the bicycle, somehow still moving whilst gently decelerating. They’re gliding perfectly on one leg, having pushed their solid legs through the solid frame of a metal bicycle. And then, they stop, without so much of a squeak of their breaks, perfectly and neatly.

What is worse: no-one seems amazed by this. You constantly see Danes ending their bicycle journeys by breaking the fundamental laws of physics and other Danes just continue to act normal. Can we please acknowledge that shape-shifting lizards have infiltrated our society?

Lots to like, little to learn
It is a joy to bike but I often feel guilty when I bend the cycling rules. I see so many of my lycra comrades, waiting at red lights without a car in sight, slowing for the yellow or enhancing their bicycles with proper working lights.

But, I can never be one of those mysterious people. They don’t sweat and they don’t respect physics.