Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Bicycle

I've gone over this blog entry dozens of times in my head, as I pedal the streets of Copenhagen. There's so much to say about bikes and their relationship with the people and the city. I thought, til now, I'd seen everything: Women riding in high heels or mink coats, men riding in business suits, smoking, riders with helmets, and without, babies on the back seats with binkies in their mouths or eating hot dogs and other snacks, babies fallen asleep, moms carting up to 4 kids on their bike attachments in front and back, people talking on their cell phones or texting, teens hauling their friends off the back cage, even people brushing their teeth! I've seen lycra and top-of-the-line gear as well as hacked bikes that are rusting and creaking with no business even operating any more. But yesterday I saw a new one: a boy pulling his home-made stereo on a trailer so he could pump out the music while he rode.

I'm really going to miss bicycling the city and countryside. I love hopping on my bike and riding to places unknown and seeing it all close-up. I love pulling up to the ATM on my bike and withdrawing money and back on the streets in 30 seconds. I love running errands and pulling my bike up to the front door of each spot, never worrying about a parking spot. I love that my body is the machine to get me where I want to go and not the car.

Biking is not necessarily everyone's first commuting choice. It's a matter of economics. Not only are cars expensive here (25% tax on everything) but registration costs 180% of the value of the car. Yes, you read that right. If a car costs $40,000 than the registration is $72,000 in addition to the cost of the car. Many people simply cannot afford that, which makes a $500 bike or a monthly bus pass much more attractive.

And the city is well connected with bike only lanes aside from pedestrians and cars. Cars and bikes respect each other and obey the rules. There's no other way 150,000 people per day in Copenhagen can commute by bike and get along with car drivers. Lycra and bike shorts? Well, for the long commuters who ride fast and far each day, they wear the good gear. But for most people, they just wear their regular work/school/life clothes. If you don't want to sweat, you just go at an easier pace. Bicycling is built into the way of life. You can walk, take the bus or train, or hop on your bike. Often times it takes me less time to get somewhere than to take mass transportation, not to mention the health benefits.

Bike repair shops are everywhere. Get a flat, you can drop it off on your way to work, with a note for the shop owner (who arrives at 10 am) and pick it up at the end of the day. There are rails on steps where bikes need to go up and down and courtesy bike racks everywhere (never enough though). Copenhagen has about 1 million people and supposedly 1.5 million bikes. We own 7 for the 4 of us!

Our neighborhood Danish school was training their primary grades for bike safety last month. Looked like around 4th graders they took out for weekly rides, then they "graduated" with an event. Sounds familiar with the program at Rieke last year. 1 and 2 year olds here start riding on a push bike, where they sit on pedal-less bikes and push with their feet. This gets them balance at an early age and later they can get pedals and skip the training wheels altogether.

I am grateful that I will return to live and bike in Portland, Oregon - one of the most biked cities in America. However, there will be hills and there won't be the ease of bike logisitics, but both Craig and I will try our best.

We just got back from Norway and I will blog about that some time this week. It was stunningly beautiful and very worth the trip.
Love and Light, Mary Jo
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