Saturday, 26 February 2011

Danish life: Copenhagen's SUVs

As a young family living in Copenhagen and needing to transport children around we have succumb to  the inevitable draw of a cargo bike. In England, I think we called them 'butcher bikes' although they are/were a much rarer sight. Cargo bikes are Denmark's answer to the SUV and in our neighbourhood (Østerbro), I would wager they account for around 10% of the cycling traffic.

There are many variations but in essence they are bikes (or trikes) with a 'bucket' at the front for transporting small people (or shopping/christmas trees/pets etc). They look boxy and lack any attempt at aero-dynamism but they do the job and they are so much fun!!

Whilst living in London we were a car-free family - this wasn't for any ethical or ecological reasons - we simply lived near the tube station and relied on public transport. We were members of a car club and if ever we needed to use four wheels, we would pay by the hour. We were also a family of cyclists. Both my husband and I regularly biked to work and when my son turned 9 months he rode in the seat on the back of my bike. At the time I thought it was fun, great exercise and I was (inadvertently) doing something for the planet.  Since I have now had the pleasure of cycling in designated cycle lanes, separated from the traffic by a kerb, with separate traffic signals and car drivers who don't appear to be in a race to get in front of me, I've realised what a nervous (and sometimes dangerous) experience London cycling was.

Cycling here is an experience to be enjoyed. Copenhagen is flat and no-one races along - its very much more about the journey not just the destination. It is also incredibly stylish and hardly anyone wears a helmet. Perhaps another reason that cycling in this city is infinitely more pleasurable is being able to see my two children sitting in front of me instead of relying on over the shoulder glances. The children seem to love it too and whilst my baby daughter sleeps soundly, my son enjoys keeping a running commentary of the status of traffic lights.... 'straight ahead mummy'....'slow down now, its red'!!

Although there are many models of cargo bike on the market, when we were deciding which to buy, our choices were limited. As my daughter is not yet a year old and she would need to be able to sleep comfortably (and safely), we looked for a 'bucket' with reclining seats rather than a simple wooden bench. In fact, the Kangaroo (the bike we bought) actually has two seats that not only recline but they can be turned so that the children can face me, if preferred. But when there is so much to see on the road and our bike rides are all part of our exploration of the city - having the children facing out to the world is the way to go.

And so, Copenhagen here we come: en famille, en vélo.

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