Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Netherlands

So I've made it to the place most people agree on as the Western world's capital for bicycling: The Netherlands.

After days of dodging thunderstorms and overcoming headwinds (14 days, to be exact) I've just crossed the border from Germany. I'm in a small town just west of the border called Winschoten at a nice little campground complete with wireless internet! The town contains about a half dozen churches alongside another half dozen windmills. And because it is Sunday in Europe, you all know what is happening: absolutely nothing.

I took this (overexposed) picture of myself just before I left my camping place in Germany two days ago. I'll try for a better one soon enough. The camping places in Germany were fantastic: they all had a breakfast option (usually bread and cheese) and they each served beer at the check in desk. I have to say, one of the best things about the tour so far has been rolling into a campsite after 100 kilometers, paying 6 Euro to sleep for a night, and enjoying an icy cold German beverage.

I've seen a lot of cows and pigs and horses on the tour, smelled them mostly, but I also saw this disorderly herd of older folks clamoring about in the center of the bike track. Clamoring or not, how often do you see 30 or more senior citizens rolling down a bicycle path? It was a first for me.

This cat was lying perfectly still in the center of the road for literally an hour before I hunkered down to photograph it. Then it came straight for me, intent on being loved. Just a random tidbit of my world for you.

2 days to Amsterdam. Boy am I excited. For now, enjoy a few fun facts about the Netherlands from the 2009 Bicycle Report which you can find at the European Cycling Federation's Website.
  1. The Netherlands is the only European nation that has more bicycles than it has people (18 million bikes, 16 million people.)
  2. An interesting note about safety: (Directly from the text) "Something that should not be overlooked...Liabilty. In some countries, bicycling is seen as causing danger, which sometimes ends up in anti-cycling policy. The Dutch philosophy is: cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are. So car drivers should take responsibilty for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when they share the road with cyclists." (p. 14)
  3. The Netherlands has the highest number of people bicycling of any European country, but they also have the lowest fatality rate per kilometer bicycled. More bikes always means more safety.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Tour Across Denmark

Being that I had never done a bicycle tour alone, I was a bit nervous about leaving Copenhagen headed for the Netherlands with a heavy trailer packed to the gills with my life for a year.

Still and all, away I went. Into the, well, into the sheep.

There were sheep crowding the path out of town. I suppose sheep are friendly enough creatures, but I would have hoped that the most bicycle friendly city in the world might have posted a "watch for sheep" sign. Sadly, I was left to my own best devices to contend with the sheep.
I rode down the coast most of the way south. This was a fairly typical picture for me during my tour of Denmark. Lots of ocean, which guessed it...lots of wind.
The first night, I camped next to a high-schoolish thing. There were loads of kids running around into the wee hours having fun. I camped in a free spot, one of hundreds across the country that Denmark has created and preserved. They usually come with a shelter and a saw to cut firewood. The above picture is a shot from my tent where, just beside me, a German couple camped peacefully. The German man looked quite a bit like Harry Potter.

I passed through a mid-sized town (by Danish standards) called Vordinburg on my way to the islands south of Zealand. These are the largest castle ruins outside of the small island of Bornholm.
At the top of the castle is a golden goose, which was intended to taunt potential invaders.
I crossed over from Zealand to the island of Halster on this bridge. A bridge complete with a bicycle lane; imagine that. Don't let them get the renovation of the I-55 bridge done without including a bicycle path!
It's super easy to tour by bicycle in Denmark because the route is filled with signs directing you the right way. Still, I bought a compass just in case.

I camped on the tip of Halster the second night before taking the ferry across to Fyn. I ended up in a very small harbor, Tars Havn, where I met a man that made windmill wings. The harbormaster didn't speak any English, so when he came to collect my money he jokingly referred to himself as "No-English Man." It was like he was a super hero! Well, the campsite was super anyway, and I caught this shot before bed.
When the trailer is un-packed, it's a bit amazing how much spills out. At the end of the day I often feel like my hometown of Memphis--like I'm sprawling out of control!

The next morning I woke up bright and early to catch the ferry. The sailors tied my bike to the boat so it didn't fall over. I was greatly appreciative.
I arrived in Odense at the end of the third day, tired and ready for a shower. Odense was slow. There were quite a few "cute" pieces of bicycle infrastructure--like bicycle emblems built into the cobblestone in light colored stones--but nothing especially interesting. I tried to get air for my tires at one of the many pumps they keep around the city, but alas, it didn't work. Odense may get a bit short-changed in this post.

After leaving Odense, I traveled to Jutland and towards Germany. I met 6 amazing Germans at a remote, free camping spot positioned directly beside the ocean on my first night outside of Odense.
We stayed up quite late having adult beverages and talking. They were taking a break from the big cities--like Copenhagen--cause they were running out of money. When its free to camp, and the shelter is provided, a quick trip to the nearby town every now and again to grab supplies is all you need to make a very nice vacation spot. Cheers to my new German friends!

So this is the path so far, from Copenhagen to my current location in Flensburg, Germany.

View Copenhagen to Flensburg in a larger map

Next stop: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

How Good is Your Danish?

I hope to have an embedded link soon, but for now, check this out:

It's true; Danish TV followed me around for the better part of a morning taking footage from a zillion angles to put together this two minute spot.

In Copenhagen, I became pretty well connected with a few Danish journalists. When I arrived in Odense, I met Mads, a friend of my journalist friends. He suggested a story to his colleagues, and a film crew followed up. They found me in the middle of nowhere, asking the question: does it ever get lonely out here all alone? With all the cows and pigs and horses, how could one every be lonely? I actually didn't say that, but should have.

What a year this is turning into. Like whoa.

Incidentally, following the airing of this story, a Danish sports masseuse friended me on facebook. He offered a free "sports massage." For better or worse, I had already left Denmark.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Leaving Copenhagen

Copenhagen was a wonderful place to be for 6 weeks. I met a small herd of fantastic people that love bicycles, and I actually learned a few new phrases to describe the kinds of bike people I met.

First, you have the Dane. They are simply Danish, which means that if they live in Copenhagen they ride a bike (This is a self-description from average Danes that I fully agree with). There is nothing extraordinary about their cycling ability or fitness level, and their is nothing especially interesting to them about the bicycle itself. Rather, the bicycle is an easy, fast and safe way to travel in Copenhagen. So they ride. They aren't cyclists, per se, just Danes getting around.

(These are your typical Danes. This was a random shot, but notice there are nothing bot women here commuting by bicycle. That is a sure way to measure how common bicycling is: how many women cycle each day)

Then, there are the bike nerds. The bike nerds are somewhat lusty in their pursuit of cycling goods that have a distinct character or quality. For the nerd, having a set of old Shimano 600 downtube shifters with emblazoned designs and a vintage look is a mark of distinction. They love old bike parts, they love new, colorful bike parts, and they are very interested in obscure frame manufacturers (especially Italian lugged steel). For the bike nerd, the bicycle is more than a tool; it is a gateway into an entire world of innovation, design, joy, and nerdery. The bicycle is for the nerd a part of their own cult desire, the thing by which they gain identity and through which they define themselves. For the bike nerds, the bicycle is a point of distinction between other nerds and those who are not.
(This is a scene from a hub for bicycle nerdery. Old Steel frames create the aesthetic for this specialized shop where you can customize your bicycle to include a chain, grips, hubs, a frame, rims and saddle which are all coordinated by color)

Finally, you have the bicycle freaks. I have to credit my friend Mikele with using this term so frequently that it stuck to the inner walls of my brain. The bicycle freaks eat, sleep, and breathe bicycles. They see possiblities for the bike where the typical Dane sees merely a tool. Where the bike nerd might see an old Boticelli bicycle frame and think, "Wow, I'd be the envy of all my friends!," the bicycle freak thinks "Wow, that would be a perfect frame for touring because the steel has been broken in over time. I bet that is a comfortable ride." While there is a fine line between bicycle nerds and bicycle freaks, the bike freak thinks about the experience that can emerge from using the bicycle rather than the image portrayed.
(Johan's destroyer machine made from bicycle parts and scrap metal. This was the runner up in the bike wars.)

The bike freak also uses the bicycle to make simple machines, whether the machine is a destroyer used for the bicycle wars (a demolition derby style bicycle bashing event that only ends when all but one machine stops rolling), or a tall bike used for bicycle jousting. The bike freak can see beyond two wheels and a frame.
(Mikele's tall bike at an intersection in the inner city)

This means they also see the potential for the bicycle to impact society in profound ways. The bicycle freaks have a vision for the bicycle that has less to do with the hardware and material of the bicycle and more to do with the ways in which experiences emerge and communities are formed around the bicycle. They share a similar trait with the Danes in that the freaks aren't always thinking about forming community while working with or around bikes. Their love for the bike is simply contagious and inspiring, lighting up and inspiring the people around them.
(a city bike on display at the Copenhagen tourist office. Pedal Power, indeed)

The City of Copenhagen and the people I met there is not a city of bicycle freaks. It is, in a very basic way, a lively city full of Danes. The municipality was instrumental in creating a place where bicycling became a normal, and thus accepted and safe, form of transportation. As a result, they ended up with a place that moves by bicycle--at night, during the day, in the morning and through the weekend. But as with any culture, the sub-cultures that bloom are often innovative and exceptional. And while riding a bicycle in Copenhagen is not an exceptional thing to do, the strength of the sub-cultural sects of bicycle nerds and bicycle freaks is phenomenal. The mainstream culture feeds the sub-cultures, according to Marie Kastrup from the City of Copenhagen, and as a result the entire city of cyclists grows stronger.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Trip North

My friend Mikele and I rode our bicycles--very slowly--through the north of Zealand, the eastern most island in Denmark (with the exception of distant Bornholm). This was roughly our route:

View Bike Trip with Mikele in a larger map

We enjoyed forest and ocean, cliff and clouds as we traveled to sleepy ocean villages and passed through traditional Danish towns. I took a few photos--though Mikele has more--and I thought you might enjoying seeing a few.

This was the bike path near Hundested; just a single track trail running along the ocean. The pictures are low quality because I took them with my phone.
This was camp on the second night--we had a super nice camping spot right beside the ocean.
We took a ferry across from the Peninsula at Hundested, and this sign was at the ferry. I think it means don't drive in the ocean; that or watch for falling cars near the ocean.
This is Mikele on the ferry. You can see a small rainbow rising just behind his head. I think it's probably because he is a super special guy.
I think this is a stencil of MLK. Any other guesses? We found it on the ferry, which was kind of strange to see this in the middle of the Danish countryside.
This is all of our gear and the bikes on the ferry. The set-up I have is super nice: Burley flatbed trailer and Steel Schrøder frame with Campagnolo Veloce parts. Like whoa. For those of you asking for good pictures of the bike, this is just a teaser. Others are forthcoming.
This was a picture from our campsite on day two. This picture really says it all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


The City of Copenhagen has been quite thorough in its effort to accommodate bicycles across the city. Just a small bit of asphalt can go a long way.
This photo is from Israel Plads, the square just beside the Danish Cycling Federation.
While the picture shows us just a small slathering of concrete that looks hastily poured and less than perfect, the asphalt aids bicycles as they transition from the square to the roadway.

This transition is found just before the bridge across the lakes on Nørrebrogade, the street featured in the video below. This transition is smoothed over to provide access in both directions across the intersection and onto the sidewalk.

The asphalt is a small price to pay for increasing the efficiency of cyclists throughout the city.

The number one reason people bicycle in Copenhagen--more than 50% responded this way in the most recent bicycle account--is because bicycling through the city is easy and efficient.

The asphalt transitions demonstrate that being bicycle friendly often does not require tons of money or sophisticated engineering. Just a little bit of asphalt, carefully placed, and thoughtfully installed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The busiest bicycle street in the Western World

Nørrebrogade is the busiest bicycle street in the western world, with some 35,000 bicyclists traversing the bridge over the lakes during the peak season.

This video was taken just before the gay pride parade last weekend. My friend Henrik is towing his girlfriend's bicycle to Baisikeli. I'm just taking it in.

Sorry about the video quality. I used my picture camera instead of my video camera. Lesson learned.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Being that I helped to found a Recycle-a-Bike program back home in Memphis--that is, a program that accepts donated used bikes and rehabilitates them to ensure that the bicycles end up back on the roadway--I've been intent on finding similar programs worldwide.

In Copenhagen, I haven't found a program that makes use of the thousands of bicycles found on the streets each year. Mostly, the police place a yellow tag around the top tube of bicycles which lay around for months untouched, and after 30 days or so, they come back to cut the locks and pick the bikes up. The abandoned bikes are scrapped (recycled) but the bikes that turn out to be stolen belong to insurance companies.

People here in Copenhagen can chose to insure their bicycle through their homeowners coverage, so if the police report back to insurance companies that bicycle WW965734D has been stolen, typically the insurance company has already paid the owner, which means the insurance company now owns the bicycle.
This is where Baisikeli comes in.

Baisikeli has made a deal with the insurance companies: Baisikeli purchases the stolen bikes from the insurance company for a nominal fee, fixes them up, and then rents the bicycles out to people (mostly tourists) in Copenhagen.
(A few keys from for the rental bikes at Baisikeli.)

A good idea, right? It gets better: Baisikeli is a "socially conscious business," so they use the money generated from bicycle rental to fund the shipment of bicycles and bicycle parts to a workshop they operate in Tanzania. Their goal is to create a sustainable bicycle industry in Tanzania, which starts with the funds generated from these initial shipments of bicycles, but which will grow to make enough money to create a frame building factory in Tanzania that can create bicycle ambulances and other helpful mobility devices.

This is Lisa, my friend and the lead mechanic at the shop. She is also quite a dancer, apparently. Beside Lisa is a stack of bikes, replenished daily, in need of repair.
The shop at Baisikeli is quite modest. They're constantly improving their facility, as well as their business model, as they are a new and innovative business. Places like Bikes Not Bombs
in Boston have been doing this sort of thing in the U.S. for years. For Copenhagen, however, the idea appears to be quite novel.

I mostly work to fix flats, which on a bike with a coaster brake, rear fenders, a 7 speed internal hub and an axel bolted light system, can take some time.
The closest thing to a bicycle recycling program I've found in Copenhagen, Baisikeli excels in a number of areas. They are very visible and highly respected amongst most Copenhageners, particularly those interested in growing the already vibrant bicycle culture in the city. But whats more, they are authentic community builders. The crew at Baisikeli welcomes everyone with a smile and a bicycle map (a free map illustrating all of the bicycle routes in the City of Copenhagen), and occasionally, a warm cup of coffee.

Check them out on the web: