Sunday, October 17, 2010

Copenhagen part 4: bikes revisited

Today about flow and control.

There's something intensely satisfying about using the bike to get around. While biker weblogs in Copenhagen worry that Danish children don't learn to play with and enjoy bicycles, I am rediscovering the sense of freedom I used to feel as a teen-ager, the agency and control the bicycle gave me.

My first bike was stolen though, and it was years until I had another bicycle of my own: at high-school I bought a Raleigh racing bike that gave me a sense of flying, as I zoomed past the cars stuck on the road into Ålesund every morning in the seventies. I used that bike for years, and I also used it to ride almost to the railway station. Now, that may not sound like such an achievement, but where I grew up that was a 2-300 kilometer ride, included crossing at least one mountain, and at the time also came with bonus sleet, the terror of brakes failing in a frozen, wet downhill trek with a heavily loaded bike, and nowhere to sleep over when I reached my destination.

Imagine my delight today, when I rode down to the railway station, zooming through the sunny, quiet Copenhagen Sunday streets, to buy tickets for the IR 11.0 conference.

Now, a regular morning or afternoon in rush traffic, biking isn't all that easy. I am learning the trick to it, and the number of rude comments yelled at me are slowly growing less, but I still have to focus. Even experienced Danes have to focus, as proven by the encounters I witness: bikers almost getting into fights as they ride side by side, disagreeing about some move that happened behind me before the two (normally male) push past me in angry competition - just to have to stand still and ignore each other at the next red light. And sometimes my biking colleagues come into the office, all shook up, talking about how they were hit - several times - by other cyclists, in the 20 minute ride through morning traffic.

Copenhagen bikers come fast and ride with intent. But on a sunny Sunday, the air crisp and clear and the sun low, throwing the glare off the water into my eyes, biking in Copenhagen is just the right balance between challenge and mastery. I own the streets. I make clever rounds in order to get at the place I want to go in the best manner, and I smile secretly at other bikers as we move smoothly from being on a vehicle to being pedestrians. We have all the options, and then some. And so I make an extra loop around the block, to come from just the right angle into the back yard, and I roll into place with a wide grin plastered all over my face. The act of biking is putting me in a flow state of mind, where I could go on and on, exploring Copenhagen just because I can.


Torill said...

Ops, in my confusion tonight I happend to delete a comment I planned to publish. Sorry - you know who you are.

Colin and/or Michele said...

Ivan Illich talked about bicycles as "convivial tools"--they use human energy, are relatively easy to assemble and maintain and they can take you long distances (like your treks to the train station described in your post!). We have bikes here in Coatepec (Mexico) and love riding them all over town and out into the countryside. There really is a enormous sense of freedom and possibility that comes with bike riding.

Looks like you're thoroughly enjoying your time in Copenhagen, too!

Iason said...

It's been a while since I checked in for some of your excellent writing and what a surprise to find that you are now working in my city.
Your comments on biking in Copenhagen are spot on. I've recently been using my reserve bike which is much slower than my regular one (when it's working) and being a slowpoke on the bikelane is a very different experience. I'm glad you're taking a liking to it all though.

Torill said...

Yes, Iason, I am here!

Feel free to find me through the ITU at some point, if you feel like catching up. And yes, biking is great fun, even if I am working at tolerating the Danish version of road-rage, and practice yelling right back at them!