Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘children and bikes’

Copenhagen cycling chic. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Copenhagen cycling chic mixing with pedestrians and cafe vibe. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 No one prepared me for this:  I would lose my cycling identity in Copenhagen, that badge of irritating marginality to drivers.  It was akin to dropping my self-consciousness of growing up Asian-Canadian, a visible minority in small German-based  Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario during the 1960-1970’s.  When I moved to Toronto and now, Vancouver, I merged anonymously with masses of other Asian faces.  In Copenhagen, a cyclist was swallowed up in a forest of fellow spinners.

Copenhagen's emblem.

Copenhagen's emblem. Photo by J. Chong

No Longer a Cycling Rebel
On bike in Copenhagen, you really aren’t noticed as an exception nor a rebel. Over 36% of people in Copenhagen, cycle to work or school for transportation. Overall, 60% of Copenhageners use their bike daily (2009). At home, 3.8% of Vancouverites cycle for transportation (2008) which is better than most Canadian cities.

I thanked myself for bringing my lycra black skort, a skirt-short combo. I wore the skort more often than expected, in other European cycling-dominant cities before we reached Copenhagen during our trip:  Freiburg and Karlsruhe in Germany as well as in Strasbourg, France.  I wanted to blend in seamlessly with many other cyclists whirring along in streaming cotton jackets, slacks, skirts and walking shorts.

Typical Copenhagen commuter cycling traffic. June 2010.  Photo by HJEH Becker

Typical Copenhagen commuter cycling traffic. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Contrary to many European female cyclists,  and contrary to a growing trend in some North American cities for cycling in streetwear, I still wore my cycling jerseys, sans team logos, and other cycling apparel for comfort. 

Ironically for the first ten years after I returned to cycling mid-life, I wore T-shirts while cycling everywhere.  A garment that dismayed lycra –clad cyclists who avoided the drag of any loose apparel flapping in the wind. But I had memory of smelly polyester tops as a 1970’s teenager. I also did not want to be mistaken for a cycling fitness poseur,  for doing anything remotely athletic.  Odd since I was becoming more fit from cycling than ever before in my life.

A North American cycling alien in Copenhagen, with helmet and high visibility jacket. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

A North American cycling alien in Copenhagen, with helmet and high visibility jacket. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

But now, I wanted to protect my carefully chosen business wardrobe from cycling stains and early tear.  I had spent precious dollars and shopping hours  tracking down clothing to fit. 

Still A Tad Alien-Cyclist
Nevertheless, I still appeared as a North American hyper-cyclist with a helmet poking out  among Copenhagen cycling masses.  I wore my helmet because  I learned my lesson after falling off my bike on black ice twice during winter. I also learned my lesson when I worked for three years at a rehabilitation hospital for spinal cord injured adults in Toronto. A few kilometers away, there was an acute care hospital with a trauma unit. They treated head injuries.    

Cycling couple-- nonchalant and unaffected in Copenhagen. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Cycling couple holding hands. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker. Common in cycling-intensive European cities.

It is not all bad to lose a lot of North American frenetic cycling identity. When you shed it, you may drop hyper-focused  athleticism  that can look fit, but intimidating to emulate by the easy-going couch surfers. 

While in Prague, I saw our own North American cyclist as near-alien creature, reflected back on us by watching the odd Prague cyclist zipping here and there on bike. The cyclists in downtown Prague were rare and nearly inconsequential.  When we were in Prague a few days before Copenhagen, we noticed the paucity of cyclists. With a local cycling mode share of optimistically up to only 2%, Prague is like many North American cities: lacking extensive cycling infrastructure and much lower cycling rates for transportation.

Copenhagen side street for cycling, walking, bike parking and sitting streetside.

Copenhagen side street for cycling, walking, bike parking and sitting streetside. June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Such a contrast to even Freiburg, Germany a city 25% smaller than Prague, with also a cobblestoned core like Prague.  By contrast, Freiburg was thronging with cyclists in streetwear.

Cycling during the first two hours or so in Copenhagen, was liberating and fun with many cyclists around.  However the elation of cycling in a flowing crowd, became muted. I had to focus.   Even though cycling in Copenhagen is on flat terrain in separated bike lanes, I had to adjust my riding style. I had to merge with many 

Ready to cycle after shopping. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Ready to cycle after shopping. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

 more cyclists nearby, passing either on my left or right — the latter, I have always found irritating.   Very few Copenhageners used their bike bells. They didn’t bother to say anything as a warning, if they wanted to pass you on a crowded or narrow path. 

Perhaps with many cyclists, a ringing bike bell or more might confuse not just one, but several other cyclists around me: who was ringing that bell?

Letting Go of North American Cycling Exclusivity
To become a cycling city, means many North American regular cyclists must adopt a far more inclusive mindset  to embrace wobbly, slower cyclists, cyclists 

Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

who chat side by side in separated bike lanes and cyclists who are not model Copenhagen chic nor fitness oriented. Inclusion also meant a group of eight casually attired teenage girls chatting happily away with one another while they cycled slowly along.

One by one, each cycling girl peeled off from the cycling gaggle, on her bike with a wave and onward to her destination. I marvelled at this  ordinary Copenhagen social cycling activity. Not often does one see in many North American cities,   groups of casually dressed teenage girls  cycling  in the city for transportation and to socialize.  

It was striking  there was a critical mass of women cycling all the time in Copenhagen. Over 55% of cyclists there, were female. There were short time spurts, when I saw more women  cycling than men. Many of the cycling women I saw were cycling solo, strangers to one another and focused on getting to their destinations.

 Copenhagen by Bike Special Museum Exhibit
I wandered over to Copenhagen’s city museum to browse its special exhibit on its historic love affair with the bike, ‘Copenhagen by Bike”.  The exhibit was 

Temporary historic exhibit, 'Copenhagen by Bike' on its cycling history. Copenhagen City Museum Jun 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Temporary historic exhibit, 'Copenhagen by Bike' on its cycling history. Copenhagen City Museum, Denmark Jun 2010. Photo by J. Chong

timed deliberately to coincide with the flood of 1,000 international attendees for the Velo-city Global 2010 Conference on cycling infrastructure planning, programming and trends. Earlier this past spring, was the UN Summit on Climate Change which brought thousands of marchers into this city.

Historic celebration of a Copenhagen road and streetcar bridge --with cyclists.  Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J.Chong

Historic celebration of a Copenhagen road and streetcar bridge --with cyclists. Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

When I arrived, I was advised by museum staff to start from the cycling exhibit and go ‘backwards’ in time to view the historic artifacts from bicycles to medieval. 

Bikes of various vintages were crammed  in the main chandeliered exhibit room, from floor to ceiling.  Next to  children’s bikes, there were adult tricycles with rear-end, hard case  storage case, military bike and bikes used in circuses and entertainment performances.  Wedged here and there, were photos, original paintings and other artifacts. Even during the World War II, the Danish royal family cycled abit as a solidarity gesture.  To me, the museum 

Cycling within a wheel (?). Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Cycling within a wheel (?). Copenhagen City Museum June 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Surely, for circus performances.

exhibit was cleverly executed in tight space.  Different bike shapes overlapped one another and became hanging visual abstracts of bike lines and swirls. It was like a carefully designed bike garden that offered different views at every turn, every few steps ahead.

Outside the museum, a postman mounted his postal transport bike with his full mail panniers and basket after his delivery at the museum. Like several German cities we visited, Copenhagen postal workers also cycled around and delivered mail from door to door on yellow mail bikes. Such a sensible way to avoid back and shoulder pain for those heavy loads.

Going for a bike ride. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Going for a bike ride. Copenhagen, Denmark June 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

  What prevented me from losing my cycling identity in Copenhagen, was wearing  my bike helmet and my narrow mountain bike shoes for more pedal power leverage. Not that Copenhagen had hills like Vancouver.  It pains my feet just to pump flat pedals with thin  beach flip flops.  Nor do I wish to cycle and scuff up  dress shoes. Not in Copenhagen or even later back, in Vancouver. 

But I could gladly live  in Vancouver one day with:  daily streams of nonchalant cyclists in every age group, patient drivers that do not sit on the car horn at a red light,  shops that sell kiddie bikes with real bike racks and more healthier residents.

Interesting Reading:
Becker, HJEH. “Cycling in Prague”. Jun. 26, 2010. In Third Wave Cycling Blog.

City of Vancouver. Engineering Services. 2008 Annual Bicycle Plan Update. Administrative Report. Supports Item No.1. Presented to Standing Committee on Transportation and Traffic, Jul. 22, 2008. See pgs. 3-4 for update to 2006 Statistics Canada data on city’s cycling mode share.

Ekerson, Clarence. “Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes.” Includes video by Streetsfilm.  In Streetsblog, Jul. 15, 2010. 

Torslov, Niels. Bicycle City Copenhagen. Presented at National Cycling Congress, Berlin May 9, 2009. Published by: City of Copenhagen, The Technical and Environmental Administration. Copenhagen aims to reach 50% cycling mode share by 2015.

Read Full Post »

This past June, I volunteered at 2 bike commuter stations during Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition’s Bike to Work Week and its first ever Bike to School Week. I was stationed at Arbutus and West 7th St., and by the Stanley Park Seawall bike path by English Bay.  I also whipped over to a third bike commuter 

Teen with younger sister on their way to school with parent. Bike to Work commuter station near city hall. Vancovuer BC May 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Teen with younger sister on their way to school with parent. Bike to Work commuter station near city hall before heading off to school. Vancovuer BC May 2010. Photo by J. Chong

station near City Hall, to hang out with fellow commuters and have a free coffee.  During Bike to Work Week, VACC had a record-breaking  total of 50 bike commuter stations  across Metro Vancouver.

Though the VACC bike commuter stations were more oriented for adults with their information tables, the occasional cycling parent or adult dropped by with a child in bike seat, on a tandem bike or accompanied their cycling child, for a free drink, energy bar or fresh fruit.  Contrary to any disbelieving parent, there are some children, though probably rare, who do cycle in the rain.  At 2 out of the 3 commuter stations where I was, it rained intermittedly for several hours in the morning.

Dropping by for an energy bar during warm rainy morning. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. June 2010 Vancover, BC. Photo by J. Chong

Dropping by for an energy bar during warm rainy morning. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. June 2010 Vancover, BC. Photo by J. Chong

Nevertheless, these die-hard cycling parents had their kid in tow, warmly dressed and protected from too much rain.   Some children were outfitted in rubber boots and rain gear.  Only one teenager, a cycling young woman came with her younger sister and mother. But kudos to her.  It’s rare to see teenagers cycling on their own for transportation.  

Now that school is back on track this month, it would be a miracle if a lot more older children even rode a few blocks to  their school. However many areas in Metro Vancouver lack cycling infrastructure safe enough for young children.  But 

Bike pumping for young cycling efficiency. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. Near English Bay, Vancouver BC June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Bike pumping for young cycling efficiency. Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Week. Near English Bay, Vancouver BC June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

more to the point:  are most drivers still conscientious and alert compared to decades ago?  Maybe.  At least awhile ago, we didn’t have dangerous driver distractions of cell phone use or texting. It doesn’t help either when there are many cars crowded near the school intersections to drop off children.

 After all,  some of us can remember bike racks jammed with bikes outside our school. I did for my senior public school, grades 7-8 for children ages 13-15.  The school was located along a 4-lane major commercial-retail street that was also coincidentally part of major local transit bus lines in an Ontario city, population of 40,000 at that time.  At least the school backed into a residential neighbourhood for access to quieter streets. There was a university campus less than 1 km. away.

Family outing by English Bay, Vancouver BC. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Family outing by English Bay, Vancouver BC. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

No, parents didn’t allow me to bike to school because of safety concerns. But we walked to school daily. If the weather was particularily bad, I took the transit bus alone. The bus stop was only a 10-min. walk from home. There were other pedestrians and regular flow of car traffic.  School was less than 3 kms. away. 

Focus on safe cycling facilities for children  cannot be under-estimated. We want to make the experience for budding cyclists enjoyable, safe and help them cycle frequently, for health and fun. 

For sale: kiddie bikes with bike rack for panniers. Freiburg, German. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

New kiddie bikes with bike racks for panniers. Freiburg, Germany. June 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Most parents also want to instill safe cycling habits in their children. Danish children at the age of 6, are required to learn safe cycling skills at school.

After all, for many adult cyclists who return to cycling at mid-life, the memory of childhood cycling fun can be that  trigger to change adult lifestyle habits for transportation and health.  With sufficient evidence of obesity and other related health problems, by building in cycling skills into the school curriculum and providing a good selection of  built-in safe cycling routes for children, it will sow lifelong benefits.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: