Another crazy bike extension, spotted in Denmark
I have never bought myself a bike. My parents bought me a bike when I was a kid (and later upgraded it as I grew) and last year my lovely sister who is far more fit/healthy/environmental than I bought me one to cycle to Uni, but never have I gone and got myself one! I felt it was a good idea to get one as I live too far away to walk and it is pretty costly (both time and dollars) busing every day, not to mention the time spent freezing at bus stops.
The first hurdle, of course, was finding an appropriate bike. There are a number of ways to get one – brand new at a cycle shop (for at least a few hundred dollars), second hand from someone selling it online – there is a website called dba.dk, owned by Ebay. Best to look it up on Google Chrome though as it isn’t in English.
There is also a facebook group for everything. My residence college, exchange students, exchange students that started this semester, my study group, my housemates, the School of Business, the University as a whole, as well as groups set up specifically to sell things. I can’t even keep track of the amount of facebook groups I have been added to! And all of them seem to have someone selling a bike. The downside though is tracking down people that are selling them to go pick it up – something you don’t really want to do when you don’t have a car you don’t know the city and after a mission to get there the bike could be in really bad condition.
My first attempt at acquiring a bicycle was to stroll up to the counter of a shop and ask what the cheapest bike they had was. This produced a fantastic display of Danish unhelpfulness. I’m fairly sure it isn’t intentional but I have had so many experiences where getting the information you are quite clearly asking for is like getting blood out of a stone. Maybe I have yet to ask for things in the correct way, but I thought when I said ‘I am only here for a semester so I would like to know what the cheapest bike you have is’ I wasn’t being particularly cryptic. So my new friend Jasper told me the cheapest one they had was 3000 DKK ($600). I thanked him and said that I could rent one for 650 DKK ($130) so it wasn’t really what I was looking for. Then he gave me this are-you-stupid look and said ‘Don’t you know I have second hand bikes?’ Holding back a sarcastic response along the lines of ‘obviously I don’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking you,’ I told him that that was more what I was looking for, so long as it was less than 650DKK. So he leads me and my friend through all kinds of mazes and workshops and areas with tonnes of bikes lying around in pieces and shows me one for 1000 DKK. Again, holding back from bringing out Ruthless Harriet I thanked him and said I could still rent one for less than that. Once more, Jasper gives me that you-silly-girl look and tells me that if I return it at the end of the semester he will buy it back for 500. No we’re talking. Eventually I haggled him down to an 800/400 bike and he said he will get it all fixed up and email me. He estimated it would take about a week to fix it. I wondered if that was something to do with the fact that he only had one hand (I had been trying really hard not to stare).
A week and a half later I hadn’t heard from one-handed-Jasper so I went back to the shop to hear that the bike was ready but he was on holiday. Convenient of him to mention that. The other guy at the shop couldn’t give me the bike as it seemed it was Jasper’s little side project. I had enquired about second-hand bikes at another shop, but the cashier said that most shops didn’t sell them because they have to give product guarantees. Given Jasper had forgotten he was going on holiday three days before departure, I was starting to doubt he would remember to return my 400 DKK. I was also sick of wondering how long I could go without feeling my toes at bus stops and didn’t want to wait another week for a bike so I thought it would be a much safer choice to stick to plan A and rent one from the Students’ Association. I had read my friend Marc’s Blog a few days earlier and they sounded like a pretty good deal. The law student in me also approved of a rental contract.
So off I trotted to rent my bike. They are all relatively new, made/sponsored by a company called Vestas that makes windmills and likes to recruit graduates from Aarhus University. There are a bunch of different sizes available and all come with a stand, three gears and a bell (I learned that bells are quite important in my first few days when I didn’t realise I was walking on the cycle path). Apparently boy bikes have more gears so I think there’s a bit of an equality issue there… nonetheless a pretty good deal all in all!
Aarhus is incredibly cycle friendly. There are cute little cycle lanes with cute little cycle traffic lights all through town, and further out the footpath is marked with two lanes – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. There are people cycling around everywhere and let me tell you – they make it look easy!
Once I had my bike I had no choice but to cycle all 5kms home. I didn’t think this would be too hard, given I regularly include a 5km cycle in my gym routine and I even put it on hill mode, but boy was I wrong! About 3.5 of those kilometres are uphill and it was bloody hard! I’m pretty sure I also went a much longer route than was necessary because I wanted to stick to main roads that I knew. Thankfully the last 1.5Kms were flat/downhill so it wasn’t so bad.
I also had a nice we rest part way down the road as I stopped in at Denmark’s version of The Warehouse – ‘Kvickly’ (yes, like you are saying ‘quickly’ in a terrible European accent and yes it does make me laugh in an immature way) to buy a lock and a helmet. Not many people wear helmets here but I knew that my father would haul ass from NZ all the way to Scandinavia and kill me long before any road accident happened if I didn’t get one. I was also paranoid about it getting stolen (I tried to be really quick because I had left it outside unlocked and was worried Murphey would strike and it would be stolen on day 1) so I raced around to find a lock.
Bike locks are another interesting phenomenon here. Most bike locks are just a clamp on your wheel so it can’t be ridden away, but people don’t actually attach their bikes to things with a chain. Kvickly only sold the clamp type, but I got one that was big and sturdy enough that I could still put it through by bike tyre and attach it to the bike stands outside class and dotted around town. Maybe I am overreacting just a little, but one of my flatmates had told me his bike had been stolen whilst the wheel was locked.
I was a tad nervous about riding through major intersections with all the road rules the opposite of what I’m used to, but it turned out to be fine as cyclists get their own mini green light; cars give way to you (or at least I assume they do and have been gunning it past side streets anyway); and there are plenty of other experienced Danish cyclists around to follow.
After a nice leg workout and an even better glide downhill in the final stretch I made it home. Highlights of the trip were breaks to check google maps, recognising landmarks and realising I wasn’t that far from home at all and forgetting I wasn’t riding a mountain bike whilst off-roading in the snow! I could definitely get used to this cycling business – watch out Mum and Dad, I may be joining you on the Tour de France!