“One bicycle is much the same as another,” I assured Flemming when he had apologised in advance for the bike that he’d borrowed for me.
For riding around town, how much of a difference could it make?
Say hello to the bicycle that was mine for two months in Copenhagen. We met in my hour of need. I had sprained my ankle horribly a couple of hours after arriving in the city, falling off a kerb while out taking a walk. I then couldn’t walk for three days – shot my first music event without leaving a 10 metre radius of the stage – so the natural thing to do in one of the world’s great cycling cities, was give the bicycle a go.
I was scared to hell of cycling in Copenhagen.
Danes are serious about this cycling business. There are bike lanes everywhere, traffic lights just for bikes in said lanes, and bikes and riders of every description whizzing around all over the place. Thousands of ’em. It’s intimidating when you haven’t been on a bicycle for five or six years, and are prone to falling over a lot (the reason you are lame and need to cycle in the first place).
This bike is a character. It weighs a baby rhino, and would be a 21-speeder if all the gears worked. Changing said gears is a lifestyle choice: wait three minutes for it to slip into desired gear, or shift up/down two and then back up/down one so it will go there now? This wouldn’t be more than a passing annoyance if not for who I was cycling with:
• Flemming is a cycling fantatic who is very fit and rides very fast. Even when he claims to be going slow.
• I am not fit.
• Flemming’s bike (aka the Silver Arrow) is a performance vehicle – I rode it for a few days and barely had to pedal. When I wanted to go faster, I imagined the world moving quicker, and would – hey presto! – magically arrive at my destination. Giving it back felt like exchanging a Camaro for a tractor.
I didn’t ride with Flemming as much as chase him all over Copenhagen, wheezing like a grampus at the highest gear I could kick this thing into, cussing it out in every language I knew, while he freewheeled up front with no hands. Have a leisurely pedal around the canals for the view? That’s just dull. Swooping in and around other cyclists downtown at maximum velocity? Now we’re talking!
I took to cycling very quickly. There is something exceptionally freeing about swanning around under my own locomotion. I could play like a child on the bike, choose my own adventure while running responsible-adult errands – groceries, coming and going from events, moving furniture etc. The city’s policies and infrastructure allowed, even encouraged me to have fun: bike lanes everywhere, automobiles that gave way to cyclists rather than threatening to run them over, no restrictive laws hindering people from getting on a bike how they choose to. I could jump on a bike without stressing about being picked up for something I was doing wrong. It was easy.
I got so comfortable with this cycling thing, that a few days into my brand new mode of transportation, I found myself jumping a kerb in the dark on the way to a gig. trying to get back on the bike path from the road. Predictably, I misjudged it completely and clipped my back wheel on said kerb at full throttle. Around the time I came to and realized I’d been flung, prone, into the center of the bike path, I also heard tyres screeching and saw a wheel an arm’s length away from my face – the four cyclists on my tail had all miraculously managed to stop before plowing into me.
(In addition to a sprained ankle, I’d acquired 2 busted knees and an elbow. But I was largely intact. Phew!)
It didn’t stop me though. I started out totally indifferent to cycling and found, after a couple of months, that I couldn’t get enough. I got the opportunity to drive around Copenhagen a fair bit and also across Denmark to Esbjerg, when True North Mark came to visit, and found myself thinking “gee, driving sucks, I’d rather cycle.” It’s a big thing, coming from someone to whom driving is liberation, pleasure, meditation and catharsis rolled into one.
I’m a convert. Copenhagenization for the win!