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Cycling in Copenhagen
a city on wheels
Part of our Low Carbon Copenhagen project ... project index >
introduction  •  how + why cycling started  •  cycling culture  •  City Bikes
transport integration  •  sources
key facts  •  urban planning timeline  •  pedestrianisation timeline  •  Denmark timeline
How and why cycling started
Everyone likes to be the first to try a new trend and when wooden two-wheeled cycles appeared in around 1865, wealthy Copenhageners were keen to learn to ride them. What started as a novelty soon became a useful machine as increased production led to lower prices and people found out how much faster cycling was than walking.
As safer and more comfortable models with pneumatic tyres became available more and more citizens bought bicycles. They were, and still are, used by postmen, messengers, commuters, tourists, royalty, adults and children.
It's estimated that there were about 3,000 bicycles in Copenhagen in 1890. By 1900, there were more than 30,000. By 1907, the number had risen to 80,000. Denmark's predominently flat terrain, compact urban areas and temperate climate make it ideal for cycling and Copenhageners took to it in a big way. In 1934, the city boasted 400,000 cycles and 30km of cycle tracks.
The Danish Cyclists Federation was set up in 1905 and is the oldest cycling organisation in Europe. It was founded with the aim of lobbying for improved conditions for cyclists. This was also early days for cars, of course, and traffic wasn't highly regulated. Give-way rules were introduced in 1910 and the first Road Traffic Act was passed by Parliament in 1923.
World War II (1939-45) brought fuel rationing and supply shortages, and bicycles became the main form of transport in Copenhagen right up to the mid 1950s, when car ownership began to increase. During the war, Copenhagen's cycle lane network grew rapidly. By 1960, the city had 210km of dedicated lanes.
Until the 1970s and the world oil crisis, cars ruled the roads, though even then a third of the population cycled regularly. The crisis not only affected Denmark's policy on power generation, it helped tip the balance back to cycle use, as attention turned to the need for low-fossil fuel transport methods. Copenhagen had also become increasingly congested, and driving was expensive. The city's urban planning now started to include positive measures for increasing cycle use and for pedestrianisation.
From 1982 to 2001, every national budget included funds for the construction of cycle lanes and improvements. Since 1993, 11 national cycle routes have been established, covering a total of 4,233km.
In 2008, Copenhagen's cycle track network reached 338km, plus 41km of green cycle routes and 18km of cycle lanes. The desire to reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environment placed cycling on the political agenda once again ..... next >
Top links
Pedaling History Bicycle Museum   www.pedalinghistory.com
A quick illustrated run-through of bicycle development through the ages
Cycling Embassy of Denmark   www.cycling-embassy.dk
Some history from the network of organisations that work together to promote cycling
Copenhagen City of Cyclists — Bicycle Account 2008   www.vejpark2.kk.dk/679_a4jBCZL3Xz.pdf
Pdf download : bi-annual local government assessment of the city's cycling record
Vimeo   http://vimeo.com/11264396
The Green Machine, part 3/5 — lecture by bicycle historian Iain Boal
introduction  •  how + why cycling started  •  cycling culture  •  City Bikes
transport integration  •  sources
key facts  •  urban planning timeline  •  pedestrianisation timeline  •  Denmark timeline
project team  Jane Joyce, Eleanor Knowles, Nick Simons, Clare Sims, Paul Weston
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Cycling timeline
1817-18 ... Baron Karl von Drais invents the forerunner of the bicycle, a steerable wooden two-wheeler without pedals dubbed the 'hobby horse'
1865 ... the velocipede or 'bone shaker' invented — made of wood but with pedals and (later) iron wheel rims
1870 ... the ordinary bicycle or ‘penny farthing’ appears — the first machine made from metal, with solid rubber tyres
1880s ... penny farthings widely used in Copenhagen — the larger the front wheel, the further the bike travels for each rotation of the pedals, so buyers chose the size of the wheels according to their leg length!
1880s ... Denmark's first cycle path installed, a postman uses a bike for his rounds in Copenhagen for the first time, and Mikael Pedersen invents the Pedersen bicycle, now a collector's item
1890-1910 ... appearance of the safety bicycle, made from metal, with solid or pneumatic rubber tyes — related to modern bikes: had gears so that two smaller same-size wheels could propel the rider as fast as the more dangerous 'penny farthing'
1905 ... Danish Cyclists Federation founded
1907 ... Danish Cycling Union founded
1920s-30s ... Svajerne (bicycle messengers) use cargo bikes to deliver goods around Copenhagen
1940-50 ... wartime shortages throughout Denmark, homemade 'bicycle cars' used instead of taxis and tyres are made from cork and straw
1960s ... car traffic in Copenhagen increases and cycle lanes disappear, people favour folding bikes that can be transported in car boots
1970s-80s ... car-free Sundays in Copenhagen, greater investment in bicycle-friendly infrastructure
1990s ... Denmark establishes the world's first network of national bicycle routes
1995 ... Copenhagen launches Bycyklen, the city-centre free bike share scheme (City Bikes)
see  sources