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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
City Bikes
Copenhagen has been a leader in the development of public bike systems. Its own scheme, called Bycyklen or City Bikes, started in 1995 and is partly paid for by sponsorship. The bikes are distinctively painted and are free — they work on a returnable deposit system much like supermarket shopping trolleys do. They are available within a 9 sq km area of the city centre.
Communal bicycle sharing began in Amsterdam in the 1960s. The idea was to use a bike for a trip and leave it for another rider. However, most of the bikes were soon stolen. The first successful scheme was set up in France in 1974 at La Rochelle. Copenhagen's scheme started with 1,000 specially designed sturdy bikes with solid wheels and a covered chain. Their components cannot be used on other bikes, which helps minimise theft.
City Bike in Copenhagen
There are now 2,500 Copenhagen City Bikes, available from 110 locations (see www.bycyklen.dk for a map), from April to October. They are brightly painted and often feature advertising. As they have no lamps, they can only be used in daylight hours, and riders must follow various road rules (see box in right hand column) or face a hefty fine.
Many other cities have installed public bike systems since those early days. Some haven't fared too well, often because of theft or vandalism — examples include Portland (1994) in Oregon and Cambridge (1993-94) in the UK. However, the idea remains popular and city authorities often persist, trying to find ways to make a system work. The Paris rental scheme Velib (2007) has been beset with difficulties (80% of the initial 10,000 bikes were stolen or damaged) but remains in place and has become part of city life.
The Paris scheme relies on lockable docking points for bikes and subscription membership for users. Various other types of schemes have failed because operating costs far exceeded revenue, with the shortfall being sought from private or state funds. Toronto (2001-06) is an example.
Successful schemes tend to have low operating costs — initial investment coming from commercial sponsorship. As in Copenhagen and Helsinki, some are based on refundable deposits, making one-way journeys easy.
Coin or smart/credit card operation is a refinement of this method. As well as Paris, the schemes in Lyon, Montreal and London (from mid 2010) use this technique. Paris is the largest with 20,000 bicycles. Similar systems, operated by mobile phone, can be found in Berlin and various parts of the UK, such as Hammersmith and Fulham in London, and Cardiff, Reading and Farnborough.
Copenhagen's City Bike success is linked to its success in promoting cycling generally. Suitable terrain, transport integration and a strong cycling culture all play their part. Copenhagen's authorities are making cycling count in the plan to achieve a low carbon city ..... next >
Top links
The City Bike and Copenhagen   www.bycyklen.dk
Home of Copenhagen's bike zone, in multiple languages
The City Bike Zone   www.bycyklen.dk/english/thecitybikezone.aspx
Official bike zone map and drop-off point locations
Copenhagen is the City of Cyclists   www.kk.dk/cityofcyclists.aspx
City of Copenhagen's cycling information site
YouTube   www.youtube.com/watch?v=hprV0yTS2AI
A quick practical explanation of the City Bike system
An American visitor takes a ride round town on a City Bike ...
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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City Bike zone
Free bikes are available inside the zone for a deposit of 20 Kroner — there are 110 pick-up and drop-off points.
To download the official map, go to www.bycyklen.dk/english/thecitybikezone.aspx
City Bike road rules
— City Bikes can only be used within the City Bike zone
— No cycling in pedestrianised areas or on pedestrian crossings
— No cycling on pavements or footpaths
— No cycling against the traffic
— Bikes need to be returned by nightfall — they have no lights
— Do not use your own cycle lock