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Cycling In The UK vs Denmark: What's The Difference And Why?

February 21, 2019

Cycling In The UK vs Denmark: What's The Difference And Why?

If you have ever been on a trip to Denmark, or even if you haven't - any search engine in the world will tell you that Denmark (and more specifically, the two-wheeled loving city of Copenhagen) will always come up trumps as the most bike-friendly region in the world (Wired). 

But has Copenhagen always been this way? And why can’t more cities be more bike orientated with less space given to cars? We know that travelling by bike in the cities is often the quickest way of getting around, without even mentioning the health benefits that riding a bike brings with it.

So in this piece, we thought it would be interesting to compare cycling in Denmark to the UK... 

What’s The Difference?

TRANSport, Or Just A Sport?

We think that the main difference between cycling in the UK and in Denmark really comes down to attitudes and culture - the fact that the Danish see cycling in a completely different way than we do here in the UK.

They see it as a means of transport, a human-powered vehicle that can easily take you to work, take the kids to school, to the shops - almost ALL of your day to day journeys. People in Copenhagen live their lives in the saddle.  Cycle superhighways have been a reality for a while now, leading cyclists in and out of the city for miles! It's totally normal to ride your bike to get around in Denmark. Here in the UK - we just aren't there yet, are we?

 

It Takes Change To Make Change.

But was Copenhagen always this way? Actually, no! (This is often a very common misconception). The cycling nation of Denmark was due to HUGE investments in cycling, and more importantly, investing and campaigning for cycling to become a means of transport. So lots of hard work really! But we can tend to take it as a given.

In 2015, it was announced that bikes outnumbered cars on the streets of Copenhagen (The Guardian) for the first time. A massive 62% of people ride to work there, and just 9% per cent drive. The investment wasn’t just a one-off though, it needs to be continued. Since 2005, £115m was invested in cycle infrastructure (World Economic Forum) like this amazing cycle bridge (not to make you jealous or anything).

Here in the UK, we can tend to think of cycling as more of a sport or competitive activity than thinking of it as a means of transportation. Getting a sweat on, building up those miles, burning off loads of calories (which is still all amazing stuff, by the way!). But have you ever imagined what your local town centre here in the UK would be like if the streets were covered in bikes and outnumbered the cars? If we weren't having to constantly think about what drivers are doing around us?

We can sometimes even be guilty of associating using the bike for transport as the poor man's mode of transport. Why do we do this!? Copenhageners love their bikes no matter their financial income (Copenhagen’s Bike Culture,  Visit Copenhagen). Even top politicians ride their bike every day to parliament! 

Following Suit?

So, can the UK ever become a cycling nation? Or get even close?

There is no denying that the car is king here in the UK. However, the good news is that people are actively working to help transform the state of cycling in the UK. Our friends in Manchester have done some great work recently, where big cycling & walking plans are underway thanks to cycling and walking commissioner, Chris Boardman (The Guardian). The other good news is that cycling is such a growing activity (BBC News) with more and more of us getting on our bikes more often. But that’s not to say that we don’t have a long way to go... 

When Will We (Ever) Get There?

We all know that riding our bikes is an efficient, healthy and cheap means of transport. There are certainly lots of lessons from countries such as Denmark on the benefits of decent funding and long-term planning of dense cycle networks are readily available.

At See.Sense we believe that giving decision makers the right information at the right time can play a huge role in creating the transformative change that is required to get more people cycling more often. That’s why we have established a Smart Cities team who are working with partners in local government and organisations like British Cycling to use the data and insights from our connected bike lights to help plan for better cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities.


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