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Biking to Work: How They Ride in Copenhagen, Berlin, and London

Article July 3, 2018  |  Text by Lucie Kolomá Text by Lucie Kolomá

How are folks pedaling along in the different parts of Europe? We asked five people about their experiences with riding their bike, or even their scooter, to work. What advantages and disadvantages does motor-free transport present for them? What’s the ride like in different European metropolises? And how well is cycling supported by employers? Join us in taking inspiration from them and let your car take a well-deserved rest in its garage.

Michaela Bražinová is the founder of the portal yogi2yogi, and she’s also a start-up mentor and product manager at GfK, a company active in Berlin, London, and Prague.

She currently lives in Germany. Here she recently started riding her bike to work basically every day, even in the cold and snow. “Each of my routes is 7.5 km long. Six years ago when I was in London, I rode 3.5 kilometers around the Thames. I was lucky — my home and my job were both by the river, so I avoided the busy streets.” Bražinová always assesses the advantages and disadvantages of city cycling based on where she’s currently living. “What I love about cycling in Berlin is the absolute flexibility and freedom; in London, I didn’t feel very safe on my bike.”

The occasions when she leaves her bike at home are rare — rains, sometimes, or dangerous glaze ice. All the same, when a storm rolls in halfway through her trip, Michaela has no problem with packing up her bike and riding the tram. “I’ve the type of cyclist who will happily ride her bike in high heels and a dress. Actually, in Berlin, I don’t stand out doing that. Everyone rides here, partly because the local transport is wonderfully adapted to it. London and Prague still lag far behind Berlin.”

Marie Bauerová has been living in Copenhagen for nearly four years; she works here as a project engineer for Skanska.

“After switching jobs, I really looked forward to starting to ride my bike regularly. My morning ride takes about half an hour; on average I get up to about 10 kilometers of riding in a day,” says this former employee of Skanska Property in Prague.

You can’t imagine Denmark without streaming crowds of colorful bikes, and Marie confirms this: “Absolutely everyone rides their bikes here. If you don’t have a bike, you’re nobody. It’s part of their DNA.” Copenhagen, and actually Denmark itself, has the right landscape for cycling, but on the other hand there’s a lot of rain and wind. “Coming in to an important meeting soaked from head to toe isn’t the ideal way to make a good first impression. But since everyone’s experienced it at least once, nobody makes a fuss about it.” Marie goes by the Danish saying that there's no such thing as bad weather; you just have to choose good clothing. So she sometimes heads out pedaling even in a snowstorm.

“Our employer fully supports us as cyclists. We have company bikes available, two of them are electric, there are bike racks practically everywhere, and we have a shower and changing room in the building’s basement. The city itself also supports cycling. When the snow is cleared off in the winter, the cycling lane has to be clear first, even if that means shoveling snow onto the crosswalk and blocking it.”

Hedvika Janečková, an analyst at a public policy institute in Vilnius, can compare bike transport in Prague and Lithuania.

She has just a short ride to work, about 2 km, and so the bike is a clear choice for her. “But I usually lengthen the trip a bit. In the morning I often choose a longer route along the river. After work, meanwhile, I usually go via the fairgrounds, the market, or the park. In general I mainly ride my bike for environmental reasons. It only takes 5% as much material and energy to produce a bike as it normally would take to produce a car. For me personally its influence on, above all, my physical and mental health is important.”

Hedvika’s workmates also ride their bikes to work. “I’m actually pleasantly surprised at how many of my workmates are riding. I think that for the rest it’s usually hard to ride out because they have kids. But a few of them even manage it with a stop by the kindergarten. Meanwhile there are definitely others who are blocked inside by Lithuania’s standards for beauty.” According to Helga, quite a few people, and especially women, feel terrible and feel judged if they arrive at work in sportswear, without makeup, or with messed-up hair.

“In Vilnius the cycling infrastructure is fairly well developed, far better than in Prague, and there’s still a strong will expressed here to make it even better. I’m sad that despite some great Prague civic initiatives such as Auto*mat, Prague still lacks sustainable support for transforming public space and developing bike transport there. Cyclists simply belong on Prague’s streets, no matter whether certain drivers, financial magnates, and politicians like it or not.

Hedvika says that the city’s positive approach towards cycling is sadly not mirrored at work. “The place where I work is, for now, unfortunately not very adapted towards motor-free transport. We generally use the city bike racks in front of the building. While we do have showers, they’re not freely available. But we’re talking about this subject more and more, and we may bring it up soon within the department / work council.”

Roman Binder, an account director at AMI Communications, regularly cruises Prague’s streets on his scooter.

How forgiving is Prague’s traffic towards this means of transport? “I’ve been riding an electric scooter for about a year and a half. It’s one more out of the environmentally friendly ways to get to work. I’ve tried public transport, a motor scooter, and a car, but it's this combination of public transport and an electric scooter that I’ve finally hit upon as optimal.” Roman’s workplace is located at Týn, right at Old Town Square, and so it’s not exactly the easiest place to reach by car.

“The first thing that drove me towards a scooter was the inability to park at work and the lack of P+R spots by the subway.” Days with bad weather, meanwhile, are among the times when he’s really not in the mood for the scooter. In the rain and snow, he generally opts for public transport. “But in the rain, it’s still better to be quick on my scooter than slow on foot.” He considers riding in the center to be unsafe, and so he understands that most of his workmates lean towards the tram or subway instead. “Riding downtown is for the brave. It’s not adapted for bike riding here; practically everywhere you’re riding over a surface made of large cobblestones that a bike’s thin wheels aren't suited for. Also, it’s not just inattentive drivers who are a problem — pedestrians are too. But when you find a true bike path, that’s great. You just have to keep in mind that there are also people there strolling, skating, and walking their dogs. I really have to laugh at how some bike jockeys act like they’re riding the Tour de France.” One thing that Roman sees as positive is the approach of his employer, who has installed a shower in the building and enabled bikes to be stored in the storage room.

Gregório Kusowski, a software engineer from Berlin’s HeyCar, rides 7.2 km on his bike every morning.

“I mainly ride my bike to work so that I have some physical activity every day.” He sees another definite advantage in the financial aspect; he saves roughly 5.6 to 7 Euros a day on public transport thanks to his love of cycling.

“But a bike also has its disadvantages. I personally don’t have a great bike for the city, and so I have to take all of my things in my backpack, and that can really feel heavy after seven kilometers.” A second disadvantage lies in the bad weather, which can even end up in sickness. Colds in the winter, and sunstroke in the hot summer. “I hardly drive at all, but I do occasionally use public transport. For example when it’s raining a lot. You see, my bike doesn’t have mudguards.”

Since this is Berlin, it’s no surprise that many of Gregório’s workmates also bike to work. “I think that for the ones that don’t regularly pedal to work, one thing that may be blocking them is the fact that they have very expensive bikes and they’re afraid to park them on the courtyard in front of work,” Gregório says.

“But I can’t complain about the conditions for cyclists at work. We have enough room to lock our bikes away in the garage, or on the courtyard, and that’s enough for me. It would be better to have them right in the office, but there’s no space for that. Also, we’ll have two or three showers available soon.”

Alongside this, Gregório also praises the conditions on the public roads; these are very pro-cyclist in his city. “I live in Berlin, a heaven for cyclists—who have enough room set aside for them on the road. Also, car drivers have respect for this space.”