For many the summer of 2018 will be remembered for endless days of clear skies and soaring temperatures; cyclists living in Northern Europe enjoying the luxury of riding without recourse to a rain cape and overshoes. But seasons come and go with autumn giving way to the cold and grey of winter months. And as individuals return from a ride seeking shelter from the elements, the warm welcome offered by Rapha Copenhagen carries through to the clubhouse emblem having an historical allusion to a ‘safe harbour’; a reference that clubhouse associate Karl Owen understands all too well now that he’s experiencing his first Danish winter.
‘We’ve just enjoyed one of the best summers in living memory but when it does turn cold and wet then it’s important to have somewhere to go where you can get a cup of coffee and warm up.’ This comment best illustrated by his description of clubhouse light fittings regularly festooned with drying helmets and gloves when a wet ride returns. ‘The Danes,’ he continues, ‘are very, very good at gritting the roads because everyone is pretty hardy and still wants to ride even when there’s a deep frost or snow falling. All that salt and grit means bike maintenance costs can be high but you can ride year round.’
With the clubhouse located just off Strøget – one of Copenhagen’s busiest shopping streets – it’s conveniently situated as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city centre yet still only a 15 minute ride from the outskirts of the city. And as many members use the clubhouse on a regular basis, there’s grown a close-knit community of Danes bolstered by international members either based in Copenhagen for work or those visiting who want to take advantage of the bike hire scheme. ‘What’s nice,’ suggests Karl, ‘is how the clubhouse encourages all these individuals to meet and interact. The Danes have a reputation as being a little reserved – as do the Brits – and whereas inhibitions are often eased over a drink I like to think that a shared love of cycling replaces the alcohol in allowing people to get past any initial awkwardness [smiles].’
Originally based in Manchester, Karl got to know his future colleagues on regular visits to Copenhagen before finally taking the plunge and relocating. Having now experienced cycling in the Danish capital he’s come to realise how differently he rode back home in the UK; taking a primary position and almost behaving like a car. So much so that it took a while to transition into the Copenhagen way.
‘Very often you ride separately from the cars using the extensive network of bike lanes and there’s a very definite set of rules. You overtake on the left after looking behind and often there’s room for three cyclists abreast so it acts almost like a motorway. And it’s because there are so many cyclists that you’re expected to adhere to these nuanced set of rules. There’s not the free for all that you find in some other major cities. The pace is generally quite consistent and it can be really beautiful in the sense that the city simply flows.’
‘I feel there’s a worldwide understanding that the Copenhagen way works,’ he continues. ‘You can fit 10 bikes into the space taken by a single car so the result is a city centre that isn’t choked with traffic. The box turn takes a little getting used to but this avoids the need to cross the road in front of moving vehicles. Here you put your hand up as you approach a junction to indicate that you’re slowing before turning 90° and crossing with the lights.’
In terms of clubhouse riding, a typical route sees riders setting off north towards the lakes before heading up through Nørrebro to Mosehuset; a traditional meeting point if you’re not starting out in the city centre. ‘From there you can head out towards Gilleleje on the northern coast before turning towards Helsingør with the sea and Sweden on your left shoulder. On a good day very beautiful indeed,’ Karl confirms.
‘Saturday sees a couple of differently paced open rides heading out with a training ride on a Tuesday that includes intervals and is aimed at more advanced riders. Wednesday has two alternating rides. The ‘Look pro, go slow’ that sees riders wearing their best gear and riding out at a very social pace for a coffee or ice cream depending on the season. Or there’s the ‘Find it in 50’ which, as the name implies, involves a 50 km route ending at one of Copenhagen’s many craft beer bars. Both, perhaps unsurprisingly, very popular rides [smiles].’
The explosion of the gravel scene is also reflected in the number of rides now offered that include off-road tracks and trails with Hansens, a local ice-cream manufacturer, organising a 130 km gravel ride during the summer months with ice-cream at every feed stop. ‘One of my favourite day’s on the bike,’ Karl comments. ‘And during winter when the wind picks up and temperatures drop it’s nice get off the road and seek the shelter of woodland paths.’
With an active social scene complementing the clubhouse rides, in summer when evenings are drawn out it’s common for RCC rides to start with a loop before ending with the riders sitting out on a grassy corner with a couple of beers. According to Karl, very much a Danish way of doing things and another aspect of Copenhagen cycle culture that he’s learning to understand and appreciate.
‘I’m still trying to work out some of the more idiosyncratic references. A couple of minutes turn on the front, for example, is described as ‘Swedish shifts’ and I love the fact that almost everyone – even if they’re riding a super expensive race bike – will have a bell. Very useful when you consider it’s quite acceptable to be travelling at 40 kph in a bike lane and there’s so many other users.’
This mention of the bikes his members ride prompts Karl to confirm that lightweight carbon bikes are extremely popular but with a move towards fatter tyres and a mindset of having a single bike that can cope with a variety of terrain and surface.
‘There’s this Scandinavian concept of Jantelagen which basically boils down to not showing off. And maybe this accounts for fewer individuals going down the custom steel route and why you’re far more likely to see one of our members riding an understated black bike. Even to some extent influencing what items sell well out of our clothing range. Our customers tend to favour monochrome kit so we rarely sell a Rapha-pink jersey [laughs].’
In terms of other clubhouse trends, a cortado or flat white are the most common coffee orders with spicy tuna or avocado a popular choice of sandwich. And out on the road, Karl is often tempted by a tebirkes; a pastry filled with sweet marzipan and covered with poppy seeds. ‘Not particularly easy to pronounce,’ he adds with a grin, ‘so even when I’m in a bakery and pointing with a finger at the same time as asking, the sales assistant will still look quizzically at me.’
‘What’s fun about riding out of Copenhagen is getting back to discover you’ve just done 200 km at a healthy average speed. It’s flat which helps but our cycling infrastructure means you don’t have to stop and start quite so much as you would in other countries. And then there’s the view across to Sweden from Strandvejen; a road that hugs the coastline north south out of Copenhagen. This proximity to the sea that, in the summer, let’s us finish a ride with an open water swim. And what’s not to like about that.’
All images with kind permission of Erik Jonsson