Do you have a bike yet? No? What are you, some kind of peasant living in a fiefdom in rural France? Oh, I’m sorry, that comparison is offensive to peasants, because not having a bike is more like being a savage beast! Le fauve! You primitive, neolithic, living-in-a-cave ice monster!
This is basically what people said to me all the time before I had a bike. I cannot even recall the number of times I’ve been called an ice monster, you guys. It’s a lot.
Last month I gave in to peer pressure and got myself a bike. On the same day, I went with Scandinavia Standard’s own Freya McOmish on her quest to find a bike. She went new, I went second-hand. Here’s how it went down.
We managed to pick the hottest day of the year to go bike-hunting. We started out looking so fly and slowly the sun and sweat turned us into sticky puddles of mascara. But more on that later.
I’m going to give you a little prologue to this adventure. About a week previous, I had seen a bike up for sale on the ESN-Give-Sell-Buy-Rent Facebook page. This page is fantastic for anyone moving to or from Copenhagen. Alternatively, there are online auctions at Secondhandbikes.dk
The pictured bike looked nice- blue, a city bike, wicker basket, a strong lock and lights. Gel seat, new tires. All great stuff. The asking price was 750 DKK but that was a bit outside of what I was willing to pay. I sent a private message to the owner, saying, “I’m interested in the bike but my maximum budget is 500. Is that possible for you?” He then sent a slew of messages asking me to “be reasonable” and pay the full price. I wrote again, telling him that I completely understood his stance, he was under no obligation to sell me the bike for 500, but I simply wasn’t willing to pay more. He said he’d contact me if no one else took the bike.
The day Freya and I went shopping for her bike, I had no thoughts of buying a bike for myself. But when I got the message that the bike was still for sale and the seller was leaving Denmark the next day, I figured I had better grab the opportunity. We agreed to meet in Frederiksberg in the early evening for inspection and pick-up.
So back to cycle-shopping. The night before, Freya had done a google map search for for Copenhagen’s cycle shops: “cykler københavn“. The next day, we traversed the greater Vesterbo area, popping into about 5 bike shops. The bikes were priced similarly. Freya was looking for a city-style bike, upright handlebars, and 7 internal gears. Although she originally wanted aluminium, it became quickly clear that the difference in weight, for city-riding, was not great enough to make a difference. Steel is significantly cheaper (about 1000 DKK less) so that’s the direction we went in.
We eventually found Viking Cykel on H.C. Andersen Blvd 15. The owners not only guaranteed a same-day pick up, they brought down the price from 5200 to a reasonable 4000 DKK for a new cycle that fit all of Freya’s specifications. The last choice was color: british racing green, mint or white? Freya ocillated between the three, then cut it down to mint or white, then finally chose white. There’s always the option of adding a bit of colour to the bike by changing the wheel guards in future.
After Freya had picked up her new toy and securely locked it to a gate (always lock your bike to things – especially if it’s new!), we walked like big hulking idiots all the way from Vesterbo to Frederiksberg. I am a walker, but on that day I had assumed a limited amount of walking and had worn sandals. Oh god, it was the worst. Freya and I had sore feet, sweaty pits and miserable faces all the way to this guy’s apartment. Which was basically in Valby it was so far into Frederiksberg. Ugh.
When we finally arrived looking like the emotionally fragile messes we had become, this guy tried to TRICK ME. Here’s a thing about me: I will not be guilted into spending more than I have allotted myself. I will walk away so fast. So fucking fast.
We met the seller, rode the bike around the block, and were pleased to find that the bike not only came with all the accoutrements but also worked beautifully. Definitely a catch for 500 DKK. I told him I would take the cycle and took out my five crisp 100 kroner bills. He looked at me, faux-dumbfounded. “We said 600,” he reprimanded me. I whipped out my phone and showed him the conversation on Facebook clearly outlining my bottom line of 500. I told him again, “You don’t have to sell me this bike, but I can’t pay more than 500.” He looked indignant for about a second, then defeated. “All right, 500.” He took the money, I thanked him, and we parted ways.
My life has become indescribably better since I got this bike. I cycle everywhere and my calves look amazing. Transportation, even in high traffic, is stress-free and easy. Plus I feel that I know the layout of the city much better than before.
Freya also loves her new bike, though she’s had a few pangs of regret for the mint or British racing green confection that could have been. A new bicycle is a thing of beauty (read: temptation) and hers is no different; she keeps it locked in her courtyard when she’s parked at home like the clever consumer she is.
Here’s our working list of the do’s and don’t’s of bike shopping:
Know what you want before you go; how many gears, what style, what is your maximum budget. You can change your mind along the way, but coming in and asking to be shown something specific makes it clear that you’re not there to be taken for a ride. Except that literally you are.
Ask for discounts. You might not get them, but hey! You also might!
Ride the bike up and down the street before buying. Don’t like the feel of the seat? Don’t like that clicking sound the chain makes? If you’ve already handed over your money, then tough luck.
Go to more than one cycle shop. Also, make it clear to the sales-person that you are doing this.
Invest in a good lock. Or two.
Get magnetic lights rather than battery-powered. Excellent investment. They can be found in most grocery stores and can be sold for as little as 150-200 DKK for front and back lights.
Consider a helmet. This is especially true if you are an inexperienced rider and are a bit nervous in traffic. Having the helmet will not only make you actually safer, it will make you feel safer and therefore more confident in your riding. More and more Danes are wearing helments, so you needn’t worry about looking like the odd-man out.
Go with a friend or partner. Particularly if he/she has some knowledge of bicycles and/or speaks Danish. Two sets of eyes is always better than one, plus you can have a special signal for if you’re feeling pressured and want to go.
Let yourself be bullied into buying something just because a sales-person has spent time with you. That’s his job. You are under no obligation to buy anything.
Be afraid to change your mind.
Spend more than you can afford to have stolen from you. There is a chance your bike will get stolen at some point. So either insure it if it’s expensive or spend as much as you’d be okay with having taken out of your wallet at any given moment.
Buy a second-hand bike that is rusty. Closely check the chain and pedals.
Assume that bikes are on-the-level. A lot of bikes are stolen and resold. If you’re getting a weird vibe from the seller, or he has 25 other bikes to sell (and doesn’t have a storefront), it’s probably been lifted. You can decide from there whether you’re comfortable buying stolen goods or not.
Toot toot, beep beep, held og lykke (good luck)! Let us know anything we forgot in the comments!
Bike accessories to consider
Should I buy a bike helmet?
While there’s a lot of debate over whether cycle helmets are necessary in cycle-friendly cities like Copenhagen, we recommend them. You simply never know what can happen, and even when biking in a city like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, you’ll be sharing the road with vehicles that are much stronger and faster than you can ever be on a bicycle. You only get one head; be careful with it!
This “airbag for urban cyclists” sits around your neck and only opens if you fall. The airbag has sensors that react to specific neck motions indicating a crash. Some people find these more pleasant to wear than conventional helmets. The only downside is that the Hövding is single use – once the airbag is released, you’ll have to get a new one.
A lightweight, skater-style helmet that’s easy to wear, doesn’t sit too heavy on the head, and has air vents for hotter days. Simple but highly functional!
What are the best bike lights?
It’s essential to have both front and back bicycle lights for when it’s dark, or even when it’s overcast or foggy. If you want lights that stay on your bike and last for a long time, magnetic lights are the way to go. They can be attached to your bike by your mechanic (or you can do it yourself); then you’ll never have to worry about whether you have bicycle lights in your bag.
Bike baskets and bike racks
If you think you’ll need to hold your handbag, groceries, or any other number of things while you cycle, a basket and/or rack is invaluable. Baskets are the most secure, but often can’t hold larger items. A rack in the front or back can have a bungee cord or belt attached so it can hold almost anything. Our perfect situation? A basket in the front and a rack in the back.
If you plan on having a pet travel with you on your bike, there are special baskets to keep your furry friends safe.
Ding ding! Get the bike bell
Should you get a bicycle bell? Of course! They’re essential for letting others know that you’re coming up behind them, or that they’re getting a bit too close to you. Also an extremely cute way to trick people into thinking the ice cream truck is coming.
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