As clunky helmets, yellow reflective gear, and Lycra could be used as a stereotype for Irish cyclists, it might come as a surprise that women wearing high heels are a common sight on bicycles in Copenhagen.
The general image of cycling here is vastly different to so-called bicycle cultures where cycling is normalised and there is talk of a “slow bicycle movement”.
“Among thousands and thousands of cyclists on my daily routes, I think I see one or two reflective vests a week, if that,” says Mikael Colville-Andersen, a cycling advocate living in Copenhagen.
With Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany – where bicycle usage is high – the helmets and reflective clothing we think of as “a must” for cyclists are far from standard.
It then goes on to rehash some of the stuff that has cropped up recently on cycling blogs about cycling safety, helmets, etc.
The only problem with casualization of cycling, removing gear like helmets, is that without corresponding changes to the road and cycleways to make them safer, it will increase accidents and fatalities. I looked this up a couple of weeks back when I came across an anti-helmet site. Chasing up the figures and doing some research, it became clear that if you simply want to cycle without hurting yourself, the facts were not on their side — helmets save lives, especially when dealing with shared roadways as we have here.
Copenhagenization is a result of a better, safer road environment for cyclists, as seen in Denmark and the Netherlands, which makes safety gear not as much of a requirement. But on the other hand, Ireland’s roads are designed mainly for cars, and Dublin Council have done little to help — that makes safety gear a requirement, unfortunately :(
However, I think this is the real reason why people don’t cycle in Dublin:
Let’s take a fictional person, let’s call her Kassandra. Kassandra lives a little north of Copenhagen and rides every to work every day between 07:25 and 07:55 and back again between 15:35 and 16:05. Kassandra doesn’t mind a little light showers, but if the intensity increases to over 0.4 mm over 30 minutes (light rain), then she thinks it is too wet. Kassandra works five days a week and has weekends and holidays free. That gives her 498 trips between September 2002 and the end of August 2003.
How often does Kassandra get wet either to or from her job that year? The answer is, in fact, rarely. On those 498 trips it was only 17 times. That is only 3.5% or on average 1.5 trips a month.
It takes dedication — and lots of wet-weather gear — to ride a bike here…
(Of course, having said that, I look out the window and it’s immediately sunny ;)
Update: Ryan Meade corrects me in the comments:
Justin, you need to take a look at Owen Keegan’s paper to Velo-City 2005, “Weather and Cycling in Dublin : Perceptions and Reality”. The probability of getting wet is actually pretty comparable to the Copenhagen scenario detailed above – 5.5% for a 30 minute journey if you take 0.2mm per hour at the threshold for “getting wet”. On the other hand the vast majority of both cyclists and motorists think it’s more than 15%, with half thinking it’s above 30%.
Amazing how the psychological, “glass half-empty” factor influences my thinking on this. I had no idea!