“One cannot expect that everyone rides into Copenhagen on a Christiania Bike. The car has been invented.”
In Copenhagen, the new left-wing government has made it a top priority to make it even more difficult to drive a car into the city by proposing a ‘payment ring’ around the Danish capital’s perimeter — good news for those who bike!
It’s a pretty heated debate and even though I don’t own a car, make my living selling the idea that biking in the city is better than driving, and do ultimately support the ‘payment ring’ idea, I can definitely see how it can have its fair share of critics, which is why I found it bittersweet when I read the front page of Politiken this weekend.
One a side note, Poltiken was just named the best designed newspaper in the world. Ah, the Danes and their design!
From the relative chaos of Copenhagen, to the cozy confines of the collectively-owned, car-free community they call the Free Town, I hope this video sheds some light on the mythical neighborhood of Christiania — the birthplace of the Christiania Bikes.
The video does a great job, visually, of telling the story that I wanted, or have been meaning to tell, so I’ll stop with the cursory intro and let it do the talking.
I do, however, think it necessary to point out how this all came into being, so here is the director’s cut text…
Since starting Boxcycles over a year ago, I have, from time to time and with varying degrees of success, tried to tell the story of where these crazy bikes come from. The short of it is: from a crazy place.
But Christiania is hard to describe with photos and even harder to do on the written page. A previous post of mine, gave a photographic and written introduction, but, to be honest, the real magic is in the atmosphere, action, and attitude of the community — which is impossible to feel without movement. So, since starting this wild ride, I have wanted to document it on film — perhaps the most honest way of capturing the soul of Christiania for those who can’t actually be there.
My best bud in Copenhagen is a globetrotting photo/videographer named Adam Jeppesen. Over the past few years he has called the road his home, and has recently completed an 18 month journey from the North Pole to the South Pole which culminated in a dynamic documentary/fine art exhibition called Beyonder. It might be relevant to note that, aside from a few boat trips to get to the polar regions and some buses through a few stretches of Central America, most of the trip was made by bike — not a Christiania. Though we did entertain the thought!
Upon completion of his epic journey, Adam had to ‘go see about a girl’ in Buenos Aires and since then, has more or less been living there. He makes it back to Copenhagen here and there — if only for a few days — and we usually catch up as best we can given our increasingly hectic lives. Somehow, god willing, I coaxed him into the idea of taking his last two stops in Copenhagen to produce a short film about Christiania and the bikes. After agreeing, we jammed this whole ‘production’ into two sessions.
TAKE 1 & 2:
The filming took place in August and consisted, simply, of two 10-minute rides — one right after the next — with Adam in the box and me pedaling. That day, luck was on our side — the sun started to peak out just as we got ‘rolling’, and by the time we had finished filming 20 minutes later, the light was actually quite harsh. You might even notice that in the right frame, at the end of the film, it is dramatically more sunny than the left frame.
Then, just this past week, Adam headed back into town for a stopover, before continuing on to Paris for an exhibition. We spent one night ‘strategizing’ at a Bob Dylan & Mark Knopfler concert in Sweden and then pulled off a quick final cut at around 1:30 am on Saturday – fueled by his new drink of choice, maté.
The final product is just what I was looking for – it’s free-flowing, ragged, in-the-moment, totally honest, and happened over good times with a great friend. Very much in the spirit of Christiania.
Tusind tak to Adam for making time for this and godspeed in your continuing adventures, mi amigo…
Six months ago – yes, this is coming a bit late – I entered the 5 Boro Bike Tour in New York City with the intention of completing it on the Christiania Bike. It was a long ride – maybe 40 miles – weaving through the 5 boroughs of the Big Apple and ending on Staten Island. For me it would be a personal challenge, but also a way to show that the Christiania is not all that hard to ride for long distances. I regularly ride 10+ miles a day on it — with a full load. So, with no cargo and no timeline, 40 miles wouldn’t be an unrealistic distance to travel on the old girl.
Halfway through the ride, however, I found myself in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), and though I had plenty of juice left in the tank, I was getting a bit bored. I made a quick decision to skip out on the ride and live by my mantra — ‘the journey is the destination’. I will admit, the fact that the destination was Staten Island made the decision a bit easier — just a little…
By backing off of the structured ride — I don’t like organized rides anyways — I entered a Zen-like state, where the bike pointed me in directions that I might not have conceded to had I had my eyes set on the finish line. Not a few minutes after making the executive decision to pull the cord, I came upon a familiar sign — mind the pun. It was literally a sign — a beautiful hand painted one — but for all intents and purposes it was also symbolic way of telling me that I had made the right decision.
I recognized the work as that of Jeff Canham — my absolute favorite sign painter — and a quick memory jog reminded me that Canham had done a bit of work for the Mollusk Surf Shops — which are probably the nicest surf shops in the country. I had been to their outposts in San Francisco and Venice in California, but then remembered that they also had another shop in Brooklyn — this must be it!
I weaved through a bunch of barren streets lined with old-industrial buildings and there it was, shining in the spring light like it had been plucked from surfside California and dropped into some strange, post-industrial wasteland. Whatever the case, I had, by virtue of forgetting about the finish line, stumbled upon a real diamond in the rough. I parked the old girl out front, popped inside, and chatted up the guy (dude) manning the shop. Some time later, I walked out with gifts for my nieces and nephews, and a sweatshirt that I have worn probably 80% of the days between then and now — if you know me, you know the one I’m talking about!
From there, I zig-zagged about Williamsburg in first gear moving just ‘fast’ enough to keep the bike from completely stopping. The beauty of riding a trike is that you never hit that point where you are riding too slow to keep your balance — you need only pedal enough to keep headway. ‘Fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see…’ — I think Jimmy Buffett said that.
During this pedal-powered saunter through Williamsburg, I came upon countless hidden gems — ranging from large murals, hidden beneath the blossoming trees of New York in the spring…
…to small sidewalk art (see opening image); bright, funky buildings; and a new bike shop just being renovated.
Eventually I came upon the Williamsburg Bridge and decided it might be a good time to land back in Manhattan — maybe make an impromptu stop-in at Adeline Adeline. Halfway across the bridge another familiar ‘sign’ caught my eye. There, in the distance, through the iron fence grid, was the Christiania symbol emblazoned on a building two blocks away. I rubbed my eyes, hopped off the bike and then realized that, not only was this certainly an homage to Christiania, but the composition and placement of the artwork was such that it appeared that the Christiania flag was surfing the waves of the painting immediately below it!
Christiania, surfing, street art, and hand-painted signs — just a few of my favorite things coming together in a sort of ‘perfect storm of cool’ — all because I made a turn and took the road less travelled by. And for a small window of time in May, the planets had aligned and all was right with the world…
A couple of weeks back I got an email from Julie Hirschfeld — who owns Adeline Adeline in TriBeCa — saying that she was planning a quick trip to Copenhagen for a little ‘research’ and was wondering if I was in town and up for meeting. I’ll never pass up the chance to steal some time with a visiting American when I’m in Copenhagen — but since Julie is one of the coolest people in the bike industry in the States, I was even more eager to show her the city and its crazy bike culture.
I told her I would get her and her sister, Sasha, at the airport and bring them to their hotel in the Vesterbro neighborhood of Copenhagen. Meanwhile, I had devised a plan in my head for the perfect pick up scenario…
Julie and Sasha arrived early in the morning. Since I don’t own a car, the ‘pick up’ was not really your typical ‘I’ll keep looping through the terminal, so call me when you get your bags and I’ll try to avoid being scooted away from the pick up zone by the angry State Trooper’. Instead, we hopped on the Metro and took the 8 minute ride into Christianshavn where I gave them a two options for the final leg to the hotel:
- Hop on a bus
- Hop in the box — yes, two adults and luggage in the bike.
The initial reaction was one of disbelief — ‘Is he serious?’ was the non verbal reaction that was communicated. But after a bit of coaxing and reassurance that it would not be difficult for me to cart them around, they agreed to get in. I also mentioned that this was quite normal in Copenhagen and that on many occasions I carry a fair amount more human cargo in the box than this. Take for example this photo of my wife, her father, and Kristian all riding in the box while we are ascending the highest peak in Copenhagen — the Langebro Bridge.
The fit wasn’t even all that bad — I removed the bench so that they could use there luggage as a seat and we headed off towards the hotel. Not even two minutes into the ride, they were both laughing, pointing, and taking pictures of the Copenhagen bike scene. I was at the helm pointing out various landmarks and answering questions like, ‘What kind of bike is that?’ It was the perfect intro in the world-class Copenhagen bike culture, and I was glad that Julie and Sasha agreed to ‘hop right into it’.
Upon arrival at the hotel, they were told that the room might not be ready for another six hours. Perfect — more time to play tour guide. At this point the idea of riding in the box was a fun one and they hopped back in and we headed out for some more sightseeing.
A jaunt through Vesterbro — the hip, urban neighborhood — then over the cycling bridge to Island Brygge — which I call the Brooklyn of Copenhagen — we skirted the harbor canal and ended back up in Christianshavn. From there, we decided it was time for Christiania. Fortunately the sun was shining and Julie had brushed up on Christiania before she arrived — she read my post and asked if we would be entering Christiania through the backdoor. But of course!
I did a bit more storytelling as we headed off the beaten path and just prior to entering the Pusher Street fray, we stopped in at Morgenstedet (The Morning Place) for a good meal and a bit of ‘hygge’. Sitting in the side garden of the restaurant, the periphery of Christiania’s ‘commercial’ zone was in plain view. So there were, as always, an eclectic cast of characters, roaming dogs off the leash, and a whole host of Christiania Bikes weaving about — all making for an interesting mealtime spectacle.
The final stop before ‘re-entering the EU’ (so says the sign above the exit to Christiania) was at the old Christiania Bikes factory where we popped in for a peak. As I mentioned in the last Christiania post, the old factory still serves as a retail outlet for the bikes, and the interior hasn’t changed much since the early days in the mid 1980s, so there is an air of nostalgia when you step foot inside.
At this point in time it was nearly time to head back to the hotel, so we headed to my shop in Islands Brygge and I hooked them up with a few vintage Danish bikes and set them free…
We met up a few more times over the next few days and then they were off — I suppose the next time I’ll see Julie will be when I pop into her shop, but until then I’ll look forward to her Copenhagen blog post — she promised!
The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard. ~ S. Wilson
On Sunday, we headed to the beach to enjoy a nice fall day — crisp and clear and just what we needed to keep the spirits alive as we stare down the long winter. Funny thing about the winter is that, in a staring contest, the winter never really blinks. We always end up conceding and retreating.
At any rate, we brought Kristian’s little two-wheeler — a Raleigh step-thru with a cargo rack and full fenders, no less. He is three and had been eagerly awaiting the day he could ride on his own. As a dad, I had been, too. Until Sunday, and even on the way to the beach, I had been jamming a broom stick into the cargo rack, and I would hold it to keep him upright as he swerved around and we both laughed. Occasionally he would take a hard turn, and the back wheel would kick out, and he would say something like, ‘nah, det var sejt’ which means, ‘wooh, that was cool’ — he still speaks primarily Danish.
But when we got to the beach, the stick broke, and he just wanted to ride. So we took the next step — me running beside him and holding his back to keep him steady. Almost immediately, I realized this was, in fact, going to be a lot easier than I had expected. Physically, it made sense. On a bike, you instinctually auto-correct yourself so that you stay upright — even a three-year-old can do it without thinking. And because he had previously had the stick as a safety net, sometimes that overpowered the instinct resulting in spin outs and topples.
Realizing this, the next issue became the one which the opening quote alludes to — it’s the mental side of the equation; the letting go. I consider myself pretty under-protective (is that even a word? –the opposite of overprotective) — and Dorthe (my wife) would probably agree with that (rolling her eyes and probably inserting a ‘very’ in front of under-protective). But the bike ride metaphor holds true in every way — even for someone like me. I ran alongside Kristian knowing that he was capable of doing this on his own, but continually wanting to offer support even if it might not have been in the best interest of his learning to ride the bike.
The ride you see in this video might not be the all that impressive — though yesterday he rode all the way to the grocery store! — but we were still so proud and impressed with him. He was pretty proud of himself, too. In fact, when he stepped off the bike after the first few solo rides, he proudly proclaimed, ‘Jeg er en cykel rytter!’ — ‘I am a bike rider!’
Welcome to the club buddy — it’s lifetime membership and it only gets better from here…
I’ve been putting off telling the Christiania story for awhile now — mostly because other things get in the way or because the timing seems off. No excuses today, though — the lovely lady turns 40, so what better time to enlighten you with a little lore than here and now.
I should preface this post by saying, this story is not about the bikes — the bikes are a by-product of the community of Christiania. The bikes were born there, and, perhaps more than anything else, aside from maybe the flag of Christiania, have become a symbol of the this one-of-a-kind community. But before the bikes, there were the barracks…
In 1971, there existed a number of decommissioned military barracks in the Central Copenhagen neighborhood of Christianshavn (Christian’s Harbor). With little security at the time, a number of young people began trespassing and ultimately broke in to use the area as a playground for their children. Thereafter, although still largely unorganized, the ‘takeover’ became a symbolic protest against the Danish government — for at the time, there was a shortage of affordable housing in Copenhagen.
A few weeks later, on September 26, 1971 Christiania was declared ‘open’ by a Danish journalist Jacob Ludvigsen who had recently scouted out this new squatter community. Ludvigsen then co-authored the Christiania mission statement which proclaimed:
The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the well-being of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.
From this point forward Christiania became a symbol of the hippie movement of the early 70s, and, after some time, was ultimately supported and deemed a ‘social experiment’ by the Danish government. (facts from Wikipedia)
Through the years there have been triumphs and tribulations and on more than a few occasions the future of Christiania seemed bleak, but through it all, the Freetown (as it’s known by the Danes) has prevailed and still exists some 40 years later.
My first impressions…
My first glimpse of Christiania was in 2007 when I visited my future wife, whom at the time was pregnant with our son. During this time she was working at Loppen — ground zero for the best concerts in Christiania. It is a bar and restaurant that plays host to everything from small, Danish bands to well-known international acts. Cozy, and raucous at the same time, much like the rest of Christiania, I immediately felt at home in the old building. We later walked through the rest of the surrounding area and I was instantly hooked on the vibe of this wayward section of what would soon become the city I called home.
It’s really hard to quantify, or even put to words what makes Christiania special, which might be the very reason that I continually balk every time I sit down to write this entry. I suppose it’s some combination of variables that, when mixed together in the right proportions give you an outcome greater than the sum of its parts. And that notion, in and of itself, is the very core of Christiania’s mission — if we all give a little, we can, together, create so much more.
Sometimes the magic of Christiania is something as simple and specific as an impromptu sing-along in the middle of an outdoor cafe and the underlying feeling therein that no matter how crazy or bad you sing or dance, it’s all good. Other times it can be the dirty, barefoot kids running recklessly in the middle of the worn out streets — no one really watching them, but everyone making sure they’ll be okay. It’s the guy with the funny hat talking to God knows who and the way the afternoon light bounces off the glassy surface of the lake. Sometimes it’s just the feeling of warmth you get knowing that nobody there has an agenda — just living for the next beer or the last drag. Sometimes it can be that simple. Nowhere in the world is that more evident than in Christiania.
The lay of the land
Nestled in a corner of Central Copenhagen and bordered by a small lake, old ramparts, graffitied fences, and some rough looking buildings is what I often refer to as the wildest place I’ve ever encountered. Wild doesn’t mean scary — I’ve been to some places that make your heart skip a beat at every corner, even in the daylight — but rather magical, confusing, eccentric, and completely juxtaposed from it’s neighbors. When you’re there, in the bowels of the Freetown, it’s tough to fathom that right outside the gates is a fully functioning city complete with modern buildings, people who wear ties to work, commercial enterprise, traffic lights, trucks, and other organized chaos.
Within the Freetown is a collection of people, buildings, and businesses unlike any I have seen before. And unlike the organized chaos of the city that envelops the Freetown neighborhood, Christiania might better be described as disorganized harmony. At first glance it can be ragged and lawless, but give it a closer look and something should shine through.
I will say, without hesitation, that it’s not for everyone — it takes an open mind and willingness to look deeper. My mom didn’t get it. At all. She never will. Sorry Mom.
‘Demographically’ speaking, Christiania is filled with a comedic cast of characters — artists, intellectuals, teens, tokers, trike pedalers, winos, wizards, pushers, potheads, tourists, bearded fellas, and at the heart of it all, the locals — numbering somewhere around 900. Or as I heard on the news today, a ‘small one thousand’.
Upon arrival at the border — Christiania is, in fact an autonomous entity with a well-defined perimeter – most people will enter through one of the main entrances, both of which are situated on Prinsessegade (Princess Street) in Christianshavn. This gets you into the fray pretty quickly (immediately) and if you’re not ready for it, you might be thinking — this is not, at all what I was picturing. These two ports kick you right into the ‘commercial’ section of Christiania, the aptly named Pusher Street. Riff-raff run amok and are happy to greet you as you think about making the turn back into the trendy neighborhood you just came from.
To avoid this immediate culture shock, I’d always recommend entering from the quiet side of the lake — here, you will be greeted with the quaint and whimsical hand built houses that line the shores of the lake rather than the distortion and debauchery found on the main drag. In fact, if you never set foot on Pusher Street, you might be just as happy. It took me three visits to make it to Pusher Street and I’ll say that it’s (kind of) worth seeing but is certainly not at all what Christiania is really all about.
On the southwest side of the lake that runs through Christiania is a bike path. It starts out as a paved surface, but once you officially enter Christiania — a few hundred meters down, it turns into a rugged dirt path and is marked with a sign stating that you are entering a ‘car-free’ area.
I just wrote a fairly long description of what you will find thereafter and how to proceed only to erase it without hesitation — Christiania should be explored on your own terms. The simple advice to start on the quiet side should suffice — from there, my friends, it’s your trip…
Things to remember…
Christiania is one of Copenhagen’s biggest ‘tourist’ attractions, but this does not mean that you are in an amusement park — though sometimes, I’ll admit it does have that quality about it. The people that live here are real people and they appreciate their privacy. This is not to say that striking up conversation with a lady hanging up her laundry is out of the question — in fact, Christiania might be the only place in Denmark where this would be okay. The Danes, in general, are a very reserved people and rarely speak unless spoken to. Keep in mind, however, that chatting up this lady, or the guy chopping wood, could, in theory, lead to a pot of tea, a couple of beers, and some other mind-altering substances should you hit it off!
But I digress…
Basically what I am suggesting is this: even though Christiania is built on good times and good people, it does not give outsiders the green light for lawlessness — leave that for the locals!
That is as basic an intro as I can give you. I want to tell more, but it’s almost impossible to do — you really need to be there to see what it’s all about. I hope the photos will do some justice. We are also working on the final edit of a film to give a bit more insight, so if this peaks your imagination we’ve got more in the pipeline.
All of the above said and considered, it might be worthwhile to know where the bikes fit into this fairy tale. If you’re ready, then hop in the box and we’ll go for a little ride…
The Legendary Christiania Cargo Bikes…
Christiania was built on the premise that it would be a self-sustaining community, and so, it follows naturally that there was a premium put on sustainability. Imagine that — sustainability talk in the early 1970s — craaazzzy…
From the outset, Christiania was a car-free neighborhood — it still is. This simple rule makes the community so much more open and accessible. People talk in the streets, kids run freely, and bikes cruise by at mind-numbingly slow speeds. The social benefits of living car-free can be so easily and naturally seen here that you probably wouldn’t even notice them until they were brought to your attention.
The Christiania cargo bikes were the offspring of this ordinance and way of life. People needed to be able transport goods and their children from one part of the neighborhood to the other, and the bikes offered the quickest way to accomplish that.
Enter the Christiania Smedien (The Forge of Christiania).
Founded by a few locals, the Smedien first started making bicycle trailers in the mid-1970s. Prior to this, most of the transport bikes in Christiania came as a result of the locals scavenging many of the existing mid-century ‘long-johns’ from greater Copenhagen. When that stash was depleted, more utility-based bikes would be needed. The trailers where the simplest way to convert a regular bike into one made for hauling.
But necessity is the mother of invention…
And in 1984, Lars Engstrøm, one of the blacksmiths at the forge designed and built a transport trike similar, though noticeably smaller in appearance, to the industrial transport trikes common in the first half of the 20th century. He would make the first one for his wife, Annie, who at the time had her hands full with two young girls all the while working at the adjacent Kvindesmedien (the women’s forge). Lars presented it to her on her birthday.
As the story goes, Annie wasn’t overly thrilled with this contraption — she wanted a racing bike. But didn’t everyone want a 10-speed in the early 80s?
Unshaken, Lars loaded the kids in the box and Annie took it for a spin around the block. She came back with an ear to ear grin and the kids wanted to go for another trip. The rest, they say, is history…
The bikes, over the next few years were, more or less, confined to Christiania — residents rarely needed to leave the neighborhood and outsiders, at this point in time, had little desire to enter. But times changed and soon the bikes had spilled, in one way or another, onto the streets of the bustling city just outside the front door of the Freetown.
After awhile, all of the local orders had been met within Christiania — though this took some time, as everybody wanted one after that first, fateful ride. From there, Lars and the other smiths started to take outside orders and soon Smedien, tucked in the easternmost corner of Christiania, had become a full-fledged business, catering now to an increasingly ‘mainstream’ market.
By the mid-90s the demand had far exceeded what was possible in the small factory in Christiania, so Lars and Annie moved the production to the small Danish Island of Bornholm. The bikes are still, to this day, made in Bornholm — Lars is still in charge of the factory operations and Annie still handles all of the phone calls and emails. Only now, they live in the countryside and 20 other happy workers come in everyday to make bikes for people not just in Denmark, but around the world.
But Christiania did not get lost in the move. The original factory still exists, only now it serves as a retail location for people around Copenhagen to get their bikes. It still looks very much the same, I imagine, as it did when the production moved to Bornholm. Only now it serves as a final assembly point for the bikes and not as the main production facility. It should be noted that other bike shops sell Christiania bikes in Copenhagen, but Smedien is by far (and I mean far), the largest retailer of the bikes.
The fact that the bikes can still rightfully call the old neighborhood home, I think, provides a nice bit of continuity to the ever-changing story of Christiania…and her bikes.
HIDDEN BENEFIT #1: The kids like playing in them, even when you aren’t going for a bike ride…
Last week, I arrived home on my other bike and found Kristian and his friend Isak just playing in the box. They had it loaded with goodies and by the looks of it were pretending it was either 1.) a tour bus and they were rockers (hence the guitar) or 2.) a Viking ship (notice that dangerous looking Nordic sword)
The season 7 opener on Weeds has a great (though entirely fabricated) scene about Christiania – including a shout out about the ‘Fabulous Christiania Cargo Bikes’ (at 0:50). This clip is a bit rough, on purpose, so it is hard to see the bike – the shout out, however, is loud and clear!
We supplied the bike to Flying Pigeon and I recognized it right away, as it was a rather distinct set-up: black Brooks saddle, all black box, and steel frame – the only one of it’s kind in the States. A trained eye will see it off to the right (starting at 1:40) when Andy and Doug are sitting and chatting on the bench.
You will also notice a Pedersen bike in the background – also a native of Christiania.
This article appeared in the Copenhagen Post on June 16, 2011
By: Peter Stanners / Business
Cities across the world are looking to Copenhagen for inspiration on how to get their inhabitants out of cars and onto bikes – so much so that a new term has been coined for the trend, ‘Copenhagenisation’.
But even in cities that actively encourage cycling, the prevalence of self-powered transport is still mostly limited to the conventional two-wheeled variety. Cargo bikes, such as the Christiania, Trio or Nihola, are still a rarity outside Copenhagen despite offering a practical and relatively cheap alternative to a car for transporting people and cargo.
One American entrepreneur hopes to change that, however. Through his distribution company Boxcycles, Will Kearins has been selling the iconic Christiania bicycles in the United States for a year now, where they can be found in about 20 specialist bike stores across the country.
Like many foreigners in Denmark, Kearins moved to Copenhagen after meeting a Danish woman, who is now his wife. But after selling everything and moving over in 2007, he found it difficult to find work.
With plenty of time on his hands, Kearins was able to wander the streets and soak in the bicycle culture – which is when he noticed the cargo bicycles.
“I was intrigued by the bikes. It’s such a great idea and we had not seen anything like it in the US,” he told The Copenhagen Post.
After taking a course in entrepreneurship at CBS, his initial plan was to design his own bike to manufacture for the American market. The high costs involved forced him to change tack, however, and he instead drew up a business plan to export Christiania bikes to the Unites States.
“I liked the Christiania bikes the best because they have this cool edge to them and they weren’t being imported to the US at the time,” he said, explaining why he targeted the most iconic, and expensive, cargo bike manufacturer.
The company took a bit of convincing, but after Kearins demonstrated that he was as interested in exporting the whole culture of cargo bikes and was not just in it to earn a quick buck, Christiania Bikes relented and let Kearins send over some test bikes to the US.
“I quickly realised there was more pent-up demand for them than I had thought,” Kearins said. “I didn’t think people knew about them but there were a lot of people who had been to Copenhagen and had seen them.”
With over 100 sold in the first year and double that expected for the second, the business has found the majority of its customers in cities with established bicycle cultures, such as Portland in Oregon, New York and coastal towns in California.
But while the bikes, which retail for approximately 14,000 kroner in Denmark and about $2,700 in the US, are slowly finding a following, convincing people to pay the same cost as a small car for a tricycle with a wooden box attached to the front is still proving a difficult task.
“What’s interesting is that in Copenhagen everybody has them from rich to poor and I am trying to relay that – because people often look at the price-tag and think they can’t afford it,” he said.
And even if he manages to convince his customers that it is a sound economic investment – that the low running costs easily pays dividends when compared to the cost of petrol and maintenance of a second car – there is still work to be done convincing some people that Christiania Bikes are practical and not an expensive gimmick.
“It’s still seen as side-show in the US. People seem to like it but they don’t see it as a viable option. But the task is to transfer the Copenhagen model to the US not just the bike. I want them to look at Copenhagen and say: ‘It’s great, people use them all the time.’ It’s not just a toy or contraption. People still say ‘What’s that?’ when you ride past them on the street. We need to get beyond that novelty,” he explained.
“That’s going to be the key to its success. You can go on about the specifications but people want to see it in practice so we use social media showing pictures from Copenhagen to show them in their setting.”
To Kearins, owning a cargo bike is a lifestyle choice that offers a raft of health and environmental benefits as a result of being active and not consuming petrol, but whose primary selling point is the freedom of movement and mobility that cars once offered before congestion became the norm.
“I had that helpless feeling out in the traffic. That’s why the bikes are so great, having the opportunity to be outdoors,” he enthused. “For me it’s the fun factor that I like the most about it. The health and environmental effects are just side benefits.”
Cargo bicycles have also found a market in the United Kingdom where the same marketing problems face Carolyn and Martin Roberts who run ‘Kids and Family Cycles’. Their online business based in Devon is the sole UK distributor of the Bella cargo bikes that are similar in style to the Christiania.
“I was looking for some way of not using the car and transporting children to and from daycare. One day I was searching on the internet and came across them. They changed my life,” Roberts told The Copenhagen Post.
Just as in the US, the bicycles are viewed with a degree of scepticism.
“I think people are quite shocked at the cost of them and people do see them as a little bit odd,” Roberts explained. “But people are beginning to understand the concept, and with the high petrol prices right now it’s a rational solution to transportation, especially as their resale value is quite high.”
With the company in its third year selling the bikes across the country, Roberts described the business as viable, while her presence on the streets of her town ferrying her children to and from school garners plenty of attention and free publicity.
“I get stopped everywhere and asked about them, and we get emails from customers saying that it’s changed their lives,” she added.
But just like Kearins, it’s the freedom of being outdoors that is the major selling point.
“I get to be outside biking through the forest home with the kids, which is a route I could never take in a car.”
Entrepreneurs like Kearins and Roberts have identified cargo bicycles as a transport solution that is practical, fun, healthy and environmentally conscious. The question still remains, however, whether car culture has too much of a grip on the US and the UK for people to take the plunge and invest in something as eccentric as an adult-sized tricycle. Should they be successful, however, it will only reinforce Copenhagen as a leader in intelligent design and transport solutions – something we in Copenhagen already know too well.