Author with a free bicycle in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is now hogging the headlines as the host of the largest and most important UN climate change conference ever.

I spent five days there just two months ago on a holiday with my wife. Aside from its environment-friendly culture, we were in awe of the history and architecture of many sites in Copenhagen, especially its cathedrals and museums.

Copenhagen is unforgettable too for its 25% Value Added Tax and S$300-a-night four-star hotel rooms! 

Adding to the cost are small taxes for the green cause. My hotel bill came with an environment tax. When I bought bottled drinks, I was charged a small fee which I would get back if I returned the bottles empty to a recycling station.

(Sorry, tourists got no time to do that. I will let somebody pick up the bottles from the trash bin and make a little money out of it).

Copenhagen, which Reader’s Digest ranked as the No. 10 greenest and most livable city in the world in 2007, however, has something that is free - bicycles.

We learnt of the free bicycles by chance on the last full day of our stay - at a tourist information office where we had gone to find out where we could rent a bike.

Since there were free bicycles, we might as well save some money – an amount that was not peanuts (cheapest rental rate is about S$23 a day and a deposit of S$140 is necessary at Rent a Bike, the largest bike rental company in Copenhagen).

The free bicycles could be had at over 110 sites.

To free the bicycle, slot in a DKK20 coin, and pull out the chain that is attached to a stand.
Photo by Leong Chan Teik

You just slot in a coin (worth DKK20, or S$6) to free a chain that secures the bicycle to a permanent stand. It’s exactly how you would take a trolley from a supermarket.

There are some 1,300 bicycles available all over the city – but not surprisingly, we couldn’t find any at the first few sites we went to as they were located in high-traffic areas.

After about 20 minutes, we found two at a site that was off a main road.

Such bicycles are distinguishable by their spokeless wheels. In their place are advertisements.

We recognised a downside of this scheme --- after you have gone around and decided to park the bicycle at a spot to visit, say, a museum, you could return to find it has been taken away by another user.

Now, that would pose some inconvenience but not too much, if you are prepared to walk or take alternative transport.

As tourists, we didn’t mind. And as it was cool autumn, we relished the opportunity to exercise in comfort.

Cycling around was as convenient as could be. Special lanes are provided for bicyclists.

It was fascinating to watch people cycle - even executives in jacket and tie, and pretty women in fashionable wear.

City Hall, opened in 1905: An example of the fascinating architecture in Copenhagen.
Photo by Leong Chan Teik

Given the relatively little congestion and pollution caused by cars and buses, we had no reason not to cycle.

We were happy to cover a large part of the city, cycling past beautiful gardens and towering cathedrals and rivers for several hours before we stopped by the National Museum. There was a designated bicycle stand for free bicycles, and we chained them and collected back our DKK 20 coins.

When we came out a few hours later, one of the bicycles was gone. In any case, we decided it was no hassle to walk to our next destination – our hotel.

Right now, I imagine, there might be delegates to the climate conference who are cycling in the city, and enjoying the experience as thoroughly as we did.

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