Recumbent Riders React to Colville-Andersen

Background Reading


The folks on the BentRideOnline Forum took a swipe or two at Mikael Colville-Andersen and his somewhat condescending attitude towards our reactions towards his vision of cycling. I guess sometimes when assume the role of Prophet in the Church of Urban Cycling there comes a time to consider excommunication of the non-believers. What is very telling is that of his recently released list of the world’s top 20 bike-friendly cities not one U.S. city made the list.

Credit: Susan Handy Women bicyclists in Copenhagen, where more than half of all bike trips are made by female riders. Danish law does not require bike helmets.

Credit: Susan Handy
Women bicyclists in Copenhagen, where more than half of all bike trips are made by female riders. Danish law does not require bike helmets.

The 2013 Copenhagenize Index of the world’s most bike-friendly cities is out, and not a single American metropolis made the top 20.

That’s a problem — and not just a health-related one, said Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize, the consulting and communications company that published the Index.

By failing to embrace cycling culture, American cities are losing out on significant financial benefits, Colville-Andersen told Business Insider. Studies show that every kilometer cycled in Denmark earns the country €.23 (partly because cyclists have been shown to spend more money in local stores), he said.

And even with significant taxation of automobiles, every kilometer driven in Denmark costs the country €.16.

The problem in the U.S. is all about perception, said Colville-Andersen. Many commuters see cycling as a form of exercise, not convenient transport, and cities are still being built around automobiles.

Here are some BentRiderOnline reactions to the blathering by High Priest of the Church of Urban Cycling, Colville-Andersen:


What Mikael Colville-Andersen doesn’t “get” about America is that our commute distances are FAR longer, over different terrain than Copenhagen. He doesn’t “get” that not all cyclists are going to be content with the dangerous nodes of contact between his beloved bike lanes and the rest of traffic (And Copenhagen loses a LOT of folks to crashes in those intersections, telling me as a bicycle driver that the intersections are the problem, not the rest of the roads–more on that in a moment). He doesn’t “get” that not all cyclists are content to ride at seven miles an hour in what is essentially a gutter for bikes, no matter how much extra the city spends on the upkeep of said gutter. He doesn’t “get” that America is not going to spend the kind of money on segregation structure that he prizes (no, I am NOT a second-class road user, to be shunted off into a parallel infrastructure to appease some car-centric, anti-bicycle ideal of “it’ll be safer” BS when the real reason is that you want bike riders out of the way of faster-moving traffic).

Colville-Andersen penned a piece calling automobiles the metaphorical sacred bull in society’s china shop a couple years ago. He makes a point, but society isn’t ready to get rid of cars, and won’t any time soon.

Where bike lanes in general fail miserably is where they intersect with the rest of the world. Intersections become far more complicated, at the cost of safety (over-taxing minds already paying less-than-ideal attention to the already complicated task of driving a motor vehicle with extra paint–what can go wrong? Portland Oregon has removed some of those horrid bike box things after they found cyclist deaths and injuries INCREASED as a direct result of those horrid bike boxes. What does THAT tell you?). Adding a bike lane, then adding a “no right turn on red,” then adding a set of bollards, then adding a set of lights for bicyclists (which reduces LOS for EVERYONE)…Rube Goldberg is a very poor traffic engineer.

So, in short, I consider any ranking system devised by Mikael Colville-Andersen to be of dubious value. His approach seems a bit “one size fits all” for me.

Steve Christensen
I’d say more stupid than interesting, though the comments by the author are actually pretty good – in contrast to the silly ideas of the “expert”. Like pointing out that “American standards of hygiene tend to be more demanding than those in Europe, and sweating at one’s desk is usually frowned upon.” so that for us cycling to work without showers will often not work.

The sad and dumb thing about bikes in the US is the fact they are looked on as a kids toy. It is true of the guys I have worked with for 30 years or more. We are now all retired, me being the last to quit work. I had golfed with them years ago. They are now in an old farts league, and expected me to play with them when I retired. But————they alway rent carts, so get almost no exercise at all. So I have lunch with them in the winter, but I cycle in the summertime. The situation here is that I am one of the two oldest of the group, and am in far better shape than any of them. I realize I have been blessed with excellent health, but I am 100% certain that cycling has allowed me to stay in far better shape than the other guys.

BTW there was no way I could bike to work when working as I needed my car to carry a service case and parts. I kind of envied people that just worked in an office all day, because Im sure I would have bike to work weather permitting.

What I like best is how he implies that that “Copenhagenize” ranking is somehow scientific or fact-based.

I live in Germany and know all German cities and some of the other cities mentioned in that ranking.

While Berlin may deserve to be mentioned, there are much better cycling cities in Germany which aren’t mentioned; and Munich and especially Hamburg have no business being in that list at all. Most parts of Hamburg are horribly dangerous and inconvenient for cyclists, and I’m sure there are cities in the US which are much better than that.

And while Copenhagen might be nice, it certainly doesn’t deserve 2nd place, considering that there are at least five dutch cities which are more convenient and less dangerous for cyclists.

I also don’t get why Barcelona made the list, it didn’t strike me as being especially friendly towards cyclists.

I can only assume the only reason no US city made the list is because the authors didn’t bother visiting any US cities.

Whilst I find the article poor, there is still a decidedly valid point: in the States a bicycle simply is not viewed upon as a vehicle – or a viable form of urban transportation. A bike is either a children’s toy or a piece of fitness equipment.

As for the dangers of the Danish bike lanes? Well, in Denmark (not just Copenhagen) we had a total of 22 cyclists killed in 2012 – that’s with an estimated 1,5 million cyclists on danish streets every day of the year. Though this is obviously 22 cyclists too many, that number is actually less than the number of cyclists killed in New York City alone – where bikes truly are few and far between. Cycling is actually pretty safe in Denmark.

Regardless of the Stateside notion of “taking the lane” (which is illegal in Europe), bicycle lanes are MUCH safer than riding in trafic. I, for one, would not like to ride the 15 miles in the dark to and from work whilst “taking the lane”… but have no problem taking the trip in the dedicated bike lane.

Keep in mind, though, that a bicycle lane in Denmark isn’t just the outermost strip of road near the gutter, but in fact a separate parallel and often raised path.

For cycling to become as integral and natural a piece of urban living as it is our side of the pond, what is needed is infrastructure and education – I really think that’s all the article tries to say… a notion I find it hard to fault.



Steve Christensen
Your point about this being food for thought, not an attack, is essentially what rubbed me wrong about the piece. Saying someone doesn’t “get” it is not usually a compliment.

The article was indeed poorly written: The title is sensationalist (certain to deter American readers), its premise poorly presented and its conclusions shoddily developed with a presentation that left a lot to be desired.

All of the above detracts from this sad piece of writing, not the decidedly interesting and important debate on urban transportation and the position of the bicycle in America.




Actually automobiles are not the problem. Drivers that insist on poor driving habits and complete disregard for the basic speed law ARE the problem. What we need more than anything in the USA is better motorist and cyclist education, and enforcement of driving sensibly for both group groups. Fix this, and the bicycle specific infrastructure is just a minor add-on to be used in a few places where it’s really helpful (bike lane for a uphill grade on a 2 lane road for example).


Riding in the middle of the lane (i.e. taking the lane), where in mainland Europe is that allowed?

In Denmark bicycles are not allowed to change lanes either and to do a left turn, you have to come to a full stop at the side of the road before crossing straight over. This stuff is a mandatory part of our schools’ curriculum.




If bicyclists are not allowed out of the bike-specific infrastructure, then that infrastructure had better be @#$%^& complete. It had #@#%#$ better allow me to make a left turn when appropriate for my goals, or it’s worthless to me.

No, it’s quite a bit safer for me to ride as part of traffic, thank you very much. I’m much more visible, I have more room to deal with traffic and pavement faults and debris and other cyclists (I’ve seen enough video of hyper-crowded Danish cycle tracks–I couldn’t imagine being even a little bit comfortable there!), and we as a society don’t have to spend insane amounts of money on unnecessary extra pavement and traffic gewgaws and “majick painte.”


As I wrote earlier, Denmark, a country less than 1/3 the size of New York State, has more than 6000 miles of bike lanes… So yeah, I would rate the infrastructure as rather good…

Wherever did I write that cyclists were not allowed to ride in the street? Cyclists are not allowed to ride in the middle of the lane, you are to ride as far to the right as is safe. Where did I write that left turns could not be made? I wrote that you had to come to a full stop at the side of the road before crossing.

Again, these are trafic laws in a country where cycling infrastructure is great and virtually everyone is a cyclist in one form or another and where cycling – statistically speaking – is a much safer proposition than what you know in the States. Whether or not swearing will increase your safety where you live, when you change over three lanes of traffic to do a left turn, I don’t know…

The main difference is that bikes never went away in Denmark and thus all street users are aware of bikes and both respect and know how bikes are supposed to behave. What is being discussed is essentially trying to reintroduce a means of transportation into American cities, that has been out of the public eye for 60 years or so… Obviously a difficult task.




Per (1) above, you mention that lane control (or, as some call it stateside, “driver behavior”) is illegal segregates cyclists as second-class road users in a society dominated by motor vehicle use. What you said pretty much translates to saying that cyclists are not allowed to ride in the street (if there is a bike gutter, er, lane present).

You may like being on an imagined pedestal, having all that “special” infrastructure just for cycling–I, however, find it reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome.

Using the full lane, I have much better visibility at my riding speeds (which exceed the design speed for most if not all urban cycletracks by a factor of two much of the time). At speeds greater than fifteen or eighteen miles an hour (24-29 km/h or so), a five-foot-wide bike lane is claustrophobic, especially if the pavement is not billiard-table fine or there is debris/trash/etc. to dodge, and ESPECIALLY so at night. If there are more than ten cyclists in a block, a five-foot-wide (or even two meter wide) bike lane is over capacity. Heck, just trying to pass the one other cyclist in a bike lane taxes the capacity of the lane at that spot.

Per your (2) above, a raised path may not carry storm drainage as does a gutter, but it’s still a ghetto, where cyclists are shunned from participation in the rest of society due to some perception of them being “weak” or “in need of protection.” This is one of my peeves about the rise of so-called “vulnerable road user” laws in the States–they set up a discrimination of a road user class as “less than fully competent,” ignoring that many of us are more competent than the majority of motor vehicle drivers. I could go on, but it would be a digression.

Also, you refer to many of your cycletracks as raised, or grade separated. That makes for a darned inconvenient parallel road to the one that has links via driveways or turn lanes that allow me to get to where I’m going if it’s on the opposite side of the road. That a rider in Copenhagen has to go to the end of the block before waiting for a chance to get across the road or backtrack to a business makes it a poor system for me. Having a through lane to the outside of a lane from which a motor vehicle is allowed to turn (i.e. bike lane to the right, and a motorist can turn right from a lane to the left of the bike lane) is one of: a) engineering ineptitude, b) engineering malpractice, or c) engineering malevolence against cyclists.

My point–that Colville-Andersen is blinkered by his love for bike lanes in a town where they actually sort-of make sense for transportation in a dense urban area to the point that he fails miserably to understand the challenges his ideal would face anywhere else in the world–still stands. His rating system remains of dubious value.

Visit the site and read the remainder of this thread. I left out a good deal of stuff. So you will not be disappointed should you continue in your reading.