Jonathon Harker gets the inside perspective on the Danish cycle industry...
Certain countries in Northern Europe seem to have a knack of taking cycling to a level that others can seemingly only dream of, from Germany’s dizzying high bike sales, to Holland’s overtly cycle-centric culture.
Denmark is another territory where bikes are very much in fashion, exemplified by capital Copenhagen.
“For foreign visitors, any Danish town or city would look like paradise,” explains Mikael Colville-Andersen – a Danish filmmaker and photographer, but better know to the cycle world as the man behind popular blogs Copenhagenize.com and Copenhagen Cycle Chic.
“Bicycle infrastructure is widespread and well-established. We established the world's first national bicycle network in the early 1990s so you can get anywhere you need to go on the 10,000 km or so of bicycle routes. Our third largest city, Odense, has done the most regarding traffic calming and further development of its bicycle infrastructure.
“Our second city of Aarhus is lagging behind. They only have about 25 per cent trips by bicycle.”
Only? A quarter of all trips made by bike is the kind of statistic to make Boris turn an envious shade of green.
But how has Denmark cultivated this enviably pro-bicycle culture? According to Colville-Andersen it’s something the country has worked hard at, and for a number of years.
“The main aspect is that Copenhagen, in the 1970s and 1980s, returned to urban planning that revolved around the bicycle after a dark period of two decades or so of catering for the car. When you think bicycle first and car second you are automatically handed the freedom to expand your bicycle traffic and get more Citizen Cyclists onto bicycles.”
Normalisation of cycling, that Holy Grail for bicycle advocates, has been key to the Danish success story.
“The bicycle has skipped a generation in many countries but in Denmark it only skipped a couple of decades before we started to take it seriously again. In that lost generation the bicycle was only really promoted as a sport or recreational activity, which has left hundreds of millions of people thinking that the only way to ride a bicycle is to join a sub-cultural group and invest in a whole lot of gear. We have a proud tradition of racing in Denmark, but we've never had to struggle with sub-cultures dominating the 'brand' - and often jealously protecting it from outsiders.”
In trading terms
It’s no great surprise that anyone operating in the Danish cycle industry will benefit from that all-round popularity of cycling.
“The advantages would definitely be that everyone is into bike riding in some way or another,” puts Simple Bike Company’s Niels Thanild. “You will see bike shops everywhere in Copenhagen, and they are all super-busy, so it's great!”
The independent sector is thriving too. Danske Cykelhandlere, the Danish trade association for bicycle dealers estimates IBD share of the market is in the region of 63 per cent, and has remained fairly constant over the past three years.
“I run three different aspects of business here, Simple Bike Co, Sunshine Distribution and Bmxbutikken.dk,” Niels Thanild explains. “Simple is a high-end BMX frame and component company, Sunshine is a distribution company with the main focus on BMX, although we have stepped up a notch and taken on Niner mountainbikes, Capix helmets and Charge Bikes as well. Bmxbutikken.dk is a mailorder shop.”
Thanild is positive about the advantages of operating in the Danish market: “Denmark is known as the bicycle capital of the world, or so I have been told, and that means that there are loads and loads of bikes here. Copenhagen is great when it comes to bikes. There are bike lanes everywhere, with traffic lights especially for bikes. We have a public bike system where you can borrow a bike for a deposit of a little less than two GBP and ride it around the city. The majority of the people in Copenhagen rides bikes on a regular basis."
Thanild’s Simple brand, distributed here in the UK by Mint, also takes inspiration from Scandinavia’s minimalist design ethos in its BMX bikes. “There is obviously a large market for bikes here, although BMX represents a very small corner of that. The companies that I have set up here are all focused on quality and high-end stuff, so locally we just take on a small corner of the market. But BMX is growing, though when you look at our neighbours like Germany or perhaps France or the UK, we are really small. I think Berlin would have more riders than Sweden.”
Burgeoning markets and bikes in general have much to look forward to in the territory, according to Thanild: “There are a lot of things going on with bikes in Copenhagen, many different projects to help promote riding a bike. We have the Worlds in road racing here, a part of the UCI BMX race, the Bicycle Film Festival, and loads of smaller events.
“For the BMX side of things, we have just taken over a large warehouse in the old Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen, and are setting up ramps there. And in December they plan to finish this massive cement park as well. So there are loads of new openings for places to ride and the sport to grow.”
With facilities and events backing bikes, the challenge for the Danish market is, as ever, to build on its success and enhance its framework.
Over to Colville-Andersen: “Infrastructure-wise, the city's bicycle planners say that we are near completion. There are very few streets left that don't have cycle tracks running parallel. Now the biggest challenge is encouraging more people to ride. We will have to widen our cycle tracks to accommodate more bicycle traffic and the growing popularity of cargo bikes is also a reason to increase the average width. We need to tackle getting people to cut down on short trips, too.”
Despite a very mild dip in bike unit sales (see below) Denmark remains a model of how to boost bicycling levels – and its accompanying bicycle industry – through a relentless commitment to infrastructure and – perhaps most important of all – normalising cycling for its population.
In 2009 the Danish bicycle market shifted an estimated 520, 489 units, down slightly from a boom in 2008 of 543,533 and 2007 of 554,300. Overall though, the unit total is far up on the 452k and 484k in 2002 and 2003 respectively, proving bike sales are generally enjoying a positive trend.
Import figures are slightly more complex. According to Danske Cykelhandlere, the Danish trade association for bicycle dealers, import figures from the Danish Statistical Bureau were incorrect and have been altered by the trade accordingly. The revised figures put imports at 475,000 for 2009, down from 490,000 in ’08 and the same figure in ’08.
Bike production has slipped far more significantly, however. In 2009 65,155 were built – down from 83,103 in 2008 and 106,573 in 2007. Understandably, exports have also dropped – to 19,666 in 2009 from 29,570 in ’08 and 42,273 in ’07.
City bikes (with internal gearhubs) have reigned supreme as the biggest bike sector in Denmark for the past three years, making up 35 per cent of sales in the territory. Closely following is the classic Dutch bike style of bike, taking a significant 25 per cent of the market.
Mountain bike share has grown slightly, from nine per cent in 2007 to eleven per cent in 2009. Racing bikes have a 10 per cent share, trekking bikes have seven per cent and children’s bikes have a nine per cent share. The e-bike share is growing, albeit modestly. Back in 2007 e-bikes claimed 0.5 per cent of the market and in 2009 that grew to two per cent.
Figures reproduced with the kind permission of Danske Cykelhandlere.
Jonathon Harker gets the inside perspective on the Danish cycle industry...