The Five Urban Cycling Senses

Mikael Colville-Andersen
18 min readJan 12, 2022

It’s a touchy-feely thing, urban cycling. It’s physical, organic and a feast for the senses. I’m sure the spandexy dudes get all sensory on their fancy bikes as they measure their watts or whatever they do, but this is about the Five Urban Cycling Senses in a bicycle-friendly city where your bike is your fifth limb — and all the inherent poetry involved in that.

People don’t talk about ‘cycling’ here in Copenhagen. You don’t get to work and discuss the morning’s commute with your colleagues. You may comment on the rain and whether or not you were caught in it but the whole act of urban cycling is so second-nature that it isn’t even mentioned. Which allows you to experience — and sense — a whole lot more when you’re not geeking out about your ride.

A lot of the content in this article is covered in various forms in my book about urban cycling: Copenhagenize — the definitive guide to global urban cycling. Available where you get your books — hopefully. It’s also available in a German and Polish version and Ukrainian is on the way this year — 2022.

Morning rush hour — Copenhagen style

We don’t have many cyclists in Copenhagen. What we do have is roughly 400,000 citizens in Greater Copenhagen who happen to get around by bike because the city has been designed for it. Sure, there are groups that hang out together like everywhere else. The sub-cultural bike messenger crowd and the fixies do their funky thang together. The wool-socks in sandals/trimmed greying beard crowd join the boomer-friendly Cyclists’ Federation.

The rest of us just ride around because it’s easy and fast. Indeed, since the 1990s, the majority of Copenhageners state that their main reason for riding a bike is that it is quick and convenient. 57%, in fact. Some 17% mention exercise as their primary motivation and only 1% say they do it for the environment. This is integral information for cities. If you want people to ride, you build infrastructure and make it the fastest way from A to B. I call it A2Bism — you can see more about it right here.

For years as part of my ongoing research into urban cycling, I’ve asked friends and colleagues what they like about riding their bike…

Mikael Colville-Andersen

Urban designer, author and host of the global documentary series about urbanism, The Life-Sized City. Impatient Idealist.