Everything you need to know about buying and riding a bicycle in Denmark

Denmark is the country of the bicycle. In Copenhagen, there are more bicycles than people. They outnumber cars more than five to one, and account for half of all trips. So how do foreigners coming to Denmark saddle up?

Everything you need to know about buying and riding a bicycle in Denmark
A couple has a bicycle repaired at a shop in Thisted. Photo: Niclas Jessen/Visit Denmark

What’s it like riding a bicycle in Denmark? 

Danes ride fast. This is particularly the case in Copenhagen (and maybe in Aarhus) during the morning commute when cycle lanes can become like race tracks, so keep an eye out for people bombing past you in the outside lane.

It’s important to follow the rules. If you don’t people will tell you, so prepare to be told off.

“There’s nothing more aggressive than a Dane riding a bike,” complains one foreigner. 

What bicycle etiquette and rules do I need to follow in Denmark? 

You should ride your bicycle like you would ride a car, sticking to the right-hand side of both roads and cycle lanes, particularly if a cycle lane is two-way. If you are going fast, you should overtake slower cyclists on the outside, and then return to the slow lane to make way for even speedier riders. 

Don’t drive on the pavement, the wrong way down a cycle lane, or the wrong side of the road. Danes hate this. 

Don’t cycle alongside a friend having a chat. 

Use hand signals. Holding your left hand up means that you are stopping. Sticking your right hand out means you are turning right. A hand to the left means a left turn.

Don’t talk on your phone while cycling. (You can get fined 1,000 kroner) 

Photo: Visit Denmark

How do you get hold of a bike? 

Denmark has been a cycling country for so long that its big cities have built up enormous reserves of 30-year-old bone-rattlers from Danish brands like Kildemoes, Everton, Centurion, and MBK, which are endlessly repaired and resold.

The advantage of buying one of these is that they’re much less likely to get stolen, and they’re so cheap that you can, like many Danes do, leave one chained up waiting in the city centre, and then commute in by train. The disadvantage is that it might not run that smoothly, and it certainly won’t look slick. 

Den Blå Avisen, Denmark’s online auction site, is the traditional place to go for a second-hand bike. You can search by post number. Facebook Marketplace has obviously been taking away some of their business, as have the several Facebook groups where people sell used bikes, such as Buy a Bike Copenhagen, or Aarhus Bike Marketplace

If you’re willing to pay a few hundred kroner extra, you can also buy decent second-hand bikes at one of the bike repair shops you find everywhere in big Danish cities. Perhaps the quickest and safest way to get a second-hand bike is to go to one of the slicker second-hand operators like Buddhabikes or the Baisekeli chain, although you’ll pay a bit more.

The auction house Lauritz sells bikes retrieved or seized by the Danish police. 

If you want a new bike, you should expect to pay at least 5,000 kroner, and perhaps even double that if you’re looking for something special. Velohouse is a nice bike shop. 

For those on a visit, you can rent bikes easily all over Denmark. Check out this map from Visit Denmark to see some of the more popular rental shops. In Copenhagen, Baisekeli’s rental arm seems popular. 

The Dutch bicycle rental company Swapfies rents out sturdy Dutch bikes at reasonable monthly rates, which is a great alternative for people making short stays.

If you just need a bike for an hour or so, Donkey Republic has bikes all over Copenhagen and Aarhus. Just download the app

How do I make sure a second-hand bike is not stolen? 

It has been mandatory since 1942 for each bicycle sold in Denmark to have a unique identity number cut into its frame to prevent theft. When you’re buying a second-hand bicycle you should first take down the stelnummer or “frame number” and check on the Danish police’s stolen bike database to see if it has been reported stolen. 

On DBA, it’s best to only do business with users who have validated their identity using their Nem-ID, as if the bike later turns out to be stolen it is then easy to identify and track down the seller. If they haven’t validated their identity, it’s a good indication that they’re up to no good.

How do I make sure my bike doesn’t get stolen? 

You’ll hear foreigners in Denmark moan, but cycle theft in the country has been in steady decline for at least a decade, with around 40,000 reports of cycle theft in 2020, compared to well over 100,000 back in the mid-1990s.

The best way to avoid having your bike stolen is of course to invest in a sturdy lock, preferably two, and, if possible, not to leave your bike chained up outside overnight. 

What do I do if it does get nicked?

You should report the theft to the police here, which will at least get the frame number on the stolen bikes register (even if police are unlikely to make much effort to find it). 

Can I get my bike insured? 

If you’ve splashed out on a half-decent cycle, you may want to insure it. Cycle insurance in Denmark is included as part of general household contents insurance. You may have to pay an additional supplement to get cover for an expensive bike, while if your bike only cost 500 kroner, that probably won’t be covered.

Member comments

  1. You didn’t mention that most Danes completely ignore the rules of the road when they are on a bicycle. Stop at a red light and you maybe the only person waiting, everyone else will fly past you. I have been shouted at for getting in their way.

    Which is quite weird because when on foot they will wait at a crossing for the green man even when the road is empty for miles in each direction.

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What are the hardest things about moving to provincial Denmark as a foreigner?

Foreign residents who have moved to lesser-known regions of the country share their experiences of life in provincial Denmark. 

Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators?
Provincial regions of Denmark want to attract skilled foreign workers, but what are the biggest challenges faced by relocators? Photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Editor’s note: there are of course also many positives about living in provincial Denmark, and people based in those areas were happy to share those too. Read what they said in this article.

When Lea Cesar moved from Slovenia to the town of Ringkøbing in 2011, she didn’t know much about the region of western Jutland. 

“In the beginning, I didn’t like how difficult it was to find a job as a foreigner in a smaller city,” Cesar told The Local. Back then she didn’t speak Danish, and that made it hard to find a job that matched her skills and qualifications. 

“I later took it as a challenge and started my own company,” Cesar said, opening a cafe and bakery called Baking Sins in central Ringkøbing. Once she’d taken things into her own hands, she thrived and came to love her town. 

“I love the small shops with handcrafted products,” she said, drawing a comparison to the big shops and chain stores of larger cities. “The culture here is totally different. Ringkøbing is a smaller town, but feels big enough for me.”

Considering the pros and cons of a life in lesser-known parts of Denmark has never been more relevant, as the Danish government amps up efforts to decentralise Denmark and municipalities look to internationals to balance out declining populations. 

READ ALSO: Is it easier for foreigners to find a job outside Denmark’s major cities?

There may be fewer job opportunities, depending on your industry and Danish language skills

Fewer job opportunities, Cesar said, is one of the primary differences between living in a town like Ringkøbing versus a larger city. 

“There aren’t as many companies here searching for employees that only speak English,” she said. “I think it’s important to speak at least basic Danish; otherwise it would be hard to come here.”

Antoniya Petkov, originally from Bulgaria, faced similar challenges finding work when she moved to Ringkøbing several years ago after her husband accepted a job at a wind energy company in the area. 

“Most of the job opportunities in my field in the area require a high level of Danish language, which I am still working toward,” Petkov told The Local. 

In the meantime, she continues to commute to Aarhus, where she works as a technical recruiter in systematics at a large Danish software firm. “However, there are a lot more opportunities for developers, engineers and people with a technical job profile where Danish isn’t required,” Petkov said.

Even in technical roles, Danish proficiency helps. 

Victor Balaban, originally from Moldova, moved to Vejle while working at Siemens Gamesa. Although he said there are plenty of job opportunities in the region, Balaban said his options would be significantly more limited if he didn’t speak Danish.

Candice Progler-Thomsen, an American living in Lolland, said Danish proficiency is “almost essential” to find a job in the municipality. “There will be greater job opportunities here for individuals who learn Danish,” she told The Local. 

And, because it’s a smaller area with fewer employers, Progler-Thomsen said people may need to be willing to commute or otherwise expand their job search.

READ ALSO: Why (and how) Danish provincial areas want to hire skilled foreign workers

On the other hand, there may also be less competition for jobs in lesser-known parts of Denmark, said Mariola Kajkowska. 

Originally from Poland, Kajkowska moved to Vejle in 2019, where she works as an employee retention consultant. “There are often fewer applicants for each job, which increases your chance to be selected for the position,” she said.

Speaking Danish is important, professionally and socially

When Petkov first moved to Ringkøbing, it was challenging that she didn’t speak Danish. It was hard to do daily tasks, like communicate with workers at her children’s daycare or chat with her neighbours.

“People were distant at first when we bought our house in a typical Danish neighbourhood,” she said. 

It was very different from Aarhus, where they had lived before moving to Ringkøbing. “Aarhus has a huge international community,” she said. “We were always able to find friends and it was easy to get by speaking English.”

Petkov also missed the variety of English events and activities available in Aarhus. “But, we compensate by going to international events in the municipality,” she said.

Balaban, who established baseball clubs in both Herning and Vejle, said being a part of the community and getting involved is integral to building a social network and making friends in Vejle. “You have to be an active part of society,” he said.

Although learning Danish was a challenge, Petkov also saw it as an opportunity. “I’m not sure I would have learned Danish if we were living in Copenhagen or Aarhus,” she said. “You just don’t need it much there.”

Now, she’s learned enough Danish to engage in small talk with her neighbours. “Once people got used to us, we felt very welcome,” Petkov said, “though I don’t think we will ever blend completely.”

Chris Wantia, also a resident of Ringkøbing-Skjern Municipality, has found Danish to be integral to life in rural Denmark. 

He lives in the village of Bork Havn, population 300. “When I walk out of my house, I don’t expect my 65-year-old Danish neighbour to speak to me in English,” Wantia told The Local.

“English may be fine in the big cities, but speaking Danish here is important,” he said, adding that it would have been very challenging to purchase and renovate the two homes he and his wife, Janine, own in the municipality if he didn’t speak Danish. 

A second silver lining Petkov has identified is that living in Ringkøbing has also enabled her family to engage more deeply with Danes and Danish culture, adding that most of her friends are Danish. 

“If you really want to dive into Danish culture, a place like Ringkøbing is amazing,” she said.

There’s less to do, depending on your interests (and you might need to drive)

“You can count on one hand the number of good restaurants within 50 kilometres of Bork Havn,” Wantia told The Local. Although that wasn’t a dealbreaker for him and his wife, Janine, it might be worth some consideration before moving to a village like Bork Havn. 

“If you want many restaurants, parties, or meeting new people all the time, this isn’t the place for you,” he said. “It’s quiet here. Some people might not like that, but it’s perfect for us.”

Vejle, though much larger than Bork Havn with a population of 113,000, also isn’t a very lively city in terms of nightlife, according to Balaban.

“I’d say it’s a mature city,” he said. “It’s a quiet city that attracts a lot of families and people who are more settled down.”

Ultimately, having ‘things to do’ nearby depends on which activities you prefer. 

In Lolland, Progler-Thomsen said it’s “a bit of a sacrifice” to not have easy access to the cultural activities the family had in Copenhagen. 

READ ALSO: Are provincial parts of Denmark a good option for international families?

In exchange, her family has access to activities it enjoys that weren’t available in Copenhagen, including many outdoor activities and sports. “We love the Safari Park that’s only a 7-minute drive from our house,” Progler-Thomsen said. 

That’s something else to consider, though: driving. 

Kajkowska, in Vejle, said driving will play more of a role in one’s life, living in these parts of Denmark. “I was at a party the other night and two cars had driven one and a half hours from Sønderborg to come to the party,” she said.

READ ALSO: What benefits does life in provincial Denmark offer foreign residents?

For the most part, Petkov said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out by living in Ringkøbing.

She enjoys several favorite cafes in town, an Italian restaurant where they are regulars and enjoy chatting with the owners, exploring the beaches and woods, and escaping to the wellness hotel near their house for mini-breaks. “In the summer, it feels like living at a resort,” Petkov said. 

“Ringkøbing is a great place for our family,” she said. “The benefits outweigh the drawbacks for us.”