How to use Copenhagen City Bikes

The City Bike project in downtown Copenhagen is one of the greatest assets that a visitor can take advantage of, yet many visitors I met in the city seemed confused by the protocol, perhaps spurred on by disbelief that the system actually works, and is free.

So here’s a quick guide to how to become a City Bike user.

First, locate a City Bike rack with a bike attached to it. These are located all over downtown Copenhagen — there are reported to be more than 100 of them. They tend to be located in high-traffic tourist-centric areas, so you’ll find them in front of Metro and train stations, at museums, and at the edge of many parks. The telltale sign of City Bike is a metal rack about 3 feet off the ground with chains attached every couple of feet. Obviously you’re looking for a rack that has one or more bikes attached to the chains!

The key to City Bike, literally, is a 20 Kroner coin. This is about $4.00 Canadian or $3.25 US as I write. Don’t worry: you’ll get this all back when you return the bike.

City Bike Stand
City Bike Stand with an available bike.
20 Kroner coin
A 20 Kroner coin, the “key” to the bike.

Before you bother to “check out” the bike with your coin, give it a basic going over: check that there’s a chain and tires, check that the tires have air in them, check that the wheels are affixed to the bike and that the frame isn’t bent. These bikes take a beating, and I ran about 50% at getting a good bike during my week in the city.

Once you’re ready to proceed, insert the 20 Kroner coin into the bottom of the black orb attached to the handlebar post. What you’re trying to do is to pop out the metal clip on the top of the orb, so, depending on how all the components are fitting together, you may need to push and wiggle a fair bit. Eventually the metal clip should pop out, and the bike is yours.

City Bike Stand
Insert the coin into the bottom of the orb.
20 Kroner coin
The metal clip should pop out.

Give the bike another run-through before you do any serious riding: look for wobbles, rattles, or anything else unusual.

Before you head out, note the boundaries of the City Bike area on the map that’s mounted on the front of the bike: this shows you where you’re allowed to ride the bike (there are rumours of steep fines for “violators”).

You’ll find Copenhagen a very bike-friendly city, with special bicycle lanes on most streets, and special bike traffic signals at most intersections. And you’ll find lots of fellow cyclists out riding, which, if you don’t live in a bike-friendly city, takes some getting used to. Watch what other cyclists are doing to get a handle on the routines for stopping, making left turns, passing and so on.

When you want to stop and get off the bike for a while you have two choices. If you’re not near a City Bike stand, you risk someone leaving with your bike, either to ride it somewhere else, or to use it to retrieve the 20 Kroner coin. If you’re near a City Bike stand you can “return” the bike, retrieve your coin, and return later, gambling that your (or another) bike will be ready for you.

The greatest thing about the City Bike program over renting a bike, other than price, is that you can get a bike where and for as long as you need it. For example I got up in the morning, grabbed a City Bike, rode downtown, left the bike walked around, ending up down at the harbour ferry, sailed up the harbour, grabbed another bike, parked the bike and visited a museum, grabbed another bike and rode back downtown, where I took the Metro back to my hotel.