WHEN the Danish urban designer Thomas Ermacora sat down to study global bicycle culture, he began by making a world map of cycling capitals. Unfortunately, Australia didn’t make the grade.
"Australia doesn’t really have a cycling city," he says.
According to Ermacora, whose love of bicycles began as a child, cycling cultures in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam are multilayered. "Even if you threw money at making cycle lanes, it wouldn’t create a bike culture on its own," he says. It’s a holistic approach that makes the difference, starting with encouraging children to ride, providing lanes for them when they are adults and making cycling attractive, he says.
As curator of the Dreams On Wheels exhibition at the University of Technology, Sydney, Ermacora had an opportunity to show how design diversity and city planning have combined to help Denmark revive its bicycle culture.
"The idea was to show that you need to grow up with your bike, but you also need a design to fit your lifestyle. This is where Denmark is fairly flamboyant," says Ermacora.
For Danes, style and bicycling go hand in hand. "There is a design for each group of people. There’s one for the elderly, one for mums, and one for the guy who works in a bank and needs to be elegant," Ermacora says.
"It’s a bit like how having a car is a status symbol in some countries – do you have a red Porsche or a white Peugeot? In Denmark, if you have a Christiana bike (a trike which can carry children, weights and loads), or a Biomega cycle, you’re saying who you are."
Ahead of a United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen next year, the Danes are encouraging bicycling as part of the movement towards sustainable cities. In Copenhagen, bike pump posts are helpfully located across town, cyclists have their own lanes (separate to cars and pedestrians) and bike traffic lights sense riders approaching and switch to green to make riding quicker.
In Denmark, bikes aren’t just for those who can’t afford cars: 200 bicycles are regularly parked outside the Danish Parliament, and government officials across the country are often seen cycling.
While Dreams On Wheels features designs from the high-tech to the family-oriented, it also shows off Copenhagen’s City Bikes.
These are on loan in the city centre; renters simply deposit a 20 kroner coin (about $4), which is refunded on the bike’s return, and they can travel throughout the inner city. To reduce temptation to thieves, City Bikes have specially designed parts – their seats, wheels and other parts don’t transfer to other bicycles, and special tools are required to take them apart. The program has been so successful it has inspired Paris to adopt its own scheme.
Once people taste the freedom that comes with cycling, says Ermacora, they quickly change their habits. "Instead of your bicycle being something you keep in the closet and take out of weekends, it becomes your natural companion."
The Dreams On Wheels exhibition is on until Sunday.Read more