The Christiania Bike – the story of a Copenhagen icon
Few things are as synonymous with Copenhagen as The Christiania Bike. An indispensable means of transport for rich and poor alike, which every day conveys thousands of families, party supplies, and van-loads of furniture around the Danish capital. As an alternative to the car, it has helped to create the cycling culture that is ingrained in the city today, and has provided the inspiration for the many different cargo bikes you see all over Denmark.
It all started more than 30 years ago when Christiania’s blacksmith, Lars Engstrøm, secretly made a cargo bike as a birthday present for his girlfriend Annie. It had only been intended – and built – as a practical aid for her, but Annie had hardly unwrapped her gift before the first Christiania neighbor had ordered one too. And so the production of the Christiania bike began.
The practical cargo bike also drew the attention of those outside Freetown and increasing demand prompted the relocation of production to larger premises on Bornholm in 1990. Since then the bike has become popular all over and is currently exported to more than 20 countries. And it’s still Lars and Annie behind it all.
The design has been improved and more models have been added to the range since Annie’s bike first saw the light of day in 1984, but the basic design remains largely unchanged. The bikes are still handmade and incredibly durable, and many of the bikes that rolled out of the smithy in 1984 are still going to this day.
The reason is that the Christiania bicycle is not just made from any old materials. The box is made from 9mm plywood, impregnated with water-resistant varnish of the kind used on boats, so it can withstand the Danish weather. The steel used for the frame is stronger than stainless steel and the bike can handle a 100kg load plus rider. The wheels have reinforced aluminum rims and reinforced bearings, as well as puncture-resistant Kevlar tires made from the same material used to make bulletproof vests.
There are Christiania bicycles for transporting wheelchair users, bike taxis, event bikes, bicycles for tradespeople and post bikes, and its robust design, fantastic concept, and contribution to green and innovative transport has earned Christiania Bikes the Danish Design Award’s Classic Prize.
The rising popularity of the Christiania bicycle, combined with the increasing number of families with children in the city, has paved the way for the success of other types of cargo bikes. Here are a few of them:
When Nils Holme Larsen read in 1998 that the cargo bike would only become a genuine competitor to the car when it could transport two children and several shopping bags at the same time, he built a bike that could do exactly that and also had enough room for a case of beer too. Since then he has expanded into disability models, public-sector and commercial models and has fulfilled his ambition of becoming one of the major players on the market, currently selling bikes in 35 European countries, as well as Canada and America. The bikes are manufactured in Denmark, France, and Spain.
Winther Bikes is one of Denmark’s oldest bicycle-makers and has been around since 1932. They have specialized in cargo bikes since 2005 and sold off their general cycle production in 2007. Their focus on cargo bikes has been successful and they are particularly strong in the public-sector market. Winther has won the most tests and awards for their design, which is characterized by comfort for children, shock-absorbing cabins, and good reflectors. They are assembled by hand in Silkeborg and are sold in 19 countries.
BellaBike started out from the personal need of a Copenhagen blacksmith and his family. In 2000, he built his own cargo bike, but it was too hard to steer. He and his wife revised the design and the bike was made rear-wheel steering and given a number of design improvements. It was to be elegant, robust, and affordable. All of a sudden, many of his friends wanted similar bikes, so he ordered some materials, registered a company so he could issue approved frame numbers, and began selling his bicycles from his home in Frederiksberg through trading portal Den Blå Avis. Since then BellaBike has expanded, with a new factory in Albertslund and a store in Borups Allé. BellaBikes are available as general cargo bikes and as bike taxis, and are also sold in Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Norway.
Text: Lise Hannibal