The Lulu turned seven years old yesterday. You may know her from here on Cycle Chic or on my Instragram account Zakkatography or even just by her hashtag #thelulu on Twitter and Instagram. She may be "The World's Youngest Urbanist as you can read here and then again here" or even here but at the end of the day, she's my girl and she just turned seven.
Her first seven years in Copenhagen involved a lot of bicycles. Completely normal for a Copenhagener but still the object of interest for so many around the world. So... what do seven years of growing up in Copenhagen look like? I decided to show you.
It starts early. There was a lot of baby carriage action in first couple of years of Lulu-Sophia's life, but as soon as she could sit up straight, it was time to strap her onto a bicycle. In Copenhagen you do this because you need to get around and do stuff, not because you're a "cyclist" or you are demonstratively peacocking your granola-crunchy world view. You simply have places to go and you live in a city where only 29% of households bother owning a car. Lulu-Sophia had the chance to try various options; sitting on a rear child's seat as well as a Bulldog seat - placed on the crossbar. In the last picture... no... she didn't perch on the back rack as we rode around. It was simply the first photo of her "on" a bike.
Cargo bikes came into the picture early on, as well. There are 40,000 cargo bikes in Greater Copenhagen. One quarter of all families with two or more kids have one. So it's no surprise, really. I hold the claim to the world's first bathtub bicycle (at left), in the front yard on a hot summer's day. But most of the time a cargo bike is just for getting around.
Personally, I prefer the Bulldog seat. I like the fact that it is a Danish design that is around ninety years old, sure, but nothing beats riding around your city with your kid between your arms. So easy and intimate to talk to them as you go. They see what you see and they see things that they want you to see. Lulu-Sophia is too big for the Bulldog now, but it lingered on my bike for a long while. Great for short trips. Of course, as the last photo attests, the fun of riding up front like that doesn't diminish. Good thing Lulu-Sophia has a big brother with a Chopper.
And sure... Daddy is a photographer, but I'm convinced that her eye for the shot comes from seeing up her city up close and personal from a bicycle. Her first attempts at street photography aren't bad at all.
Lulu-Sophia is no stranger to sitting in cargo bikes, either. I've estimated that my kids spend about five hours a YEAR in cars. I wouldn't even be able to start calculating how many hours they spend in cargo bikes. All the brands in Denmark - and there are over 20 - have the kids positioned up front. Again, the cosiest way to ride. I simply can't imagine having kids in a trailer behind me. That's just me. Every ride through the city is peppered with conversation and observation that you share.
Being a guy who has a thing or two to do with bicycles, we've been lucky to have a varied selection at our disposal. Mostly Bullitts from Larry vs Harry, but also an old school Long John and a three-wheeler Triobike.
The kids' mum has a two-wheeler Christiania Bike (at right) so the cargo bike life certainly doesn't stop when they're with her.
On our summer holidays in Barcelona a few years ago, we borrowed a Bakfiets for a couple of weeks. After a long hard day on the beach, the cargo bike was a rolling lullaby that induced sleep. Something most parents with cargo bikes and small kids will know.
Copenhagen beaches have the same sleepy effect as Barcelona ones (at left), but when the kids are awake, the cargo bike is a rolling café, library, you name it.
When we have to head to the Walmart of furniture stores - IKEA - a couple times of year, we cycle out there. 26% of their customers in the two Copenhagen stores arrive by bike or public transport. It's only 10 km and while Lulu-Sophia can do that, it takes forever on the hills outside of the city on the route, so she gets to sit on the cargo bike. And hold every thing in place on the ride home. Oh, and we also lay claim to the world's first cargo bike snowman.
Okay. Fine. Putting kids on bikes serves an efficient transport function. The ultimate goal is to get the rugrats independently mobile so you DON'T have to lug them around the whole time. This starts early, too. The law in Denmark states that kids are not allowed to ride unaccompanied until the age of .... six. To be honest, not many parents let their kids loose alone on bikes at six in Copenhagen, but Felix - Lulu-Sophia's big brother - was independently mobile by nine, cycling to school by himself.
Despite the confidence she exudes in the above photos, Lulu-Sophia never really rocked the balance bike thing. Her motor skills were different. I settled on training wheels and gradually bent them upwards to force her to learn how to stay upright. Worked fine with Felix, so we stuck to that system.
But not before Lulu-Sophia cut her teeth on tricycles. In the backyard. Around the neighbourhood. And this being Copenhagen, she has had a constant armada of kid-size cargo bikes at her disposal at her daycare, kindergarten and at school.
With the training wheels, she was soon much more mobile and she loved it. You could sense her pride at being able to ride a bit faster, a bit farther. On the occasion of her first "bike accident" (bottom left), her grazed hand and knee were soon forgotten when Felix and I hugged her and congratulated her on falling off for the first time. A proud moment for a Copenhagen kid.
Lulu-Sophia, once she was stable enough, insisted on riding to kindergarten. Whatever the weather. It made her so proud. Although cycling in winter wasn't a new thing for her. Just doing it by herself was.
One day at the bike parking at the school, a bigger kid walked past as Lulu-Sophia was locking her bike and commented - not mean or anything - "Hey, look... training wheels." That made Lulu-Sophia sad but also insistent that we practice more so she could ride without them. And above is the moment. That magical moment when someone nails it. They start riding by themselves for the very first time. Felix's face shows that he, too, understands the monumental moment.
From there, things snowballed. The training wheels came off. The pride billowed. The little girl became - in the transport sense - a Copenhagener. Free to fly through puddles or decorate her basket.
Free to lock her own bike outside the school or to ride with chickens from Ole's urban farm if the occasion arises.
Sure, there are still days where Lulu gets a lift, but by and large she is a bicycle user in her own right. Every day to school and back. Every errand in the neighbourhood. To the beach, to the harbour, to birthdays, to the supermarket. Always right there in front of us on the cycle track or at our side. Our ride home from school is conversation time. How-was-your-day updates. The ride to school in the morning seems to focus on the weather at the beginning and then morphs into a million other subjects. Best parts of the day.
The joy and the pride remain strong. Even in Felix at the age of twelve. Spontaneously lifting her legs on a street in Groningen, Netherlands... enjoying the ride. Or taking up the challenge of a race against her big brother in Groningen. I took them with me on a work visit to the city. Here's what two Copenhagen kids thought about cycling in the Netherlands, by the way.
Joy and pride are part of the package in a cycling life. I have never, however, done anything to hype the bike. I'm not a "cyclist" or a bike geek. I made a conscious decision to just make cycling a normal part of our life. Something as normal as water coming out of a tap. No bells and whistle and oooh, we're saving the world shit or oooh, cycling is healthy, green blahblahblah. Just make it normal. Unquestionably so. Sure, at above right, we have a biannual bike cleaning day where we wash and oil our bikes. Good to learn, but it's mostly to hang out together.
We don't demonstratively cycle whenever we travel. Some places it's an obvious transport choice like Amsterdam and Paris. But here at home the bicycle is how we roll. It's how Lulu-Sophia has rolled for the first seven years of her life. It's a gift to her that will never stop giving.
Lulu-Sophia has recently taken up counting cyclists and discussing behaviour. She MIGHT have picked that up from some of my work conversations about certain projects at Copenhagenize Design Company, so given her status as the World's Youngest Urbanist, she might be taking it more seriously than I realised. :-)
You can follow The Lulu on my Instagram if you like. I post all sorts of stuff, but lots of Lulu on our cycling expeditions around Copenhagen.
Whatever she ends up doing with her life is fine with me. All I know today is that my Lulu is now seven years old. I love her madly. On and off a bicycle.