Guided tours can be wonderful, but different people travel at different paces. Copenhagen cyclist Anton Ryslinge is one of those people who drive me crazy, who take it slow. He describes a guided bike tour he once took in Bangkok:
During the tour, I felt a certain irritation from our guides and I soon realised that I was the culprit: constantly being at the tail of the group, causing delay and annoyance. I was busy taking pictures of a local meat market straight out of the dark ages, talking to the staff at a slum-kindergarten, sneaking down shady side alleys before hurrying back to find the group. I was so eager to get the full impression from people and places I knew I would probably never see again, that I couldn’t follow the pace set by our guides.
He had a better idea:
I began imagining a guided tour without having to follow a group. Wouldn’t that be great, I thought. Having access to itineraries and insights of local guides but with the freedom to improvise as I went! Not arriving at some well-hidden destination like a sheep in a flock but rather able to meet locals one on one! And hey, why not? With modern GPS-technology and a bit of inventiveness, I might even make this available back home in Copenhagen!
And so the architect, urban planner and devoted cyclist did exactly that. Bike the City programs tours of Copenhagen into a GPS equipped phone that is mounted in a box on the handlebars of a bike. But they are not your usual canned tours; the one I took, in Nørrebro, was idiosyncratic and absolutely fascinating, taking me places I never would have considered going. (Anton had to twist my arm to take that tour instead of a more conventional one, and he was right.) His professional training shows; he writes:
The tours are meticulously researched and written in collaboration with insightful locals, and narrated by professional voice artists. They are designed to be eye-opening, entertaining, alternative and thought-provoking while showcasing lesser-visited parts of Copenhagen. They are treasure hunts for two-wheeled urban explorers.
A good example is this little park hidden among some apartment buildings. Normally such a place wouldn't get a look but you learn in the description that it is a "green courtyard", many of which are taking back the city from cars and parking. Anton explains:
The official name of that particular green courtyardis the impossibly "Vesselsgade/Blaagaardsgade gårdlaug". Resident groups can receive municipal grants if they want to create or improve these green courtyards. They are very much perceived as a key part in creating a livable urban environment in the dense Copenhagen inner city boroughs.
The trail then led through one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen. Then past an empty lot, where I heard the story behind a wonderful building that no longer exists. It truly was a treasure hunt.
There are a couple of minor issues. Having become used to Google's turn-by-turn directions, it seemed almost a bit primitive to have to look down at the screen for directions. It can also be dangerous, looking at the screen instead of ahead, although I managed not to hit anyone or anything. The system is designed so that you stop and listen rather than get a running commentary, so you have to take the device out of the case at each stop, hit play and listen. This is a good idea for safety reasons, but sometimes it's a bit annoying. Also, because the tour is so idiosyncratic, it often goes through narrow gates or odd paths that are really easy to miss; I did quite a bit of doubling back. However in every case it was worth it.
I am the opposite of Anton; I have a short attention span and sometimes go crazy with guides who drone on. I loved the fact that I could go at my own pace. But the single most important feature of Bike the City isn't the technology; it's the quality of the tour, the secret spots that wouldn't be in any guidebook, that take the eye of an architect and planner to find. Combine that with a lifetime of cycling in Copenhagen and some pretty cool tech and you have something very special.
More at Bike the City