Sweden and Denmark might be the most bike-obsessed nations in the world, and they’re out to prove it. Not content with the superior bike infrastructure they already have, they’re now giving cyclists a dedicated way to cross the maritime border that divides them.
Starting this summer, a new international ferry service will link Copenhagen with its Swedish sister city of Malmö, just across the Oresund strait, carrying up to 36 passengers and their bikes. It’s the first cross-border sea route designed especially for cyclists—though it will also accept bike-less passengers—and it should help rectify a minor misstep in the region’s transit. While Copenhagen and Malmö have been joined ever closer together since the opening of the Oresund Bridge in 2000, cyclists have been somewhat left behind.
Before the bridge opened, it was pretty easy to cycle up to the old ferry port and wheel your bike aboard a craft. Since the bridge opened, however, ferry services directly between the two cities have been canceled. Nowadays, you can only cross the busy seaway between the two countries by passenger boat if you travel 30 miles north of Copenhagen to cross at Elsinore. Bikes are allowed on the trains across the Oresund Bridge (for the price of a child’s ticket) but when cyclists tried illegally to use the roadway to bike across last summer, police closed the bridge. If leisure cyclists are going to be able to cross in a way that’s both pleasant and convenient, they need a new ferry.
The ferry in question will be a 1940-built converted fishing boat called the M/S Elefanten, whose path will effectively mirror that of the Oresund bridge. Journeying from the Malmö district of Limhamn to Dragør, a suburban town just south of Copenhagen’s airport, the new ferry will not likely be a commuter service—the distance between the two cities is still a little too far to be crossed daily with pedal power. It should still attract tourists and Copenhagen’s day-trippers who want to cycle straight out of the city and across to the Swedish coast.
The idea of a boat designed mainly for two-wheelers might sound odd, but such services already exist in Scandinavia. Sweden already runs a service to the holiday island of Öland, also launched when a new bridge to the island canceled ferry services. Meanwhile, Finland runs bike boats around its Swedish-speaking Åland Islands. The Danish archipelago has many bike ferry links and the country is already planning another international service, this time to Germany across the country’s southern Flensburg Fjord. Across Europe, plans are afoot to extend the distances which people normally ride, whether its Germany’s bike autobahns , Bosnia’s rural answer to the High Line or Norway’s massive investment in longer distance bike paths even north of the Arctic Circle. The new Sweden-Denmark bike ferry may be a mere drop in the Baltic, but it’s yet more evidence of a European path network designed for two-wheelers gradually knitting itself together.
Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.