Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vendsyssel's Hell's Angels

Yup, that’s right – there are bikers in Denmark. When most people think of biking in Denmark, they think of stately Scandinavians in business dress and pea coats peddling their way to work through the streets of Copenhagen. And while bicycles are indeed ubiquitous here – Copenhagen apparently has the highest rate of bicycle use per capita of any city in Europe and there are spaces for bicycles on all the trains – the kind of bikers I’m talking about are the real biker dude type that you imagine zooming around highways in the good ol’ American west. I heard my first story about the Danish Hell’s Angels a couple weeks ago as an explanation of the rather rough fishing crowd in Hirtshals – apparently the bikers, who came up north for the weekend, got in a fight with the locals that ended with the fishermen throwing their motorcycles in the harbor. But yesterday I got my first chance to see the bikers for myself.

I’ve been doing some biking of my own, in the more quaint and traditional Danish style – good for grocery shopping, but also for exploring the area a little beyond the distance I can go just walking.

Yesterday I went for a bike ride in the forest behind the North Sea Center with one of the researchers at IFM. It’s a really nice place for biking – it’s a production forest for the timber industry here, so it’s a much larger forest than you’d expect to find most places in a small country like this (particularly a country with an extensive maritime history, which pretty much means extensive deforestation until they stopped building wooden ships) and there are a lot of paths through the woods ranging from paved roads to dirt paths for biking and walking and horseback riding. It was a pretty day – sunny weather, and just about the peak of the autumn colors in the trees here – and we biked about 45 minutes out to a sightseeing tower in the forest. From the top, you can see across the top of the forest and over the dunes to the North Sea.

Even if the bike ride hadn’t been enjoyable in and of itself, I think the view might have been worth it.

And then, while looking out over the quiet scene of rural Denmark, there was a strange sight on the beach: slowly, the white sand was filling up with little black dots rapidly moving in our direction. No, not ants in strange perspective (though they did look a bit like a swarm of ants), it was a giant group of motorcyclists. First just a few, but soon ten, twenty, thirty, maybe even more. They zoomed around the beach for a few minutes and then (upon realizing that even tough motorcycles couldn’t ford the river that emptied into the sea just down the beach) headed back to the road. But rather than disappearing into the distance, the hum of revving engines grew louder, and we realized that the flock of bikers was heading towards us. And sure enough, they came right towards us along the same path we had taken, a pack of thirty motorcyclists on the dirt road heading through the forest

It was very surreal. They may be Hell’s Angels (no way to really tell what group they were with), but I never expected to find a biker pack heading down the dirt paths of the forested Danish countryside.

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