What is Long John? Is it a Danish celebrity or name of sweet bread? Well, close enough, but it is a famous Cargo bike!
Copenhagens buzzy streets are filled with all kinds of bikes and bikers. Among all the busy day to day two-wheel riders, you have probably noticed some cargo bikes, maybe even quite a lot of them? So these 3 wheelers, called Christiania bikes are quite popular among Danes. They are used not transport kids to and from kindergarten, deliver goods or just have a cool bicycle party on the bridge- because you can carry all your heavy music gear in it!
But is that it to Copenhagens/ Denmarks cargo bike culture? Are there only busy housewives, young teenagers and local sustainability patriots riding 3 wheeled Christiania bicycles? You guessed it, no, there a bunch of other delivery bicycles, cargo bikes, transport bicycles and even taxi bikes used in the city.
Maybe a weird looking bike but surely it is a very popular bike for delivering goods around the streets of Copenhagen. In the middle of the bicycle is where the boxes are placed, while the rider is sitting on the back and controlling the situation. Typically back wheel is the size of 26 inches and has no gears. While the front wheel, responsible for steering the,,svajer bicyle,, is slightly smaller. Long John’s had brakes only on the back wheel and worked as the rider would try to pedal backwards.
The bicycle had to be equipped with strong tires, to withstand heavy loads and bumpy roads back in the day. Long John bicycles had a stand for parking the bike, and it can be found under the carry space. Bikes could easily be loaded up with 100kg or more of goods while they were still narrow and fast enough to get through the city. Maybe those were the reasons why so many bike deliveries had been done with these cycles?
Most commonly these bicycles would be in black colour and slightly beaten up by the corners. Not to mention they were extremely durable, Long Johns also was easy to fix, made from simple parts it allowed everyone to overhaul bottom bracket or fix steering joint. the biggest issue bikes had was with tires, size 26 and 20 was not the most common one back in the day. On the metal plate between seat and steering, was the place to display advertisement of the company svajer was working for or delivering for.
If you wonder about letter and numbers on the side of the cargo bikes carriage, painted on the metal plate, then they stand for the maximum recommended weight and height of the load. Not to mention that this rule was more of a theoretical than practical as bicycle messengers tended to put more stuff on them. A common thing to deliver was a beer or milk case and this bike could easily hold 4 of them.
Here are some examples of vintage pictures with Long John in the daily life of Copenhagen. Svajer cyekl aka. messenger bikes were popular inner-city transport and delivery solution during the 1940s-1970s. During this year also annual messenger bicycle race started.
A Danish bicycle brand called Urania was one of many that produced long John svajer bikes during the early 20th century. In fact, more famous Long John bikes are known under the SCO( Smith & Co) brand. Urania was taken over by Smith & Co in the 1960′s, SCO Long Johns still used a Urania badge. In nowadays Urania Cykler is still a major bicycle company in Denmark, but not producing Long johns anymore.
The production and manufacturing of Long John bicycles date back to 1910s and in different modifications, it continued until the 1970s. SCO (Smith & Co), bicycle brand based in Odense, Denmark, was one of the main original manufacturers of the bikes. Company is stil existing and producing bicycles for danish roads, besides regular road bikes company has returned legacy of Long John. You can purchase brand new Long John, it looks slightly different, with a smaller storage compartment and modern touch in terms of gears and attributes.
Nowadays you can still see quite a lot of these bicycles roaming on danish bike roads or you can even buy your own. Have to say that they are not cheap – a restored bike will most commonly be sold for about 700 EUR and up, while beaten up or one that has been standing by the corner for too long you could grab for a quick 300-400 EUR on a local online marketplace dba.dk or guloggratis.dk
Did we miss something to mention about Long John or its history? Do you know some facts that we don’t? Or maybe you have one that you just did renovate, send us a message or leave a comment and let’s find out more.