Copenhagen Bicycles’ history began in 2000 when the company was registered. However, the business started its operations under the name of Copenhagen Rickshaw ApS in 2002. The company was originally founded by Gili Bassan together with his friend Claus and entered the market as a unique Danish urban mobility solution.
The business concept was to offer the possibility of renting rickshaws – three-wheeled bikes designed to carry passengers – to anyone who wanted to start earning money as a bike driver in town. The startup location was in a small basement in Østerbro, underneath Randersgade School.
In this manner, more than a business, the idea was developed as an employment opportunity where people without distinction of cultural background could rent a rickshaw. They used them as a way of generating a flexible income for themselves by offering driving services to others. Copenhagen Rickshaw was as a job source, especially for those who maybe couldn’t find regular work.
Perhaps our founder, Gili Bassan, brought this concept to Copenhagen through inspiration from his multiples travels to Asian countries. As pioneers of this venture in Denmark, the rickshaw idea became more popular and well received by tourists over the years. Visitors were delighted to explore the city from the comfort of this type of transportation.
The company reached an inventory of 60 rickshaws, which were distributed all over Copenhagen. The success was a result of an innovative strategy combined with the peculiar vehicle.
As in all prosperous businesses, competitors arrived. At this point, Gili had to concentrate his efforts on keeping the company as attractive as possible. To achieve this, he decided to purchase one of the biggest rivals who offered “the family bike” version. So Copenhagen Rickshaw could now give the two most popular designs for bike transportation : sitting in the front (family bikes) and sitting in the back (rickshaws) with a total of 120 bikes in its inventory. In the same way, standard bike rental and tours were in their portfolio, but not as the main service.
In 2009, the company added a total of 300 standard new bikes to its inventory and started to work in partnerships with hotels. The idea was to deliver the bike to their locations and every time that a bike was rented by a guest, both parties earned something.
Copenhagen Rickshaw was the first to introduce this type of bike partnership deal in the city. Our founder was even in charge of placing the bikes in these locations and the business was based on trust.
Changing the game
Over time the bike drivers’ business became more challenging. Some of the owners of luxury shops in Copenhagen city centre did not approve the rickshaw business model. In 2014 Copenhagen Municipality passed new rules that directly influenced the company. From then on it was required to hold one license per bicycle in order to drive them. They were limited to only 50-60 for the whole city. This way, the municipality could control the total number of bikes on the street and the person responsible for each of them.
Consequently, Copenhagen Rickshaw had to rethink its strategy, unify forces and renew themselves by reinforcing the rental model of standard bikes and tour experiences as its core business.
After years of use the hotel bicycles had to be replaced as part of our partner deal, because the bikes became old. At that point a new challenge came up – what to do with the remaining bikes? The solution was simple: Boost the city tours and tourist bike rental with these bikes as part of a sustainable business.
New city point
In 2013 our founder Gili Bassan opened the Nyhavn shop, called Copenhagen Bicycles. This was the first time that the company had a commercial customer faced premises.The space was an old wine store before and had been closed for years.
Due to the new address at the end of Nyhavn, it was very difficult to get a high number of visitors as people did not walk to the end of this area. Only a few customers, probably lost or for random reasons, found the shop. This was a difficult time for the company’s economy.
Gili Bassan was in charge of many activities simultaneously, even going around and picking up the bikes in the hotels and, as a result, he faced a very stressful stage. He started the daily guided tours as a service for the hotels, so they could send their guests for free to the new shop and experience the newly organized tours. Subsequently the private guided tours grew and some of the former rickshaw drivers became tour guides.
Incorporating the bike service as a workshop came naturally at that time and in 2014, we began selling electric bikes and a small number of regular bikes, under the brand My Bike.
Staying in the family
In 2015 Gili, our founder, suddenly passed away. His daughters Yael (at that time 25 years old) and Mira (at that time 19 years old) had to take over the business. They changed the company name from Copenhagen Rickshaw to Copenhagen Bicycles. In 2017, Yael became CEO and sole owner of Copenhagen Bicycles, bringing new ideas to the table and reorganising the company structure. At the same time keeping her father’s philosophy and essence intact.
Gili Bassan was a person who liked to try things before deciding if they were a good or a bad idea. He was very open-minded and very down-to-earth. He loved diversity and sharing people’s stories when coming home. An anti-materialist with crazy ideas.
Yael is inspired by him, a slightly more organised progressive thinker, following the diversity and inclusion values promoted by her father. “I want to make a change in the world and this is the best way to do it. If I say diversity is good, I can prove it,” she says. One of Yael’s main goals is to keep the business as a family, so our guests always feel welcome and part of Copenhagen Bicycles.
7th July 2016 was a memorable day for the company. That day, the Inner Harbour bridge opened, connecting the Nyhavn and Christianshavn districts and facilitating new access to many cyclists right outside the company windows. This boosted the business a lot. The corner shop in Nyhavn was suddenly a center of traffic.
A scooter spectacle
In 2019, electric scooters were suddenly to find all over Copenhagen without any permission. Up to 100 at a time was placed in front of the shop in Nyhavn. Yael Bassan was furious and moved all of them each day wearing high heals. The press loved the media stunt and started telling the story. It went all the way to TIME Magazine, New York Times and other foreign medias. The politicians had to make a decision about the electric scooters. They made scooter free zones in Copenhagen and decided that per 2022, an electric scooter driver must wear a helmet. Today, there a not a lot of electric scooters in the street.
In 2019, Copenhagen Bicycles worked on a lot of projects to grow and enter more of the city. They invested more than half a million Danish Kroner in app based bikes. They signed a contract to open a new shop at Central Station in March 2020. They started the new subscription based concept “RepMyBike” for users to rent a bike or get their own bike repaired at any time.
Then, Covid19 hit in March 2020.
All tourists were gone from one day to another and noone had any idea how long it would take. The company was in a deep crisis and everything had to be considered. A big part of the staff had to leave the company during 2020 and the beginning of 2021. The company went from 28 to 3 staff members. Yael Bassan did her best to give the staff the best fundation to get a new job. Most of the staff have other jobs today. The shop at Central Station closed after exactly a year. The RepMyBike adventure ended and the app based bike adventure never had the chance to begin.
A new beginning
During Spring 2021, Yael Bassan understood that this covid19 crisis could last for years and that she had to make big changes for the company to survive. She found out that this was also the possibility to get the free working life she and her mechanics really wished for. They sat down and had a several hour talk over redwine. They talked about how a good work life is. They found out that the good working life is to be able to choose freely when to work. It must be possible to bring the children later to kindergarten if it is a slow morning. It must be possible to take a spontaneous long weekend holiday.
Then, Yael decided to close the shop in Nyhavn. From now on, work life should not be depended on opening hours. She chose to keep the hotel bike rental business because it fits perfectly to the free working life and because she and the mechanics love the working relations with the hotel managers.
The team decided only to work with the hotels that match their values and who care more about a sustainable and good world than money.
By focusing on the hotels with the good values, more hotels signed contracts and the business grew. In 2021, Copenhagen Bicycles had the same percentual result as 2018 (before covid19), even though the turnover is 75 % lower than before the crisis. In 2022 and in the future, the company expects to end up with the same result in DKK as 2018. The hotel partners are happier, more hotels are interested in working with Copenhagen Bicycles, and the whole team is happier. In 2022, Yael Bassan were awarded by the business newspaper Berlingske to be one of the Top 100 young talents under 36 in the category “leaders”.
We are looking forward to changing the world to the better one step at a time!