A friend of mine took this photo back in 2011 in Nanortalik, Greenland of a citizen on his Christiania cargo bike. It was only a balmy -10 C at the time but getting around the town is easy peasy on human-powered wheels.
Greenland is an area we haven't covered much here on this blog. We've noticed that many Danish online bike shops are keen to point out that they send to Greenland. Being a part of the Danish Kingdom, it's no surprise that bicycles play a role in Greenland. Seeing an iconic Christiania Bike 'up there' is just extra cool.
So I was wondering. Could this be the world's most northerly cargo bike? The coordinates for Nanotalik are 60°08′31″N - 45°14′36″W. It probably isn't, as Nanotalik (meaning 'Place of the Polar Bears' in Kalaallisut) is on the southern tip of Greenland, which means cargo bikes in Uppsala, Sweden, just north of Stockholm are farther north. Not to mention other Swedish, Icelandic and Norwegian towns.
I started looking around for photos from other Greenlandic towns and headed farther north. Almost as far as you can go. On medieval maps Ultima Thule was used to describe any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world". Thule became the name of a town in Northern Greenland which later became a US Air Force base in 1953. The indigenous population were relocated - without being asked if it was okay with them of course - by the Danish government acting on American wishes - because they were too close to Thule Air Base. Nevermind the fact that they were there first, long before airplanes, Ballistic Missile Early Warning Systems or (not so) secret CIA planes carrying illegally detained prisoners were invented, but hey.
The town they were forced to call home was called Thule, too, but it has since be renamed Qaanaaq. It's 107 km from the air base. The point is.... it's damn far north. A search for photos of bicycles produced this shot from the Qaanaaq tourist site:
The caption on the site, in Danish, "Boys on bikes on the beach".
And this shot from the hardware store in the town shows that bikes are on sale:
But I'm still wondering what the most northerly cargo bike might be. If there is one in Qaanaaq or at the air base - 76°31′52″N 068°42′11″W - then I'm sure we have a winner.
Although in December 2019, I rode a vintage cargo bike around the Finnish city of Oulu - so already right there, I trumped the dude in Greenland.
One of my readers, Stefan, led me to another northern pearl.
Is this the world's northernmost separated bicycle infrastructure? The film is from Longyearbyen - Long Year Town - on the archipelago of Svalbard, now belonging to Norway.
The islands were discovered by a Dutchman, Willem Barents, and claimed by the Danish King Christian IV (Norway was a part of Denmark until 1814) - so right there are good and understandable reasons for the existence of a bicycle culture.
Longyearbyen is the world's most northerly town and has a population of just over 2000.
Stefan pointed out a few highlights on this "bicycle ride to the sailing club", as the title says in Norwegian.
1:10 - It's not quite a cargo bike, but a bike with trailer!
From 1:40 to 4:04 they have separated bike/pedestrian path all the way through 'downtown,' complete with bike symbols on the signage. That is just amazing!
It's kind of hard to make out but I'm quite sure they have bike racks in front of the hospital at 3:05 and the hotel at 4:06.
In total I count about 31 bikes just from this trip!.
Amazing indeed. Bicycles parked outside of many of the houses, bike racks, a separated bicycle path (shared with pedestrians, which is cosy) and all of this within spitting distance of the North Pole. Traffic planners were thinking bicycle, even here. Planning for bicycle traffic, however modest. Staring the Bull in the flared nostrils and implementing Best Practice so as not to ignore the beast. And it's not like there aren't motor vehicles in the town.
Send this to your local traffic planners and embarrass the hell out of them. I'm sure there is a drop in bicycle traffic in the winter, but there is still infrastructure in place to accommodate for bicycles during the 'warmer' months.
Now if only we can figure out if there is a cargo bike in the town, we'll have a winner of the world's most northerly cargo bike!