Second week as a semi-professional bicycle blogger and the motivation is obviously still quite high. This Monday was packed with bicycle cycling starting with a Tour de Saltsjöbaden (43 kilometers) on the semi-plastic bike followed by a couple of kilometers on the single speed to meet a friend for lunch and then a gentle digestive ride back home.
Not being Swedish and riding a bicycle the day after the general elections was not the safest thing to do according to all that drama I was reading online for breakfast (Sweden Democrats – far-right, right-wing populist & anti-immigration – became Sweden’s third largest political party and right-wing-car-centric politics are still doing strong) but I decided to hit the road anyway. And you know what happened? I was able to stay in the saddle all the way: no one tried to put me on a Paris-bound charter flight neither was I ran over by a campaigner from the Moderate Party in a SUV with tinted windows.
I must admit that the best riding on le Tour de Saltsjöbaden (which, for me, starts from Årstafältet) is around Solsidan where voters (as the chart shows) massively support the motorized-traffic-loving party. I had the road for myself most of the time and stopped a couple of times by the shore to take pictures or enjoy the view. It’s sort of surprising but actually makes perfect sense: people living around Solsidan don’t drive in Solsidan. But they drive to Stockholm – like most of those living in the richer neighbourhoods – and the closer you get to the city center, traffic just worsens, support to the Green Party increases and riding becomes quite unpleasant.
Nothing new under the sun though and life in Stockholm has not dramatically changed overnight. Cycling in and around the city center is still not world-class quality and I bet it will remain so for the next four years. There are some hidden gems not far from the busy roads and you’ll find them if you get on your bike. You could even find a restaurant serving lamb loin and enjoy a beer with lunch. I know I did.
I’ve been wanting to (among other things) spend more time riding my bicycles for a while and I just got the chance to do so. Until I decide otherwise I am now off on Mondays and today marks the beginning of a new routine: I will walk my daughter to school at 9:00 and will pick her up at 15:00 but I yet have to work on self-discipline and figure out how to make the best of these six hours each week.
So here I am, drinking espresso and writing about yesterday’s Sthlm Bike, the world’s most beautiful bicycle race, no less.
Sthlm Bike is a 42 kilometer non-timed race and even though one could go flat-out through the streets of Stockholm and be served breakfast first at the finish area it would just be the most stupid thing to do. Starting at 7:00 from Gärdet the route was mostly on paved roads but included a couple of gravel roads through greener areas. I’d say that I know my way around Stockholm quite well on two wheels and I was very pleased to cycle parts of the city I just never had the occasion or reason to visit.
As always the Capital of Scandinavia did not disappoint and cruising around an almost car-free Stockholm in the early hours of Sunday morning was pure pleasure (can’t help but wish that day will come when cars will be banned from the city center).
The highlight of the ride though was, in my opinion, the coffee and cookies booth at kilometer 17. With the race starting at 7:00 participants were expected to meet at the starting line at 6:30 so I, and a lot of other riders, left home quite early that morning with little or no time for a proper cup of fuel. Being reasonably fit and used to cycling I did not need the kilometer 26 banana but it was great for those less accustomed to riding 40+ kilometers. Anyway. That coffee was golden.
Our vision is to be able to offer a car-free Stockholm to 25,000 cyclists on a Sunday morning in September – http://sthlmbike.se/about
While this ambitious number has not yet been reached the race organisation and the volunteers who helped cyclists along the course did make clear they were up to the task. Great weather. Great route. Great race. Looking forward to September 6, 2015.
On September 17, the City of Stockholm and Naturskyddsföreningen (the most influential non-profit environmental organization in Sweden) will give goodie bags to cyclists around Stockholm as a thank you for riding a bicycle (“tack för att du cyklar”).
In order to get one of the 150,000 bags you will have to ride by one the following 17 check points:
Liljeholmsbron (east side)
Götgatan (by Katarina bangata) – bike service available
Roslagstull (north side) – bike service available
Stadshuset – bike service available
Lidingöbron (Ropsten side)
Raoul Wallenbergs torg
Älvsjö station (by the bicyle pump)
Kista – bike service available
Will you commute by bike on September 17 and ride by one of the check points to get a bag? What do you think the goodies will be this time?
It had been way too long since I last rode the heaviest piece of my velocipede collection and I really had to head back to woodland.
Wednesday 9am, I put a bunch of knives, matches and a jerrycan full of fuel on the kitchen floor to make sure my one year old girl has something to play with while I’m gone and then I’m off to meet a friend who, being his own boss, can also go for a “Tour de Hellasgården” in the middle of the week if he feels like it (and he does in a different bike each time: Kona Process 153 the other day, Kona Hei Hei Deluxe this time).
Our “Tour de Hellasgården” goes on the rather technical green track around the lake and must end with a cup of coffee at the restaurant followed by a swim in Källtorpssjön.
A couple of kilometers and a cup of coffee later
Crappy pictures and Instagram filters are also part of this Grand Tour and I’m quite sure people usually don’t have a full suspension mountain bike for towel and jersey rack. See.
Coilair towel and jersey rack from Kona
Travel guides say Stockholm is one third asphalt, one third green areas and one third water and we sure stayed away from the first 33.33333333333%. Big bikes, slow riders, pines and water temperature at 25°C are all it takes to make Wednesday feel like Saturday… or Sunday.
The least we can say when looking at these 5 drawing from 1962 is that Jean-Jacques Sempé (a French cartoonist) saw it coming. Each of the illustrations shows a “proletarian” (left) and a middle-class person (right) going to work. And as time goes by…
walking & cycling
walking & driving a car
cycling & driving an even bigger car
riding a moped & driving an even bigger bigger car
finally “driving” a car (stuck in traffic) & cycling
After years of hard labour and social progress the “proletarian” (like a good deal of the population) could finally afford a car but the comfort and freedom the automobile cartel (manufacturers, politicians, …) promised were long gone…
What do you say? Did we end up in the situation Jean-Jacques Sempé had in mind more than half a century ago or was he completely wrong?
Jean-Jacques Sempé, usually known as Sempé (born 17 August 1932 in Bordeaux), is a French cartoonist. Some of his cartoons are quite striking, but retain a sentimental and often a somewhat gentle edge to them, even if the topic is a difficult one to approach. He once drew a series called Le petit Nicolas, starting it in the 1950s, but he is best known for his posterlike illustrations, usually drawn from a distant or high viewpoint depicting detailed countrysides or cities. – Wikipedia
While reading about something totally unrelated, I came across information about a film starring two of my favourite actors, Jonny Lee Miller and Brian Cox, and one of the most pleasant celebrities I have ever met, Billy Boyd, about a guy whose book I have recently been reading, Graeme Obree. I was interested immediately but when I saw that the movie has actually had pretty decent reviews, I had to see it.
For those not in the know, Graeme Obree decided to build his own bike and take on the heavy hitters of the cycling world. I’ll not give too much away but I highly recommend you see this film. It’s an amazing enough story made all the more amazing by being true. What he overcame and the way in which he did it is as funny as it is inspiring and touching.
And then we were off on the final leg. Just 40 km to go but there was still a serious chance of a couple of team mates dropping out. The pace had dropped significantly but the morale of the lead group was high as we realised we were going to make it. The ones who were struggling were in real difficulty so that every time we came to a hill they got dropped. The pace dropped even more to make sure we stayed together. Suddenly in front of us was a beautiful, the first sign to Motala and it was only 20km away. What we didn’t know then was that the route did not follow the shortest road to Motala so we actually had about 30 km left
As we got clsoer to town I began to recognise things and knew we only had a few minutes left of our ride. We organised ourselvse into two perfect columns and rolled into Motala’s waterfront area to cross the finish line in 11 hours and 48 minutes.
My family were there to greet me and my little boy was very proud of his old dad.
My butt was killing me and my legs were tired but I’d made it and didn’t feel nearly as bad as I’d expected. The team sat down for some food then it was hugs all round as we headed off to see our friends and families. Here I am in my final moments in team kit as I got back to our camp site.
Part one of my svenskklassiker was done and I was feeling very good about myself.
Here are the bare figures from the ride (viciously stolen from my team-mate’s Garmin Edge since my iPhone lost GPS contact and thinks I cycled across lake Vättern rather than round it)…
The full route
We needed to average a moving speed of 27.3 kmh to make our goal. We had included some stops as well to refuel and rest.
Considering the race goes around a lake (usually pretty flat things), you’d think that it’s a pretty flat course. Not at all! There were actually very few flat sections.
In the final part of this report you’ll find out what I learned before and during my first (but probably not last) ride around lake Vättern.
As we neared the end, the stints were getting shorter. Just 53km this time but a lot of the team were hurting so that was a good thing. Things had generally gone very well. We’d had a few people feeling not so great and one or two minor mechanicals but no punctures and, most importantly, we were all still rolling and still together. Then came our scariest moment.
For large parts of the course we were sharing the road with cars. There weren’t many and all of them were very considerate of the cyclists. On all dual carriageways the left lane was for cars and the right was for bikes with plastic dividers between each lane. As we approached one of these divided areas something went wrong. I don’t know if the people in front didn’t see the divider or if they didn’t warn those behind early enough but several people hit one. They were made to bend so there were no injuries but Magnus, one of our best riders, hit the base of a divider and his bike leapt into the air. Everything went into slow-mo and all I could think was, “If he doesn’t sort this out then I’m not going to be able to avoid hitting him and we’ll both be down!” I’ve no idea how he managed but he landed, got the bike under control and we all continued on slightly shaken but totally injury free.
Again my energy levels started to drop so I was very happy to see the honey to line our bread rolls with when we got to Hammarsundet. You were only supposed to take one at a time but I took three or four and drowned them in honey.
After a quick rest and bottle refill we had a final check to see how everyone was feeling. We decided that the ones who were struggling would stay at the back of the group while the rest of us did the work at the front. We made sure everyone was ready and then off we set for the final stretch into Motala and the finish line…
Only 70km between these two stops so I figured it was going to be an easy time. Man, was I wrong! The actual course wasn’t too bad, one nice descent of 80m over less than 8km and hardly any climbing but around the 180km mark I hit the wall big time. I had no energy and every turn of the cranks felt like a major achievement. When I was at the front or in the middle of the group it wasn’t too bad but as soon as I got to the back I got dropped. Every time! Totally demotivating and I was feeling very bad about it because I had to keep asking the rest to slow down.
Karlsborg was planned to be a long stop so I rolled in and got off the bike as fast as I could. I then shovelled as much food and drink into me as possible. Two cups of blueberry soup, two cups of coffee (I don’t usually drink that much in a year), four or five cups of energy drink, a stack of semi-sweet bread rolls, about three bananas and a mound of salty gherkins. I then got my shoes off (very sore feet) and lay down on the grass for as long as possible.
All too soon it was time to get up and go again. Normally I was near the front at the start of each stint. Not this time but I felt much better and had gotten over my lowest point.
If you ask Swedes where they’re going to spend their next vacation don’t expect to get a list of 196 different countries. There are basically two answers to that question: Spain1 or “på landet”.
You can’t blame the Swedes for wanting to escape for a sunny weekend away but you sure can’t blame them for loving their countryside either. “På landet” is like a country within the country, a place where one can live without electricity and running water less than an hour drive from Stockholm. In cycling lingo “på landet” is also just another word for paradise.
Sure the lack of running water can be an issue for some – especially after long rides – but there’s always a lake nearby for those who insist on hand washing their bibs. And for the rest of us… well… that’s part of the experience. Can the cyclist (the one not too concerned about laundry) in you imagine a better resort than a wooden cabin in the middle of close-to-nowhere with great riding all around? Can you imagine a better way to start the day than a 30 kilometre cycling round trip to the grocery store so the family can enjoy fresh bread for breakfast? I can’t.
Cycling in the Swedish countryside is pure pleasure with beautiful landscapes (classic Swedish red houses, forests, lakes & fields of rape seeds), pretty good roads and almost no motorized traffic (I met one car during that trip to the bakery). You pretty much get the whole pavement for yourself and, once you’re cruising at whatever speed you think is fast, you can just let a “yeeehhhaaaa” go (even two if you want to since no one can hear you anyway).
A Falu red cottage and a bicycle is what I would choose over Spain if you asked me (I could import a few extra degrees from down there though) but if you still don’t believe “på landet” is the place where you should spend your next (cycling) holidays, just see for yourself.
Doesn’t she look happy? Does she look like she’d rather be in Spain or in the shower after that long ride she just took to the nearest shop? I think she’s doing just fine… “på landet”.
In 2013, Swedes took 2.04 million trips to Spain. – http://www.thelocal.se/20140603/swedes-top-travel-destination-revealed ↩