Riding through this snow all alone

The Bakfiets is doing well, thank you for asking! And to all of you who think commuting by bicycle through the winter is not possible I tell you, it is. It’s even possible up here in Stockholm with a cargo bike and it’s lots of fun.

PS. I will update the gallery as snow keeps falling.

rain, wind, rain, rain, wind, rain, wind, wind and… rain

The correct number of bikes to own is 4

There was a time when I thought n+1 was the right number of bicycles I had to own. But as I grew older and got other things and people to spend time with and take care of, more equipment did not mean more time in the saddle.

Quite the opposite actually and I sure never really needed these two Centurion Le Mans mixte bicycles I’ve had for almost 6 years and barely used. I wanted them gone before winter and put an ad on Blocket (Sweden’s Craigslist) in October last year. I quickly realized I’d better be selling skis at that time of year though.

Centurion Le Mans Mixte, Blocket

That horse was in pretty good condition and I had just replaced both tires with brand new Schwalbe but a guy actually offered me less than half the price I was asking for to, and I quote, “help me get rid off it”. I removed the ad instead and put it back online last week: the horse was sold less than a hour later. Blocket in a nutshell.

I’ve now got 4 bikes -a commuter to display the Brooks saddle I got when I turned old, a full suspension mountain bike to jump on & off curbs in the neighborhood, a cyclocross to ride on roads and a hard-tail mountain bike to carry my kid around- and it’s about the right number.

Stockholm hasn’t had such a rainy month at this time of year for more than two centuries

Sweden hasn’t experienced such a wet May since 1962, according to meteorologists, with double the average rainfall for this time of year across much of the Nordic nation.
The capital bore the brunt of the recent downpours. In fact, Stockholm hasn’t had such a rainy month at this time of year for more than two centuries and the recent soggy weather has dampened a number of major events in the city including the annual marathon.1

According to meteorologists it’s been raining quite a lot in May. It didn’t take me complex mathematical models and insanely expensive hardware to figure that out but I guess that sort of lines are for people who never go out so keep up the good work, you’re on the right track! Now if you want cheap and accurate weather data you could also ask any daily bicycle commuter in the streets and she could tell you that. She probably wouldn’t know about two centuries ago but even if she said so you couldn’t prove otherwise.

If there’s one thing cyclists don’t like and don’t forget though, it’s wind. She could also tell you it’s been windier (last year was also windy) than all those years (at least two centuries) she’s spent in the saddle around Stockholm. So back to work weather boys, you’ve got a cyclist to catch and question!

  1. http://www.thelocal.se/20150601/may-weather-in-sweden-was-worst-since-1962 

the times they are a-changin

Stockholm will probably not become a much less car-centric city overnight but talks and decisions begin to point in that direction and keep hope alive.

During summer 2012 Stockholm’s first indoor bicycle parking facility (capacity of 350 parking spaces) opened next to the train station in Älvsjö. Another one (capacity of 200 parking spaces) should be ready when the Odenplan station (along the Stockholm City Line1) opens in 2017 and now a third garage (capacity of 700 parking spaces) is planned next to Södra station (Stockholm South)2.

That’s good news for a lot of commuters and I just find it unfortunate that Dagens Nyheter chose to fuel the bikes versus cars debate and focus, right in the title, on the fact that the facility will not be opened for cars. Should a garage always be built with room for cars? No. How many cars can you park instead of 700 bicycles anyway? Not many. So why write such a thing?

The Bicycle Snake, Copenhagen
The Bicycle Snake, Copenhagen

Like it or not growing cities around the world can’t and won’t develop with private cars as the inevitable mode of transport in mind.

Stockholm, more than ever, has to concentrate on walking and cycling infrastructure and build a better mass transit system even if that means taking public space back from off-street and on-street parking facilities. There are around 36,000 on-street parking spots in central Stockholm (28,000 twenty years ago) and 1,500 are soon going to disappear to make room for the first of four planned dedicated bus lanes3. There’s no reason one should be stuck in traffic when using public transportation. Is there?

These two measures were in the news yesterday. They are likely to be followed by others. They’re going to piss off a few people and be labeled as green propaganda among other things. But hey. The times they are a-changin. Always.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_City_Line 

  2. http://www.dn.se/sthlm/garage-mitt-i-stockholm-forbjuder-bilar/ 

  3. http://www.mitti.se/bussfilerna-kan-sluka-1-500-p-platser/ 

thank God it’s (melting) Friday

The week is almost over and I can’t say bike commuting has been a blast the last couple of days. Like many other cyclists in Stockholm I was looking forward to seeing prioritized winter maintenance in action and riding clean bicycle routes but, once again, the City of Stockholm (or whoever is responsible for the maintenance) has failed to fulfill their promises. Miserably.

I consider myself a decent rider and still cycled my daughter to preschool every morning but not everybody feels comfortable riding on black ice with 480 studs. Alice’s 10 minute bicycle ride (2.5 kilometers) has become a 45 minute bus + subway ride for many other kids and that is NOT OK.

But life is too short to spend hoping that, someday, winter (or not) bike commuting will be taken seriously by the Capital of Scandinavia. I won’t let any sort of frustration affect my plans for the first warmish ride of 2015 on the bike with the skinny tires.

Kona, Jake The Snake 2014

I know the Jake The Snake is not a true road bicycle according to the Book of Fred but trust me it works perfectly fine on asphalt too. In 2014, most of the road pedaling I did was on the Paddy Wagon (around 4,500 kilometers bike commuting) but I also managed around 1,000 kilometers on the Jake The Snake.

Brooks saddle, Cambium, slate

I just hope I can ride that green horse more in 2015 and I’m definitely looking forward to fixing a shorten stem and switching to a nice Cambium slate saddle from Brooks England (that’s the big plans I have so far). It won’t make me a faster and more committed road cyclist but it will make the bike look even better. For sure.

And while I day and night dream about that first ride I believe the ice is slowly melting away. Although it’s 6°C and government agencies have nothing to do with that.

Happy cycling new year. Ride safe.

Cyclist reveals filthy face masks after commuting in London (uncensored)

Last Friday I quoted an article published in The London Evening Standard1 as an introduction to a post on air quality in Stockholm and the crap that we, pedestrians and cyclists, breathe in pretty much all the time (I know motorists don’t breathe in cleaner air either but, hey, it’s mostly them that are making it toxic to start with).

“Cyclist reveals filthy face masks after commuting in London” describes a pretty scary reality already but it seems it does not exactly tell what John Lenehan (the cyclist) had in mind when he spoke to the journalist over the phone. He since has reached out to the newspaper and some of the article has been updated but he is still not happy with it and, therefore, reached out to the Great North

Hello. I spoke on the phone with a reporter, who then wrote the original article. I read the original article after it had been published. I wasn’t happy with it and so I produced the “corrected” article, which I then emailed to the reporter. It seems as of now that the only change made was that my name was corrected. I don’t know if they plan to run the full corrected article or not. So that’s my story. You can proceed however you choose. – John Lenehan

I’ve tried to reproduce John’s story as he sent it to me and added some extra weight on words and sentences that were changed or are completely missing in The London Evening Standard’s version. As always don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section!

From Stockholm, with polluted love.

A general point – this is not a cycling-specific problem. It’s a problem that affects everybody. It’s not another “cyclist versus the world” argument.

Cyclist reveals filthy face masks after commuting in London

A cyclist is calling on the government to improve air quality after his face mask filters were left covered in filth after a week of commuting.

John Lenehan, an engineer, purchased the mask after suffering from a cough and irritable throat as he cycled to his office in Old Street, east London.
He wore the mask for three days as he made his way from Enfield to his workplace, cycling for about 60 miles in total, in April.

But when Mr Lenehan looked at filters inside the masks, designed to trap harmful particulates, he was shocked to find them completely blackened by pollution.
The results left Mr Lenehan so concerned for his health he decided to stop cycling to work and commute by train instead.

Anti-pollution mask, air filters, London
The photograph shows a filter after around 4 hours of cycling on the right. The middle filter is after approximately 3 hours underground.

He continued to wear the mask for the journey, which included underground travel for the final 10 minutes, and was horrified to find the mask filters were similarly blackened from underground travel.

Mr Lenehan, who is also a triathlete, has since moved house, living outside of London. This has completely changed his commute to include no underground travel, and no travel by bus or bike on busy roads, because of health concerns.

The 30-year-old said: “When I was cycling to work I would be coughing and have a sore throat all the time. The damage I was doing to myself was beyond belief. The cumulative effects of this toxic pollution over a lifetime do not bear thinking about.

“It is not just cycling-specific problem, it is something that affects everybody – people travelling all over London, people living and working in London, children, adults, elderly people. As an example, Oxford Street, one of London’s showcase streets, regularly fails air quality tests. It’s no wonder, with so many buses and taxis.

“You can’t actually see the air pollution and know how bad it is, and I think that people need to know the extent of the problem and the diseases it can cause.”

“London’s air is lethally toxic. I think there are many contributing factors: buses and taxis would be major polluters. Poor traffic flow, congestion, and the stop-start road network is also a problem. The air underground is also appalling.”

Mr Lenehan, alongside other air pollution campaigners, is calling on the Mayor of London to take radical and urgent action to address the problem. Cleaner technologies are available and must be embraced, particularly for buses, taxis and lorries. Congestion must be reduced.

Mr Lenehan also suggests that the public should be made more aware of the extent of the air pollution problem in London. So bad is London’s air pollution that it is in fact illegal, and last year the Supreme Court ruled that the Government is failing in its legal duty to protect Londoners from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Keep scrolling down… Matthew Pencharz, senior environment and energy adviser to the Mayor, said:

The Mayor is leading the most ambitious and comprehensive package of measures in the world to improve London’s air quality, an urgent challenge which affects the health and well-being of all Londoners.

At the heart of his plans is the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in central London from 2020. Already, progress is being made. Unlike many cities, we have met EU rules on particulate matter. The number of Londoners living in areas above nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits has halved since 2008.

Note on the last two paragraphs

These paragraphs are quite disappointing, because in my opinion, not enough is being done to tackle the problem. The idea of my “campaign” (for want of a better word) is to try to show people how bad the air is, and to highlight the fact that the problem is not being taken seriously enough by the authorities, and not enough action is being taken. What action there is just isn’t urgent enough. The technology and the ability to change is there, but the willingness and urgency doesn’t seem to be.

Some statistics like this should be included

The legal limit for UK average annual nitrogen dioxide levels is 40 micrograms per metre cubed. In 2013, at 62 (62!) monitoring stations across London, this limit was exceeded. In many cases, it wasn’t just exceeded, it was grossly exceeded. In Wandsworth (a residential area with many young families – remember that children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution), levels have reached FOUR times the legal limit. On Oxford Street (visited by thousands of shoppers per day, not to mention thousands more retail workers), levels are regularly more than THREE times the legal limit. PM10 and PM2.5 levels regularly exceed legal limits.

  1. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/cyclist-reveals-filthy-face-masks-after-commuting-in-london-9901951.html 

cyclist reveals filthy air filter after sitting on his couch drinking coffee in Stockholm

I was not sure how to begin a post on air quality in Stockholm and since Black (Smoke) Friday was a week ago I could not use that for an introduction either. But then I read this.

Cyclist reveals filthy face masks after commuting in London

A cyclist is calling on the government to improve air quality after his face mask filters were left covered in filth after a week of commuting.
John Lenehan, an engineer, purchased the mask after suffering from a cough and irritable throat as he cycled to his office in Old Street, east London.
He wore the mask for three days as he made his way from Enfield to his workplace, cycling for about 60 miles in total, in April.
But when Mr Lenehan looked at filters inside the masks, designed to trap harmful particulates, he was shocked to find them completely blackened by pollution.1

Anti-pollution mask, air filters, London
Air pollution: a mask before travelling (left), mask from cycling (one week, centre) and mask from travelling on the train (one week, right)

Cycling advocacy groups campaign for wearing helmets and high visibility clothing while riding but never or rarely talk about the crap we breathe along the way. Every day I read about yellow vests and how they’re supposed to make cyclists more visible during Stockholm dark winters (given that the other person is looking in the right direction obviously) but I haven’t read a single article on air quality in central Stockholm lately that did not end with that one old plan: “we really should start looking into starting to think about banning studded tyres in the city center… next year… or the year after.”

Air quality in Stockholm is not as bad as in London one might say (it was in the news sometime ago on some website somewhere) but air quality in Stockholm is far from perfect either.

Cyclist reveals filthy air filter after sitting on his couch drinking coffee in Stockholm

Now, ladies and gentlemen, please let me show you the anti-pollution filter that sits between the couch I drink coffee on and the wild world outside.

Anti-pollution filter, Stockholm
According to the manufacturer’s recommendation that filter should be replaced once a year but not only did I not think it would turn black that quick, I did not even know there was a filter I needed to check once in a while.

Long story short, this one was last replaced sometime between 2008 and 2012 and is already black as coal. I’m getting a new one as soon as possible and the air quality around the couch will definitely improve but what about when I’m out walking, riding or just having a drink on the balcony?

Last time I checked lungs, bronchioles and windpipes could not be ordered from the Internet like spare parts for ventilation systems can and there’s a good chance they were not made to filter as much crap as they nowadays should. There are 17 different classes of air filters available on the market but only one for lungs. One that, unlike helmets and high visibility vests, doesn’t get much media exposure and is seldom brought to the public’s attention by all the new cycling experts in town.

At the end of the day it’s up to everyone to decide which piece of “safety” equipment should be acquired first but I know I’d buy and wear an anti-pollution mask before any sort of neon yellow jacket. So what about you? Do or would you wear an anti-pollution mask when cycling? Do you think the City of Stockholm and Naturskyddsföreningen should give some away in their “Thank you for cycling” goody bags next Spring?

  1. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/cyclist-reveals-filthy-face-masks-after-commuting-in-london-9901951.html 

that time of year… when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

It’s full of “riding-studded-tires-or-not-because-it’s-getting-colder” stories, “looking-like-an-idiot-in-a-high-visibility-vest-or-not-because-it’s-getting-darker” arguments on the cycling interweb at the moment and so I don’t have to check the calendar or look out the window to know winter is just around the corner. Even a troglodyte could tell that Freds have stashed their plastic toys away for the next couple of months. It’s November 5 and, like pretty much every year, it’s Autumn time in the northern hemisphere.

Studded tires or not? You can read as much as you want, online or elsewhere, the first step to making the right decision would be to get on your bike on the first cold snowy day and think about equipment later. Swapping tires on a bicycle is quick and rather cheap (if you compare to the hassle the whole operation is with cars) and you don’t want to be this equipment-first-pleasure-last person riding studded tires already in September when it’s still 25ºC at night. Just in case.

Homemade studded tires

Then you really have three options. 1) the tires you currently have are good enough for the job, 2) you feel you need a bit more grip and knobby tires will do, 3) you’re mainly riding laps on an ice rink and studs are a must. I chose the second option three winters ago and bought a pair of Schwalbe CX Pro. They’ve done an excellent job so far and I’m just glad I don’t have to drag the extra kilogram and higher rolling resistance that come with studded tires. Feel free to hit the comments section and ask if you want me to elaborate on that choice.

But when it comes to wearing high visibility clothing I am very much against it. Don’t get me wrong, I buy the more-visible-is-safer argument. I really do. But I’m so annoyed cyclists and pedestrians let a few (in 2004, 23% of Stockholm commuted by car) dictate how and where it is safe or not safe to walk or ride a bicycle and don’t even question this absurd situation. I’m so annoyed people gave up and have come to accept they’re just moving targets, highly visible moving targets.

Spanish prostitutes ordered to wear reflective vests
You don’t want your next customer to run you over, do you?

Prostitutes working on the street outside a town northern Spain have been ordered to wear reflective vests to make them visible to passing traffic and reduce the risk of accidents. Women touting for customers on a rural highway outside Els Alamus near Lleida in Catalonia have been told to don the yellow fluorescent bibs or pay fines of 40 euros (£36) under road traffic laws.1

We (cyclists and pedestrians) should not even have to consider wearing high visibility vests and all. We should just wear whatever we feel like wearing and know we’re not going to be run over by a neighbor or… the next customer.

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8086050/Spanish-prostitutes-ordered-to-wear-reflective-vests-for-their-own-safety.html 

this is not a bicycle lane

Remember the 50 million Swedish kronor art pieces motorists will soon be able to enjoy while stuck in traffic on Norra länken? Well it looks like cyclists have not been forgotten and bicycle lanes are getting their share of fine arts too. Or is it art?

Stockholm’s population is among the fastest growing among European cities1 and the city is undergoing a major facelift to accommodate the crowd (or some of it at least): apartment buildings are popping up all over, roads are widen and resurfaced, … You would think the best way to transport those people with no or little change to the infrastructure would be to get them on bicycles as often and safely as possible but you would be wrong.

This is not a bicycle lane
This is not a bicycle lane

Bicycle lanes have been used for lots of things lately – as temporary (we’re talking months here) bus stops, as parking space for trucks or just as some place to put signs up – and cycling through Stockholm has become quite painful and dangerous. Maybe I’m just narrow-minded and a safe and easy ride to and from work is too much to ask. Maybe I’m just not ready for all this art thing. What about you? Cycling in Stockholm? Enjoying the exhibition?

Here’s a short selection of bike lane art. Enjoy. The walking cyclist, Cycling around the North Pole , The wall ride, Bike the bikes & The cycling bus stop.

  1. http://www.thelocal.se/20130423/47494