Not much bicycle riding in the last few days as I had to stay home with a sick child and the only cycling in the saddle activity I managed to squeeze in was a round trip to the Bicycle Film Festival Greatest Hits on Friday evening. Upon arrival at Arkitektur- och designcentrum I was greeted by an american man smoking a cigarette just outside the building. “Hi, what’s your name?” – “I’m Pierre.” – “Where are you from?” – “I’m from France.” – “Where in France?” – “I was born in Roubaix but…” – “Really? I’m working on a film about Paris-Roubaix. My name is Brendt Barbur by the way. Founder of the Bicycle Film Festival”.
We talked for a while and when Brendt asked me, the amateur cyclist born in Roubaix, whether I had watched a Sunday in Hell or not, I did not really know how to answer and after something like “euhhh…. yes… maybe… no” I had to admit to being a bad student coming to the festival rather unprepared.
I had seen some of the movies of the greatest hits already but some were new to me and the two hour program felt way shorter than it was. The evening ended with Lucas Brunelle’s Off The Grid but even though I know he’s a regular contributor to the Bicycle Film Festival (I respect that) and his movies quiet exciting to watch I still don’t see the point of glorifying reckless riding and, furthermore, still don’t understand the whole meditation and metaphysical bullshit the guy can come up with for a full 20 minutes.
I rode home through hipstermalm and somehow managed to stay on the bike despite all the drunks and taxis using the bike lane for everything but cycling and suddenly it’s Monday. I have the whole day for myself and decide it’s time to work on the fundamentals. I have to watch a Sunday in Hell or I can’t keep blogging about cycling and tell people I’m from Roubaix each time the Queen of the Classics pops up in a discussion. And so I did just that. I just enjoyed a Monday in Hell.
Bicycles do have negative environmental impacts, particularly those associated with their production and disposal. They are not quiet either and one can even buy compressed air horns blasting no less than 120 decibels if being louder than loud is the logic behind bike commuting. But I do believe a bicycle still qualifies better than a car to that trendy-greeny tagline – “it is non-polluting and quiet”. Whatever the car.
I’m sure bike commuters who were struggling to keep rolling in wind and rain this morning in Stockholm would be pleased to know that while bicycle infrastructure and the whole cycling as an alternative mode of transportation idea need massive improvements and support the so called “environmental campaigners” were busy helping the car – non-polluting and quiet – industry breaking Guinness World Records on the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark yesterday.
We need to get people to pay attention to the electric car because it is non-polluting and quiet. Before summer there were just 400 registered electric cars […] That is way too few. – Jakob Hougaard, deputy chairman of the City of Copenhagen’s technical and environment committee.
Since when did the electric car become a non-polluting vehicle? Don’t you need to manufacture it anymore? Build and replace the batteries every now and then? Charge it? Does the electric engine make the sound of rolling (studded or not) tires disappear all of a sudden?
Although they are still awaiting an official count for their effort to create the world’s longest electric car parade, the event organisers say that they easily secured the Guinness World Record for the ‘most electric cars on a roof top parking lot’, the ‘largest spiral made with electric cars’ and the ‘most electric cars on a bridge between two countries’.
Guinness World Record for the ‘most electric cars on a roof top parking lot’, the ‘largest spiral made with electric cars’ and the ‘most electric cars on a bridge between two countries’? ‘F’ word me, that was definitely worth campaigning for! I’ll try to think about that next time I’m riding – non-polluting and quiet – on a tiny bicycle path squeezed between two lanes of speeding motorized traffic. It will definitely cheer me up.
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.
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
Sorry this took so long. To be honest I thought I’d posted it but apparently not.
Remember those sore feet I had in Karlsborg? Well I thought it was because of the stiff bike shoes. It ended up being a splinter that I’d stood on and jammed into my foot just where I press down on the pedals. If I’d looked at it then I’d have been able to solve it straight away. How annoying is that?
So, what did I learn?
Well, quite a lot actually. Firstly, that 300 kilometers on a bike is not as hard as you might think as long as you have done the prep work. Anyone who goes into it thinking it’ll be easy is either mad, stupid or a Team Sky rider (and even they don’t usually ride that far in one go!).
Apart from that, this is what I take away with me:
They say to do 1000 kilometers training if you want to make it round Vättern, 2000 if you want to do it comfortably and 3000 if you want to do it fast. Those numbers are pretty accurate I’d say! I did about 2800 and still had to dig deep when my energy hit rock bottom.
Join a bike club. They can help you with training, to find a team and, most importantly, they get priority placing when registration opens. Sure, you have to pay a little more but at least you are freed from the wild scramble to get a place. Vätternrundan fills up in minutes and a lot of people are left disappointed!
Cycle as part of a team. Having friends all around you to push you along and keep you going when things get hard is the best thing you can possibly have. I know at least two members of my team would have quit if the rest if us had not been there encouraging them.
Set a goal. But remember that it doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve your goal. Just getting round is a pretty bloody major achievement in itself. It’s more important to enjoy yourself and have a good time than to eat some time limit that nobody cares about except you.
Make sure you know how to fix a puncture. It might sound stupid but you’d be amazed how many people we passed waiting for service cars to come and fixed punctured tyres! You’ll ruin any chance of beating your goal time but, more importantly, you’ll get cold and stiff waiting around. Better to fix it yourself and get on your way again.
The right bike for you is better than the wrong bike with a flashy label on it. You’re ten times better off having a bike nobody has heard of but that fits you than a Specialized carbon fibre wonderbike that is way too big or small.
The people who make fun of you for spending so much time training and grinding yourself down are mostly just jealous because they are too lazy to get off their butts and do it themselves.
You cross the line saying, “Never again.” A few weeks later you’re thinking, “When does the registration for Vätternrundan open?” I won’t be doing it next year but I will be back some day!
Why am I not going back next year? Well mainly because my wife would kill me but also because my job are entering teams in Halvvättern and I want to be part of that. Even doing Halvvättern without practicing with the people you will cycle with is just a bad idea.
That’s it. My Vätternrundan 2014 adventure is over. I’ve also completed Vansbrosimmet and will run Lidingöloppet on Saturday.
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 ↩