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: Spain ((In 2013, Swedes took 2.04 million trips to Spain. – http://www.thelocal.se/20140603/swedes-top-travel-destination-revealed)) 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”.
With the wind at our backs and some good downhill sections we really picked up the pace. Heading towards the southern end of the lake and the turn north at Jönköping we were hitting our maximum speed of just over 60kmh several times. When we got to Jönköping we were forty minutes ahead of schedule but it was not to last.What had been a tailwind had turned into a headwind and a very strong one at that. We were also heading into several long uphill sections and the pace dropped considerably. Two major uphill sections of over 5km each were killing us. In fact, over the next 50km we lost all the time we had made up and were only just keeping up with our schedule.
Morale in the team sank a bit and it became very quiet. Nobody was chatting anymore, everyone was totally focused on just keeping going. To make things worse, the group got slightly separated from each other and some outsiders forced their way into our lines. This made it difficult to rotate the team and keep the guys at the front fresh. I was stuck right at the back and in the end I had to just sit there and watch everyone else suffer while I had it easy stuck out on the tail. One of the girls was also starting to feel sick. She couldn’t eat or drink without becoming nauseous and, of course, that just made things even worse. This really was our low point.
Luckily it wasn’t too far to Fagerhult. We got a rest some food into us.
We also took the chance to reorganise the group. One guy stayed at the back making sure those who were struggling could keep up while those of us who still felt strong rotated at the front a lot faster to keep everyone feeling in top condition.
So far it had been a struggle but we’d had no mechanical issues. That was about to change.
And so we were off. We headed south out of Motala towards our first stop. Unlike most people we did not plan to stop at all the pit areas. We had planned four stops totalling just 45 minutes. Our first goal was Ölmstad which was 83 km away.
There was a huge board telling us the start time of the next group and counting down to our start time. One group departed every two minutes so it was important to pay attention.
As we left Motala it was a lovely day, blue skies and, most importantly, the wind at our back.
The roads were almost completely free of cars as everybody had been encouraged not to drive in the area unless they had to. Unfortunately we got stuck behind another group who were going slower than us but not slow enough to make it easy to overtake them. They were very jerky in their tempo, constantly accelerating and braking which made it difficult to be close behind them.
After about one hour there were suddenly shouts from in front of us. There had been an accident ahead and an ambulance was partially blocking the road. Rather than gradually slowing or just steering round the obstacle, everyone in the leading group slammed their brakes on. If you’ve ever done group cycling then you know this is very dangerous as we ride so close to each other, usually not more than about 20 centimetres off the back tyre of the bike in front. Luckily we were all able to stop safely and the chaos of the situation allowed us to get by the other group. Sadly, as we passed the ambulance, we saw that it was a Fredrikshof group that was down. We learned later that the sub 9 group had crashed but nobody was seriously injured. A few broken bones and a lot of cuts and bruises, 5 guys out of the race but everyone lived to fight another day and that’s the most important thing.
Once we had cleared the slower group we really started motoring. It was a beautiful day and the countryside was lovely, reminding me a lot of my home in Ireland but we couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. With the wind at our backs we set to it in earnest pedalling as hard as we could to make the best of the favourable conditions.
After just under three hours we arrived in Ölmstad for an all-too-short break (just five minutes). It was a real splash and dash. Run to the loo, refill the water bottles, grab as much food as we could and back on the bikes. As with everything else, the pit area was really well organised. Plenty of racks to hang the bikes on, lots of toilets and loads of helpful and friendly volunteers manning the food stations. We had just enough time to check our progress compared to the plan. So far we were about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
At this point I was still feeling great but could we keep this pace up?
Every year Motala hosts Cycle Week, a whole week dedicated biking and home to various cycle races ranging from 1300m for 6-7 year old kids, up to the blue riband 300km race around the whole lake.
My mother-in-law always rides Tjejvättern, a 100km race for women only. She’s in no way competitive and takes her sweet time about getting round to get the most for her entry fee. This year we decided to head down to Motala a week early to check things out, get all the last minute bits and pieces I needed and then wave her across the finish line.
The whole town really gets behind the event. All the taxis get fitted with bike racks, the town centre is blocked to all traffic except buses and official vehicles and stalls pop up all over the places selling everything you could possibly need at some very knocked down prices. I’d already bought most of what I needed but a last minute puncture left me needing some new inner tubes. Two Continental tubes for 200SEK, not bad. I also picked up some Grip Grab gloves for 150SEK and a Bianchi foot pump for 349SEK. I also sorted out my food needs by buying the Enervit Vätternrundan “loader” and race packages.
With that all done we cheered on my mother-in-law then headed back to Stockholm for the final training session.
One week later and we had the car packed up and were on our way back to Motala.
The team met up on Friday night to have some dinner and sort out the final details for Saturday. We then headed home for some rest before our early start the next morning. I needed to get up at 0400 to be in town at 0515 and ready to start at 0546. As you can see I was taking it very seriously…
Everyone arrived in time. A few people had forgotten things. One guy forgot his sunglasses, I forgot to put on sun screen and so on but nothing major. The time flew by and soon we were ready for the start of our 300km adventure.
There were lots of Fredrikshof groups and most started around the same time. Every two minutes about 70 cyclists headed over the line. At 0546 it was our turn.
Next time we’ll see how it went on the first part of the race.
My main reason for getting back on my bike a year ago was that I have decided to try and complete the Svenskklassiker race series. I did Halvklassikern three years ago and the cycling was by far the hardest part, so I started with the cycling this time. That meant tackling Vätternrundan, a 300km bike ride around Sweden’s second largest lake.
I figured that I would never make it round on my own so I signed up for Fredrikshof’s sub-12 group. Put simply, this meant that our goal was to get round the course in a total time under 12 hours. Not a bad challenge considering that most people take 14+ hours. There were 11 in the team ranging from total noobs like me to very experienced guys who have done VR in sub-9 groups.
We met up most Tuesdays and Thursdays through March, April and May for 50-60km rides around the Märsta / Arlanda area. These usually took us about 2 hours. We’d then meet up on the weekend and do anything from 50 up to 170km. The one big struggle we had was synchronising everyone’s real life commitments with the training sessions so we never managed to get the whole group together at one time. There was a core of five or six who came regularly and the rest came as they were able. Fortunately we had a great team leader who knew exactly what we needed to be doing to be ready in time.
They say that to make it round Vättern you need to have covered at least 1000km. 2000km is needed if you plan to go any sort of fast and 3000km if you want it to be comfortable. From buying my new bike last June to the start this June I covered a little over 2500km of which about 1800 was done this year. Tune in next time to see how it went…
On June 19, the architecture and design center (located next to the Museum of Modern Art) will open an exhibition with and about the bicycle. The bike and cycling are highlighted here as pages in the history of design and culture, as design objects, as lifelong companions and as an opportunity for urban planning, faced as it now is with an urgent need of redirection. The exhibition will close on October 5.
During that period several side events will be organized such as:
Tuesdays in July from 5pm to 8pm: bicycle-themed after work at Café Blom
August 3 to October 5: family Sundays from 1pm to 3pm (make bike accessories for yourself or your bike)
July 5, August 6 & October 4: bike before breakfast from 6am to 9am (bike out in the early morning and discover the architecture of Stockholm together with a guide)
August 13, 15, 30 & September 6, 13, 20, 27 & October 4: biking academy from 1pm to 3pm (learn how to ride safely in traffic, for kids)
August 12 to 16: culture festival (make bike accessories for yourself or your bike
September 2: cycle cities (a seminar ont the sustainable and bike-friendly cities of the future)
October 3 & 4: film festival (movies, bike and fun)
In June, August & September, Tuesdays from 4pm to 7pm & Sundays from 12am to 5pm: bring your bike and learn how to repair it