throwing money out the (car) window

Not even a month into the new routine and I’m already behind schedule. I did spend Monday morning cycling around Stockholm though – looking for a front rack to my Kona Paddy Wagon – but, considering the fine weather, I could not ride back home to lock myself in and write another piece of crap. I had lunch on hipstermalm, decided the blog could just wait and enjoyed some sun instead.

There are a couple of places where that star don’t shine unfortunately. Road tunnels are a good example and Swedish taxpayers would be pleased – as I was when I first read about it obviously – to know that 50 million Swedish kronor (that’s 5.5 million euros or 7 million US dollars) has been spent to light up the underground part of Norra Länken. 50 million Swedish kronor spent on five kilometers (you do the maths for a cost per kilometer), 50 million Swedish kronor spent on 6 art pieces inside a bloody road tunnel.1

I won’t argue on how tax money is being used (I might have done just that already) but I have to question, however, the thinking behind that sort of installation. A driver’s attention is a limited, critical resource that is already compromised by lots of distractions: space shuttle like dashboard with touch screen and switches all over, kids having a blast (or not) in the back, texting, emailing, instagraming, facebooking, you name it. Should we really distract drivers even more with art along the road? Aren’t you suppose to stay focused and keep your mind on the road when behind the wheel. I naively thought so.

I’m having a hard time understanding how these 50 million Swedish kronor pieces of art fit in the Vision Zero road traffic safety project started in Sweden in 1997 but, at the same time, I’m also having a hard time understanding how building more roads help reducing traffic jam. It seems that the guys at the Swedish Transport Administration just know better (about 50 seconds in the video).

Norra Länken will open to traffic on November 30 and while art lovers should not really have time to appreciate the exhibition (remember, no more traffic jam) I’ll probably be cruising around Stockholm on a far from perfect bike paths network. Too bad there’s not much money and intention to fix that.


Tour de Saltsjöbaden

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.

Tour de Saltsjöbaden

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.

Solsidan, election results, 2014

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.

Sthlm Bike, the world’s most beautiful bicycle race

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, 2013

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).

Sthlm Bike, 2014

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 –

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.

How was your day?

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.

Mountain biking around Hellasgården
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
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.

Kona Dr Dew continued

I’ve had this bike (check the Kona Dew Deluxe also) for a while now and had more time to use it. It’s still not my main use bike as I use my racer for the daily commute but it is what I use for cycling with my son or my dog and for quick runs to the shops. So, what do I think?

Well, in short, I love it. it’s comfortable to ride, stops really well (I just love the brakes) and it looks good too.

I’m no expert but the one thing that has bothered me slightly is the mid-range gearing. I don’t know exactly which gear it is but there is one step somewhere around 14th or 15th that is too big. It goes from being too hard to pedal to far too easy. However, the reason I have not bothered to find out exactly where the issue occurs is that it’s only really noticeable if I’ve already cycled a long way and have tired legs or am going uphill. In either case I just back off a little and the problem is solved.

Before I bought this bike I had not heard of Kona. Now that I’ve had it my only regret is that I didn’t have a bigger budget when I bought my racer. Then I could have bought one of their racers as well!

Kona Dr Dew 2013

As you may have read, the tail-end of 2013 brought a lot of bike misery to me. I had my long serving and much abused mountain bike stolen, I replaced it with a hybrid and, after just 11 days, that was stolen too. Luckily a friend of a friend (who runs a bike shop) took sympathy on me and offered to sell me a good bike at a great price. While researching for the first hybrid I’d looked at the Dr Dew but I have a real problem with Cyklotkeket since their staff pretty much ignored me when I wanted to buy my racer and then when I asked for help told me they didn’t have time because the shop would shut in 15 minutes. Now I had a second chance to get the same bike at a better price and from a nicer place.

I went for a quick test ride and was convinced this would be a good bike for me. It was comfy to ride, seemed to be well-specced, didn’t have the lockable front suspension which had annoyed me a little on my Specialized hybrid and would be fitted with the lights, speedo etc that were stolen along with the last bike.

We agreed on a price and I gave the shop a few days to get it in order before going to collect it. I then cycled back across Stockholm to my work. Almost immediately I started to regret my decision. Cycling was a nightmare. I pedaled and pedaled but seemed to go nowhere. Sure, it was windy but it wasn’t that bad, was it? Oh well, too late now so I took the bike home, waited a few days for the wind to die down and tried again. Talk about a difference! It was easy to ride, I could keep up a fairly high speed without too much effort and it was not nearly as jarring as I bashed up and down kerbs compared with the Specialized and that lockable suspension.

Now came the only problem. I wanted to go out for a ride but had no time during the day and it was dark already at night. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to riding new bikes and prefer to be able to have an easy bedding in period where I only ride in nice conditions and on roads I know. Weeks went by with just short spurts when dropping off my son at day care or zooming to the shops but no long rides. Finally I got an hour to myself and went for a quick spin. My initial negativity is now totally washed away and I love it. The two main gripes I had with the Specialized Crosstail were the lockable front forks (see above) and also the fairly uncomfortable hand-grips. No such issues on the Kona. The brakes are also very good and were particularly strong in the wet which was nice.

What I have heard is that the main difference between the 2013 and 2014 models will be a downgrade of the brakes so, if you are thinking of getting one, I highly recommend you strike now. Yes, the vivid lime green colour of the 2014 model is a bit more eye-catching but I’d rather have a bike that will stop on demand than one that is a little bit prettier.

Do you ride one? Are you pleased with it? If you have anything you want to share on Kona or on the Dr Dew, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

hey dj, where’s the bike?

A long time ago in a Norrviken far, far away someone started building some new bike parking. It was desperately needed because the existing cycle stands at Norrviken station are jammed full every day. I was really happy because not only was there going to be more parking but it was going to be on the same side of the station to my house so I wouldn’t have to walk as far after dropping off the bike (those extra 50 metres were a killer). While I would like to cycle all the way to  work more often, I don’t have time as I have to pick up my son from day care pretty early and the train is faster. Luckily he’s learning to ride now so at least I can cycle to the station in the morning and then from the station to day care in the afternoons.

A hole was dug out quite quickly, some foundations were built and, in no time at all, some supporting legs and a roof were up. Then everything ground to a halt. No actual bike stand was put in. Over a year passed and no progress was made but then, out of the blue, work began on a second bike stand beside the first uncompleted one. I thought it was pretty weird but decided to wait and see what happened.

It was worth it. Just a few days later the following sight greeted me on my way to the train…

New bike shed

Naturally I started parking my bike in the new bike stands.

Then came the dreaded storm weather warnings (am I the only who thinks that was totally blown out of proportion?). I was worried about the trains not running so I scrounged a lift home from a friend and totally forgot that my poor bike was waiting for me.

The next morning I walked up to the station and past the bike parking. I was almost past before I realised my bike wasn’t there. I looked around in case the workmen had been forced to move it somewhere but no, it was gone. Stolen. Vanished. It was an ex-bike.

I was pretty pissed off at whoever stole it. It’s not like they took it accidentally. Or that it was an emergency so they stole it then brought it back later. Learn the difference between yours and mine please! However, I realised there was an opportunity here as well. I have insurance so I could get a new bike. I phoned up my insurers and was told that, due to the age of the bike, it wasn’t worth that much but, even though I had no receipt or any kind of proof that I’d ever bought the bike, they’d give me 50% of the estimated value.

All that remained was for me to buy a new mountain bike. I had a pretty limited budget (max 8000SEK for everything) but I started looking and quickly realised it wasn’t going to be an easy task. The decent bikes all seemed to be a few thousand above my budget but I soldiered on. Then my friend and fellow Fourteen Islands writer Pierre suggested I get a hybrid bike instead. I was fairly skeptical. “Those skinny tyres will never hold up to me smashing up and down kerbs”, I thought, “and there’ll be no grip out in the forests.” (not that I’m in any way a serious off-roader but everyone likes a cycle through the woods occasionally). I’d pretty much dismissed the idea until I went to the first shop who had not even one mountain bike within my range. I talked over the issues concerning hybrids with the guy in the shop and he was able to calm my nerves so I looked at a Kona DR Dew that Pierre had recommended. I liked what I saw but had only looked in one shop so wanted more choice. I also have a bit of a problem with Cykolteket but that’s another story.

Moving on to Sportson I talked to a really helpful guy who encouraged me strongly to go for a hybrid. They had two on offer that he recommended, a Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc or a Scott Speedster X40. Both were the exact same price (6995 SEK) and had pretty much the same specs but which to choose. In the end it came down to a few small details. I hated the huge platform pedals on the Specialized but the guy swapped them for my choice of pedal for free. I preferred the colour of the Specialized and didn’t like the hand-grips on the Scott. And I’ve always wanted a Specialized. It might be daft but for some reason it’s always felt like I could never afford a Specialized bike and here was my chance so I grabbed it. And here she is, my new baby…

Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc

So far I’m very happy with it. It’s a comfortable ride, it’s pretty fast (especially compared to my old mountain bike) and it’s just so pretty. I’ll let you know how I get on with it after I’ve had more time on it.

Now let’s just hope the thieves let me hold onto this one!

orange mécanique

Two days ago, something rather disturbing happened to me: in the span of an hour and fourteen minutes I wore Lycra, I rode a bicycle with lots of gears, a curved handlebar and a carbon fork and, to my own surprise, I liked it.

Despite the relative lack of sleep (a couple of hours) and training (none at all, remember the three week old daughter?) I met with two of my colleagues (Joel & Jukka) last Sunday morning for an Olympic relay (triathlon) here in Stockholm, Sweden. For those of you who are not too familiar with the sport (as I was until two days ago and still am), a triathlon is a multiple-stage competition with hundreds of women and men wearing spandex while they swim, cycle and run: a giant flash mob of people in tights sort of.

Anyhow, I was part of a wonderful team of amateurs on their first triathlon ever and my duty obviously was the 40 kilometres bicycle ride. I might commute by bike to work every day all year round and have some fun in the woods or in the bike park with the mountain bike I, on the other hand, don’t do road cycling and the fact is I don’t even own a road bike. But I have friends (yes I do), great friends, one of them being the owner and dictator at Fix My Bike in Hammarby Sjöstad. Yoann (that’s his name) trusts me enough to lend me a brand new Kona Jake The Snake for the race and the least I could do for him is put a link to his website (and here’s a second one – Fix My Bike – for the road).

Kona Jake The Snake, carbon fork

So I’ve been riding a Kona Jake The Snake, a cyclocross bicycle I know, on that race and, as a first road experience on a first proper sort-of-road-bike, it was a HUGE change from the Kona Coilair (really?) or the Kona Paddy Wagon (really?) I otherwise ride. Rolling at 50+ kilometres an hour with only the sounds of tires against asphalt and air in the spokes was just pure happiness.

I bought a pair of Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2 for the occasion and was very pleased with the pedals. I already have Mallet 3 on the Coilair and Candy 1 (that I’ll replace with the Eggbeater) on the Paddy Wagon so it was quite a natural addition to the bike.

Crank Brothers, Eggbeater 2 on Kona Jake The Snake

One hour and fourteen minutes then. That’s my modest performance on the 40 kilometres ride but I’m still quite satisfied considering the preparation with an average speed of just over 32 kilometres an hour. The team completed the race in 2 hours and 47 minutes and I guess we’ll just have to try and do better next year. Well done boys.

Note. The Snake, Jake (56 centimetres frame) is now for sale at 12,000 SEK (instead of 16,000) and has only been used for the triathlon. Hurry up cause there’s only one left.

icy Hellasgården

Yesterday was time for the first mountain bike ride of 2013 in Stockholm. I was much more committed to Sunday winter rides last year and I have to admit it took me a while before I found the motivation to take the Coilair out in the woods this year.

I put it on the warm and sunny ride in Réunion last month which kind of biased my weather expectations to a level not attainable in snowy Sweden. I was kind of stuck between the two options I had : either deal with ice and studded tires or wait another month (two months maybe?) before the snow melts.

Icy Hellasgården

Then the phone rings and Yoann asks me out on a date: “You’ve been off the trails for too long! Should we go for a ride and test one of the demo Kona Tanuki I have in the shop?” (Yoann is the owner of Fix My Bike in Hammarby Sjöstad and has a couple of demo Kona bikes one can borrow and test ride: read about the different bikes and conditions – in Swedish).

I put the Continental Spike Claw 240 on the Coilair (love the bike for how easy it is to maintain) and off we are for a 3 hour ride in Nackareservatet (the nature reserve of Nacka). It was slippery, the trails covered with packed snow or ice, but sunny and it made me realized how much I missed riding around Hellasgården.

What about you? How was your Sunday ride? Did you need studded tires and a big dose of motivation or do you live in a warmer part of the world?

Kona Paddy Wagon 2013

In January I replaced the cheap fixed gear bicycle I had since July – reasons behind this rather quick replacement might come in a later post – with a 2013 model of the Kona Paddy Wagon and I’ve been riding it pretty much every day since then.

I already owned a Kona Coilair 2012 and I must say that I am still amazed by this horse’s reliability and quality so it was kind of a natural choice to go for the same brand.

The bike is very decent the way it’s shipped but, not that the original parts were bad in any way, I changed a few things: the pedals (mounted my Crank Brothers Candy), the tires (I’ll ride Schwalbe CX Pro until the end of the winter) and the saddle (since my wife got me a brown Team Pro Chrome Brooks saddle for my 32nd birthday why should I sit on something else?).

Nothing wrong to report so far – apart for the front wheel nuts that already began to rust (snow & salt must have something to do with that) – but I’ve had the bike for only a month. Long live the Paddy Wagon and if it proves to be as solid as the Coilair (and can keep up with at least 500 kilometers a month) I’ll probably still be riding it in a couple of years.

Do you ride one? Are you pleased with it? If you have anything you want to share on Kona or on the Paddy Wagon don’t hesitate to leave a comment.