One basic rule for Stockholm cyclists

Cyclists constantly complain about how drivers don’t give them space and endanger us while we are out on our bikes in town. It’s not a war that’s going to be won any time soon but here’s one rule that we can all start to follow today that will let us win a battle or at least take the moral high ground.

This is called a red light.

This is called a red light. It means “Stop!” Not “Stop if you feel like it” or “Stop if there are cars coming the other way” or “Stop if it’s a Tuesday” or anything else. Just “Stop!”


cyclists vs cyclists

We all know that cyclist and car drivers don’t see eye to eye. The cyclists claim that cars don’t leave enough space for them and drivers claim that bikers have no respect for the rules of the road. We also know that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Recently though, I discovered a new side to the argument. Cyclists don’t actually like other cyclists! I’ve been caught out by this twice and it really made me think.

Cycling in Stockholm, 1946
Sveavägen in 1946

I was cycling into work along Sveavägen (not my favourite place at the best of times) and stopped for a red light. The next thing I know there is a screech of brakes from behind me and a very pissed off Swede swearing at me for being a “jävla idiot”. I had no idea what he was talking about but he kept on ranting and I worked out that he’d got pissed off because I’d stopped for the red lights and, at least according to him, bikes shouldn’t have to stop for traffic lights. Now if I had just suddenly jammed on my brakes and caused a problem for him then I could understand his irritation but I’d stopped in a normal, calm fashion and not caused him any problems it’s just that he’d assumed I was going to keep on going because “all cyclists go through red lights.” Sorry mate but just because you want to a) break the law and b) risk your own neck by blasting straight through a light at a busy intersection, doesn’t mean I want to…

A few days later I was on the way home. I caught up with a “normal” cyclist who was just minding his own business heading home after his own working day had ended. Since I was going faster I overtook him but, a few hundred metres further along, I hit a red light so I stopped. As the lights changed I moved off only to be overtaken by the same guy who had caught back up with me. He then proceeded to do his best to block me from overtaking him until eventually I pulled off the cycle path onto the road and overtook there instead. This manoeuvre was accompanied by a stream of insults directed towards bloody show off cyclists in their lycra suits just doing whatever they please. Give me a break! I’d overtaken him carefully l before, he knew I was going faster, so why get in my way? What harm was I doing him?

There are different classes of cyclists with different styles of cycling. Some are happy to just pootle along and get there in the end, others want to go faster. Some want to obey all the rules of the road, some don’t care. Some people want to have all the techy gadgets and measure every possible parameter of their ride, others just want to get from a to b.

In the end, we are all going to have to share the same piece of tarmac. Cycle however you want to but don’t lose the plot just because every other cyclist doesn’t share your view.