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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ↩
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?