A Month of Bicycle Commuting In Sweden, 1997

A picaresque account of a brief stay in Göteborg

Steve Maas
Long Beach, California, USA
April 17 - May 17, 1997
We Begin the Story
Bicycling in Sweden
We Continue the Story 
Göteborg Information and Links

Thursday, April 17 and Friday, April 18

Today I'm off to Göteborg, Sweden (known also to outsiders as Gothenburg). My wife, Julie, takes me to the airport, stays with me awhile, then goes home. Usually, when I go to Europe, she travels with me, but this time I'm alone. She and my younger son, David, will join me in Sweden in a little while. But for now, it's just me.
I'm a former college professor (UCLA, Electrical Engineering Department), now working as an engineering consultant. Somehow, in spite of the fact that I have no real ties to UCLA any longer, I seem to have retained some of my academic credentials. Last winter I was invited by Dr. Hans-Olof Vickes of Saab-Ericsson Space to visit for a week, and while I was there, we arranged for me to spend a month in Göteborg, half at Saab-Ericsson and half at Chalmers University of Technology. I plan to do some general consulting and to teach a short course in my specialty, nonlinear microwave circuit design.
Something like this is, of course, more than just a job. It's an opportunity and an adventure. I have always wanted to use a bike for my primary transportation while in Europe, so I made arrangements to rent a mountain bike for the month. I'm not outfitted for serious touring, and I don't think I'll have time for a long bike tour, but I hope to take a few day rides around Göteborg. And, of course, I will use the bike to commute between my apartment and my two jobs. It will be interesting to see how all this works out.
I have a special problem that complicates things: a bad ankle that prevents me from walking very far. This is one reason for using the bike: I can ride it right up to the front door of any place I visit. If I were to use Göteborg's public transportation, which is excellent, I would still have to walk a few blocks at each end of the journey, and even this much extra walking might be a problem. Fortunately, bicycling is easy on my ankle, and I can ride forever.
The plane trip is uneventful. I fly to Amsterdam and transfer to a plane to Göteborg. Hans-Olof is waiting for me when I get through customs. He takes me to my new home, an apartment for visiting Chalmers faculty. It is small but nice, one room with a kitchen and bath. He has thoughtfully brought some bread, coffee, and fruit, so I don't have to do any shopping right away. I'm jet-lagged and dog-tired, so I crash early. Plenty of time for exploring the surrounding tomorrow.

Saturday, April 19

My first morning in Sweden. I get up at 5:30 with the queen mother of all caffeine headaches. (I have avoided caffeine and alcohol on the plane; this is my reward!) I make a pot of coffee, take a couple of tylenols, and settle down to a breakfast of bread, coffee, and a banana. After breakfast I put away some of my things. There isn't enough space for all my clothes, so I will probably have to leave a lot in suitcases.
Today I feel pretty good, better than I have any right to expect. It's not because of any shortage of exercise. I spend the morning doing a little work, and Hans-Olof picks me up around noon. We go to a shop in his neighborhood and pick up my rented bike. I have a choice of a mountain bike or a traditional "city bike," a more upright unit with a seven-speed hub gear (!) and coaster brakes, of all things. I go for the known quantity, the mountain bike. The guy who owns the bike shop is very nice, helpful and friendly. As I leave, he gives me a bicyce map of Göteborg showing bike routes and streets that are recommended for bicycling. In the following weeks, I use it a lot.
From there I ride the bike to Hans-Olof's house, following him as he drives. It is a townhouse, perhaps 1800 square feet, with a small back yard. Interestingly, the streets in his neighborhood are named after communications terms: Radiogatan, Electrongatan, Radargatan, and similar things.
We take a short (~5 mile) bike trip to a small harbor on the coast. The bike path goes through some charming areas, full of expensive real estate, ending at a harbor full of small boats. Herbert Zirath, a Chalmers professor and one of Hans-Olof's friends, has a boat moored in the harbor. Usually he is there on Saturdays; we look for him, but he's not around. Heading back to Hans-Olof's house, we fight a stiff and cold headwind. Nevertheless, a reward is waiting: his wife has left us beer and quiche. We talk for a while, and I ride home.
The day has been cold, but clear and sunny. In spite of this, I run into snow flurries, courtesy of one dark cloud which has passed overhead. No matter; they disappear in a few minutes. The route home is a long bike path and goes past the botanical gardens. I make a mental note to visit.
On the way home, I get lost. I can get to my general neighborhood, but I can't find my building! (I know I left it here somewhere...) After a few wrong turns, and a few extra hills, I finally find my way home. I'm cold and starting to get a little tired. I snack on some bread and fruit for dinner, and spend the evening reading the mystery novel I brought. Sunset is around 9:00 PM.

Sunday, April 20

I crash around 10:00 but don't get to sleep easily. (The students playing drums in the courtyard around 11:00 don't help.) I wake up at 3:00 AM, after only about three hours of sleep. Well, the jet lag had to appear, I suppose. My room has only light curtains at the windows, and I'm afraid that after sunrise (about 6:00 AM now) I won't have a chance of getting back to sleep. I hang blankets over the curtain rods to cover the windows. I read a little, go to sleep around 6:00, and get up just before 10:00 AM.
Today is like yesterday, cool and windy, but also partly sunny. The blue sky is splattered with big cumulus clouds that drop an occasional snow flurry. I go for a bike ride, mostly along the harbor, following a well marked, scenic bicycle route. I pass the train station and shortly afterward, the new opera house; it is a striking building, evocative of the prow of a ship. Along the harbor, I pass passenger terminals where ships leave for Frederickshavn in Denmark, freight transfer facilities, and the maritime museum with its tower topped by a statue of a woman staring expectantly out to sea. Eventually I come to an area called Alsborg, where the remains of a castle are visible. There's not much left. My son David, who is a castle connoisseur, would be a little disappointed, but there are some charming eighteenth-century buildings remaining. I continue a few miles and eventually turn around, returning the same way I came. On the way home, I ride straight up the Avenue, the central shopping street in Göteborg, and stop at the concert hall. There is an interesting concert Friday, Brahms 1 and the Emperor Concerto. On Wednesday, the same Brahms with some unspecified Berlioz. Although the Friday concert is early (6:00 PM) I think I might go. The concert hall is just a short ride from my apartment, right down at the bottom of the hill. Maybe a mile. I could almost walk it.
I do a little shopping: some paper towels, a frozen pizza, pasta and tomato sauce, some fruit. I'll wait until tomorrow to buy bread, so it will be fresh. I have the frozen pizza for a mid-afternoon dinner. I'm hungry. I'm not eating enough.
This evening Hans-Olof stops by, mainly to show me how to get from my apartment to Saab-Ericsson by bike. The route is not difficult, but there is a long, steep hill, about the same as the one on Pacific Coast Highway just south of Dana Point. I don't think it is too difficult to ride, but I might need a shower when I get to the top. (Apparently that can be arranged, too.) After the orientation, we drive by Herbert Zirath's house, which is in a neighborhood behind Saab-Ericsson, visit for an hour, and help him empty a few cans of beer.

Monday, April 21

My first day of work. Up bright and early, and after a hearty breakfast of three-day-old bread and coffee, I'm off to Saab-Ericsson. The sky does not look as nice as it did over the weekend, so I wear my rain jacket, partly because of the threat of rain and partly for warmth. I find my way relatively easily. The hill is a long climb but not difficult; the cold is more of problem than the steep slope.
The route is pretty straightforward. My little apartment is on a hillside near Chalmers. Saab-Ericsson is on top of a hill on the opposite side of the valley. It is well outside of town, in a rural area, surrounded by light forests. There are bike paths all the way. I go down the hill on Rydberggatan, through the busy intersection at Korsvagen (a big bus/trolley transfer point), and across the valley past the entrance to Liseberg, the city's big amusement park. Then back down the valley to the freeway that goes directly to Saab, through a tunnel under the freeway, and up the long, steep hill on a bike path. Near the top, the hill gets almost too steep to ride, and it starts to drizzle. Fortunately there is an alternative route, under another underpass, up a longer and more gradual hill, then over to Saab on the regular streets. This goes through a recreation area that looks rather nice, especially when it's not under water from rain. Today it's full of golfers playing in the rain, slogging through deep puddles. In Göteborg, you play golf in the rain or you play golf very little. Your choice.
I park my bike in the bicycle barn, a covered wooden structure for bikes and mopeds. There must be a couple hundred bikes here; quite a few employees commute by bicycle. The barn is so full that I have trouble finding a spot for my bike, but I manage to wedge it in somewhere.
In my office we go through the standard ritual of making the email and Netscape work, getting the "lay of the land" (i.e., finding the coffee pot and men's room), meeting people, and figuring out what they want me to do.
Mid-morning, I glance out the window. Well, whattaya know: it's raining. Hard! Glad I brought my rain suit. This might be my first chance to try it.
I have lunch with Hans-Olof. Saab-Ericsson treats. This is OK; I can eat a good lunch and don't have to cook in the evening. The food is actually very good. They call it a choritzo sausage, which makes me think of Mexican sausage, but it's really a Polish sausage with an attitude. They have fresh fish on Tuesday through Friday, and Hans-Olof says it's excellent. The cafeteria is great; the food is good, and it's a pleasant, modern room with large windows. These let in lots of natural light and create a sense of being outdoors.
I plod along through the afternoon. Hans Grondqvist, one of the other engineers, stops by and we have coffee. The 2:00 coffee break is a very civilized tradition in the Scandinavian world; everyone takes a break at the same time, in the same place. It's not only very congenial, but it guarantees that everyone meets, face-to-face, at least once a day. A lot of problems that otherwise might be ignored get solved at these things.
I stare out the window at the rain. It's raining harder. This will be some trip home!
Five o'clock comes, and, amazingly, the rain has stopped. The sun is coming out and everything is drying. I won't even have to wear my rain pants to prevent splashing on my clean clothes. I head back down the mountain, retracing this morning's route. There isn't much rush-hour traffic in Göteborg, but it is a little congested on the bridge by Liseberg. What a pity! I was looking forward to feeling superior to all the autombile-bound suckers stuck in rush-hour traffic!
Dinner: I'm not very hungry, but cooking gives me something to do. I try to cook the shell macaroni I got at the local microgrocery, but I boil it forever, it seems, and it won't soften. Where did this stuff come from? Ancient Egypt? Surplus Space Shuttle tiles? The Petrified Forest? I have more luck with the canned chopped tomatoes; they cook down nicely, and with the addition of some spices, it almost seems like real pasta sauce.
I can't wait for tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 22

At this point it's time for a description of the digs. Saab-Ericsson Space is like nothing in the US. From the outside, the appearance of the building is striking: its siding is corrugated metal and some of the windows are round. They look like portholes, giving the building the appearance of a ship. Like many things in Göteborg, it reflects the city's nautical heritage. There is a geodesic radome at one end on top of what looks like a concrete silo, obviously used for antenna testing. Indoors, the decor is all light-colored wood and white lacquer--very Scandinavian. Lighting is mostly from fluorescent fixtures that hang from the ceiling and plug into ceiling-mounted outlets; they have pull chains to turn them on. Most striking are the offices. As in the US, they are located along the outside walls, so each has windows, but unlike anything I've ever seen, each office has glass walls on the hallway side. This way, you know exactly who's around. (But don't close the door and change into your jogging shorts!) The center of the building is for computer workstations, labs, printers, file cabinets, library shelves, and similar things. But the most striking and least believable difference between Saab-Ericsson and US aerospace companies is that the cafeteria food here is great!
Now back to the news and weather:
I plod along through the day. Around 4:00 (7:00 AM in California) I call Julie; she's surprised and happy to hear from me. The weather is decent, so I do a little shopping on my way home. I ride down to The Avenue, Göteborg's main street. At one end is the theater, art museum and concert hall. These buildings surround a huge fountain with a statue of Neptune, another testament to Göteborg's seafaring tradition. I stop at the concert hall to pick up a ticket for Wednesday's concert. We'll see how the Göteborg Symphony does Brahms! 
Back at my apartment, I'm surprised by a knock on the door. Eric Kollberg, a professor from Chalmers, is there with Dave Rutledge, a Cal Tech professor, and his wife! Fortunately I'm dressed and the room is more or less decent. (well, more like less.) They stop in and chat for a while. Unfortunately, his wife (who seems really nice) plans to leave right after Julie arrives; otherwise, they could pal around together.
A noisy night. A loud TV just below me that is still going at 11:30. Some drunken students are raising hell in the open area just below my window. I go for a walk and return just after midnight. The TV is off, but a radio is going. I sleep a little, but at 7:00 AM some type of washing machine is rumbling away in the room next to mine. I give up trying to sleep, get dressed, and head off to S-E.

Wednesday, April 23

Another uneventful day at Saab-Ericsson. Again the steep climb to the building, park in the bicycle barn, and enter.
By afternoon it's raining again, and by 5:00 it's fairly heavy. I see a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain. If there ever will be a time to try out my new rain suit, this is it! I look like an arctic explorer on my way out of the building. As I ride home, I see that a few Swedish bike commuters have similar outfits, so I don't feel out-of-place, but most cyclists look like cats that someone threw into the river. Gliding smoothly through the gentle rain, I'm warm and dry, and the whole business of riding through the rain is actually very pleasant.
Tonight is the concert. I stare out the window and worry about the weather. I toy with the idea of taking a bus, but I don't know the schedule, and this is not a good time to experiment. I notice that some of the raindrops seem to fall awfully slowly--are those snowflakes? After a while, the rain turns almost completely into snow, and it seems to be falling heavily. Fortunately, no sign of accumulation; it's probably too warm and wet. Well, so I ride through snow now. What the hell--the bike has snow tires, right?
I'm really eager to go to the concert; hearing the Göteborg Symphony should be a real treat. I decide to go by bike. I leave my room about an hour ahead of time, although I know it's only about a 15-minute ride. Once downtown, I lock my bike to a post, slip out of my rain suit right outside the concert hall, stuff it in my backpack, pull up my tie, and walk into the hall coatless and dry. I then check the backpack, and I'm off to the show.
The concert hall is a little strange by US standards. There is only orchestra seating and some slightly raised areas, called Loges, along the sides. (All tickets are the same price; this is why.) The orchestra is on a stage that projects out into the audience more than most, but not exactly a proscenium. They do Berlioz' Roman Carnival Overture, Berlioz' Summer Nights, and Brahms 1. I've never heard Summer Nights before; it is entrancing. The Brahms is wonderful. All in all, a spectacular performance.
It's still raining when I come out of the concert hall. I get into my rain suit, unlock the bike, and I'm off for home. The city is brightly lit, so riding home in the rain, even at night, is not a problem. I wonder if there are any laws requiring bike lights. Quite a few riders don't have them, so even if there is, they probably aren't enforced.

Thursday, April 24

Still raining like hell. I ride to work in the full rain suit and make my entrance to Saab-Ericsson in dripping yellow plastic. I'm quite a sight: not your usual, overdignified college prof. In the bike-parking shed, I see Carlotta Hedenas, a engineer from Ericsson Microwave whom I met in November. I don't recognize her at first, since she's dripping wet and in a helmet, and my glasses are foggy from the cold.
Today I teach the first part of my short course. It goes well, and I get some positive feedback from the students. We have over 60 people signed up, a pretty good turn-out.
The rain stops around 3:00, and there is even a little sunlight and blue sky visible between the clouds. By 4:30 it starts to cloud over again, so I think this is a good time to leave. Also, the banks are open late on Thursdays, and I need to exchange some money. On the way home, I ride into town again. I find a FOREX place along the Avenue and exchange $200, getting better than 7.5 Swedish crowns per dollar, a pretty good rate. I ride around town a bit more, enjoying it so much that I really don't want to go home. The dreary day recedes behind me as I push the world past underneath my wheels, noticing everything I can about my new surroundings. I still have trouble believing that I'm really here.

Friday, April 25

The folks at Chalmers suddenly realized that my apartment doesn't have a TV, so the ordered one for me! Very thoughtful of them. There is a lot of English-language TV in Sweden, even US shows, and of course CNN and NBC Europe for news. The TV and a radio, as well, arrive just after 4:00. I set up the radio, but the TV needs a cable to connect to the building's cable system. So, I can't watch it just yet. I can't imagine why that wasn't included.
I go out bicycling after the delivery people leave. Julie has asked me to get her a schedule of trains from Göteborg to Stockholm; she plans to go to Helsinki, Finland, via Stockholm, to see some old friends. I try a different route and promptly get lost. I end up downtown at rush hour. Biking through rush-hour traffic in downtown Göteborg is not for the faint of heart. The area is a huge cloud of pedestrians, bicycles, buses, cars, trolleys, and anything else on feet or wheels, all travelling in different directions. The mean free path between each of these particles is no more than a yard or two, and their motion is as unpredictable as gas molecules. I get through undamaged, physically if not psychologically.
I know about where the train station is, or at least was, last time I saw it. Since it apparently hasn't moved, I find it without too much more trouble. Train stations are the places where you see real travellers: people without a lot of money and in need of a shower. Airports are populated largely by affluent business yuppies stuck in a please-please-get-me-there-fast-and-omigod-don't-let-me-be-uncomfortable attitude. And usually they don't need showers. The Göteborg train station is an old one (aren't they all!) and has the usual complement of newsstands, eateries, ticket offices, incomprehensible tourist-information signs, and benches full of tired old ladies and college kids with backpacks. I find the ticket office and a pile of train schedules. Success!
Now that I have a radio, I check out the CD store in the train station. Naxos CDs are 50 crowns there, a little under 7 bucks. Not bad; in the US they're about $5. I don't get any, though. Books are worse. A US paperback that goes for $8 at home is about $13. I'm not that hard up for something to read.
On the way home, I do some scouting around. I ride along the canal that runs through the center of the city, especially the part east of the center of town. It's very attractive, and the bike path is wide and smooth. I should check out the rest of it this weekend. Or go to the art museum; I haven't been there yet this trip. I also stumble upon the ethnographic museum, which is probably worth one trip. Or maybe I should save these for bad weather, which means that I'll probably see a lot of them.

Saturday, April 26

This is a beautiful day, clear, sunny, and considerably warmer than most days last week. Just as well: today I have a few things to do. I need a cable to connect the TV to the building's cable system. I find just what I need at a TV store in a shopping mall downtown. I also get a French baguette for lunch from a high-class seafood store.
I'm near the bridge to the other side of the harbor, and I've been wondering what's there, so over we go! I ride about a mile inland. Have I ever biked over a real bridge before? I don't think so. I do find out what's on the other side: nothing useful. There is a huge shopping area, but I don't go into any stores. I see some large fields of daffodils incongruously planted along a dingy and well-worn freeway. After exploring a little, I decide that my side of the harbor is much nicer, so I turn around, go back over the bridge, and into downtown Göteborg.
I go to the train station and buy a couple cheap CDs. Now, at least I have something to listen to. I bike through the park along the canal; I see spring flowers starting to come up, and I marvel at the spectacular old buildings. Everyone in town is outside. The sidewalk cafes are full (even though the customers are bundled up in coats), there are sidewalk vendors, thousands of shoppers, even a horse-drawn cart full of kids. I walk down one narrow, cobblestone street lined with antique and used-book stores. Many have tables out on the very narrow sidewalk. No cars can get through; there are too many people, so the place becomes a de facto pedestrian mall. This is the place to come for used, English-language books. Most are about 20 crowns, compared to at least 100 for new ones, and there is a good selection.
This is a great morning. Everywhere I look, there's something to see. This is the first I've sensed a flavor to this town; last week it was buttoned up so tight against the cold and rain that it was hard to get much of a feeling for the city.
Hans-Olof and his wife Margareta stop by for a few minutes and invite me to dinner on Sunday. Of course, I accept.

Sunday April 27

Today I feel pretty decent, and I'd like to keep it that way. Instead of going out on the bike and wearing myself out, I stay in and do some work on my laptop computer. The weather looks great; clear and sunny. People outside are lightly dressed, so it must be warm.
I leave for the Vickes' house at about 4:15. The weather is beautiful; I am wearing only a sweater, but, no fool, I bring a coat and rain gear in my backpack. It is a five-mile ride, which normally shouldn't take more than 25 minutes, but this is Sweden and I'm not on my Univega. I cut through the Chalmers campus, then head uphill past the main hospital, called Sahlgrenska. From there, it's a short, steep downhill, past the botanical garden and a wonderful, laid-back European park called Slottskogen, and finally straight along a relatively level bike path the the Vickes' neighborhood. It takes about a half hour, so I look around a shopping area near their home for about ten minutes. I arrive on the dot of 5:00.
What a nice evening. Salmon soup, homemade bread, Spanish white wine. Everything is wonderful. After dinner we sit outside for ice cream, fried bananas, and coffee. I probably shouldn't drink coffee at 7:00 PM, but it's a nice evening and pleasant company; it's impossible to say no. Finally, it's approaching 8:00, and sunset will be here soon, so I better leave. I make my excuses, thank them again, and I'm off. Even though the sun is setting, it's still warm enough that I don't need my jacket. I'm back in my room just as it's starting to get dark. I take it easy. Tomorrow's a work day. 

Digression: Bicycle Commuting in Sweden

Now that I've been doing this for a week, I'm an expert. Here's the straight story.
First and foremost: bicycling in Sweden is not about a bunch of environmentally aware yuppies working hard at being pleased with themselves. Bikes in Sweden are not conveyances for spandex-coated fashion plates wearing color-coordinated jerseys and (maybe) helmets. Bicycles are real transportation for real people. Everyone rides. It is surprising--to Americans, at least--to see the variety of people on two wheels: kids, adults, young people on dates, commuters, housewives going shopping, elderly men and women. They ride along carrying groceries in backpacks, sleeping kids in child seats, and large parcels on small carrier racks. They're going somewhere and doing something. The idea of using a bike to make a spectacle of oneself, the life goal of most riders in LA, seems inconceivable here.
Bicycles in Sweden are real transportation, not a sporty toy. Bicycling is not a "fashion sport," to use a term from the LA Times. People bicycle to work because it is the most sensible form of transportation: door-to-door, cheap, and easy to park. Cold weather and rain do not empty the bike parking lot, although I'll admit to seeing fewer bikes in the Saab-Ericsson bicycle barn during rainy weather. (But, interestingly, no more cars in the parking lot. Apparently many bikers don't ride in the rain, but instead take public transportation. Or bum a ride with friends.) The people who didn't forsake their bikes because of a little rain were a mixed lot; some were prepared for the weather and some weren't. Most of the latter probably just didn't give a damn about a little rain.
Because bicycles are real transportation, the city is designed for bike access. Virtually all major streets have bike lanes or dedicated bike paths. Bicycles have their own traffic lights, and the lights' push-buttons are within reach of a cyclist. The button boxes have lights and reflectors on them, so you can see them easily at night and know if the button has been pushed. Bike routes through town are marked with direction signs, and passages through complex intersections are marked with arrows painted on the pavement.
Because bikes are genuinely tools for transportation, not toys, people don't treat them like toys. Gone with the spandex crowd are the expensive, show-off bikes so common in the US. (Have you noticed that these pricey toys are usually ridden by people whose tails are so bloated that they probably need to call the fire department to extract their bike-seats from their asses? These characters like to brag that their bikes are eight ounces lighter than mine, but most of them could easily afford to reduce their own weight by about 800 ounces.) Most bikes in Göteborg are, frankly, in pretty bad shape. And no wonder: they are subjected to heavy use, parking in the rain, and more time spent riding them than playing with them in the garage.
The types of bikes used here are different from those in the US. Here the most common bike is a "city bike," similar to a US three-speed, with comfortable, upright seating, a rear luggage rack, and a seven-speed, coaster-brake rear hub. I've never seen anything like them in the US, and no wonder: they'd probably sell like pet leeches. The next most common type is a mountain bike, and these are similar to the less expensive mountain bikes in the US. Silly things like shock absorbers and other design affectations are virtually nonexistent here.
The use of more rational types bicycles in Sweden does not imply that all Swedes are rational cyclists. Probably the opposite is closer to the truth. I suspect that the average Swedish cyclist is the soul mate of the average Italian driver. Some of these guys (and gals) ride like the headless horseman were after them. Especially in a city with lots of hills (which means, of course, lots of steep downgrades), this can make it exciting and difficult to stay alive. When riding in Sweden, especially downhill, you must never let your attention wander. In an instant, a wheeled cruise missile, flying under your radar, will sail past you and, if it doesn't hit anything (or maybe even if it does), disappear over the horizon with pieces of its latest kill dangling from its jaws. Your life depends on making sure that the "anything" it doesn't hit is you.
In Sweden, bicycles are at the top of the transportational food chain. We bikers rule the streets: drivers respect us and pedestrians fear us. Both get out of our way, and fast. Yes, both pedestrians and cars stop for bikes. (There are invariably traffic lights wherever trolleys and busses might compete with bikes, so this is not an issue.) Cars stop for pedestrians, but pedestrians stop for bikes. In view of the way most people ride, they all damn well better.
But the greatest advantage of bicycling in Sweden, for a foreigner, is that it is a way of joining the real life of the city. Riding along a narrow bike path in a cloud of bikes, surrounded by rickety, rusted frames and wobbly, half-flat tires, you get a real sense of being there. The experience affirms that you are part of the local reality, and distances you from the busloads of spoiled American tourists that invade all corners of Europe every summer. There's nothing like the feeling of going somewhere, seeing it, and being part of it as well. Nothing.
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