Thursday, September 13, 2012

Confessions of an American Cycler in Stockholm

From April to November, my main mode of transportation through Stockholm is my bicycle. I bought my beloved cruiser the week I first arrived in Sweden, and have been a devoted rider ever since. 

Photo by NS (and his bike too!)

Over the last couple years, I have learned a lot about cycling in this city, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, I should add. And I thought I was doing fairly well with my cycling competence until recently, as a series of events have unfolded, forcing me to completely rethink my form. 

Just this evening on my way home from Swedish class, I was pedaling uphill on Odengatan (one of Stockholm's busier streets) and cut left toward home. As I waited for a bus to pass before making the turn, I could just make out the face of the driver in the settling darkness - a face full of disapproval, shaking both head and finger at me for what may as well have been a mortal sin. Bus lane only: I must admit I'd thought of the possibility before, but it never seemed to be a problem for me to be there... 

Last week, I was vigorously cycling my way through the rain along Norrmälarstrand (one of the city's beautiful, waterside streets) when a stout man with glasses, a small dog, and a green umbrella with white polka dots approached the cross walk across the cycle path. I planned to sail smoothly behind him - but he stopped - forcing me to cut him off and prompting him to shriek a string of swear words in my direction while repeatedly smashing his umbrella against the ground until it broke. For a few seconds, I thought this angry fellow, whose morning I had just ruined, might actually chase me down. And on my 1-gear bike, I'm fairly certain he would've caught me. 

Which brings me to my next cycle faux pa: squeaky breaks. As you await a green light at an intersection and suddenly hear a high-pitched, screeching sound behind you, you can safely bet it is me. Oh the joys of a bike older than myself. Whether in car or on bike, there is no escaping the volume of this screech, especially on humid days. Pedestrians have actually told me how embarrassing my brakes are. Sometimes I share a sheepish chuckle with fellow-riders. But mostly I am on the receiving end of irritating glares.

Despite all of my cycle mishaps, big and small, there are a few things I do correctly: I always stay as far right as possible, allowing faster bikes (aka all bikes) to easily pass me. I wear a helmet. And I am happy to report that currently both my back and front lights are fully functional.

In conclusion, I have come to the realization that I still have a lot to learn about biking in Stockholm - and I guess it will probably be awhile before I'm doing this:



  1. Very cute, but please STAY SAFE!!!
    How about some WD-40?
    WD-40 is not a grease. It is formulated with strong lubricating oils and other secret ingredients, and is a terrific product to use for bike maintenance. It does not attract dirt or moisture to metal surfaces – just be sure to wipe off any excess WD-40 Multi-Use Product before riding. For long-term lubrication, a specialized bicycle lubricant may be used.

  2. Love this post! I have squeaky breaks after any dampness as well. My husband says he can fix this. If that happens I will let you know what he did!

  3. @Maureen - thanks for the tip! I'm not sure they sell it here but I'll have a look :)
    @Gaekstrom - Yes, let me know! Nik has tried, but the squeak has never completely disappeared, and gets bad again quickly

  4. Hey- great post. We use a teflon oil for our squeaky chains that lasts a long time, but haven't had squeaky breaks as a problem. It is tough cycling in heavy traffic especially with big ass buses! According to the traffikverket- you can ride your bike in the buslane in some cases, however it seems a bit technically puzzling when the bus lane starts being on the left hand side and you want to turn left. I like the earlier tip to just try and stay safe! It is the last question on this page:

  5. @ Stacy - Thanks for the info, that's a good page to bookmark :)

  6. You can buy wd-40 at clas ohlson and similar. It's the same thing as 5-56, although I don't agree with all info Maureen added but it sure usually does the trick. We can have a look at it in the garage some day if you want.