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.
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: