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Eight essential rules and tips for cycling in Sweden

Lee Roden
Lee Roden - [email protected]
Eight essential rules and tips for cycling in Sweden
Swedes like their bikes. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Want to be like a Swede, ditch your car and start cycling instead? Here are eight useful tips and rules to keep in mind as you embark on the biking journey...


This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.

Blizzard biking

Cycling in the snow is fairly common in Sweden, and if you're feeling brave and want to join, there are a few things that can be done to facilitate the process. One simple trick is making sure tires are not too highly pumped, as it helps them gain a better grip on the surface thanks to the larger contact point. Studded tires can also be used if the snow has been on the ground for a longer period of time, and in particular if the ground is icy.

Footwear is something else to keep in mind: those who wear clip-in cycling shoes may find their feet get cold pretty quickly while cycling in the winter. It could be smart to change your pedals to those with toe clips or straps so you can continue wearing your sturdy (and warm) winter shoes while still at the same time maintaining the ability to propel the bike by pulling up as well as pushing down.

Cleaning your bike regularly is particularly important if you're biking in the snow. Otherwise, dirt and sand will build up and impact its performance in the tricky conditions.

IN PICTURES: 10 times Swedes insisted on cycling in the snow

A brave cyclist in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

A breath of fresh air

Keeping your tire pressure at the right level is made easier in Sweden's cities thanks to public electric bike pumps dotted around various locations. In Stockholm for example there are more than 40, with some being standalone pumps and others attached to advertising boards. Gothenburg also has several, as do Uppsala, Malmö, Karlstad and quite probably your own town – check the local council's website to find out where they are.

Handy. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/TT

Time your purchase

Depending on whether you buy it new or used, how old it is, the specifications and a multitude of other variables, the cost of buying a bike can vary to a huge degree.

If you're buying new, certain times of the year tend to be cheaper: the biggest sales happen in the autumn when remaining summer stock is sold off ahead of the next year's models coming in, while it's also worth keeping your eyes peeled just after Christmas for short sales.

Buying new also comes with a risk though. Notice that Swedes tend to ride around on old-looking bikes? Bike theft is undoubtedly a problem – 65,300 stolen bikes were reported in the country in 2016 for example (and those are only the ones people bothered to report).

The common wisdom is that buying a used, uglier-looking bike means it's less likely to be stolen (though the best protection is a sturdy lock which locks in two points and is therefore more difficult to break). Check sites like Blocket and Tradera for used bikes near you (though prices tend to go up in the summer). Who knows, you may even find your old bike on there…

Biking deer not included. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Hell's bells

Notice a constant irritating ringing while walking around the busier parts of Sweden's cities in the summer? That's because Swedish law states that all bikes must have a working bell, and boy do the Swedes use them. If you're caught without one you could be fined 500 kronor, so make sure to equip your bike with one if it isn't already.

Helmets are only obligatory until the age of 15, though what harm could it do to wear one afterwards? Provided you don't cycle like you're invincible just because your head is covered.

The sound of a Swedish summer. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Make sure you're night-ready

Lights as well as front, side and back reflectors are obligatory in Sweden for cycling at night. The tail light has to be visible from 300 metres away, and a suitable front light which makes the traffic in front of you clearly visible is also necessary. If your bike isn't equipped with any of these items and you're caught cycling at night, you could be fined 500 kronor for each of them.

Lights and reflectors are required if you're cycling at night. Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB scanpix

Using bike paths (and using them well)

In Sweden you always keep to the right on cycle paths, should you choose to use them. Cycling on the road is permitted, and it is common to see more experienced cyclists doing so when the paths become congested in the summer.

Some cycle paths are in practice one-way, with a path going in one direction, the road in the middle, then a path going in the other direction on the other side of the cars. Cycle in the correct path for your direction unless you want to risk irritating everyone else, or worse. While it's not illegal to cycle on the 'wrong' path for your direction, it is a nuisance for everyone else and increases the chances of a collision.

If the bike on the ground is facing upwards, you're going the right way... Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Pay attention to traffic lights

Despite what the actions of some cyclists may have you believe, traffic lights apply to bikes too. That means you're not permitted to run a red even if you think the road is clear just because you're on a bike. If you're caught doing so you could be fined 1500 kronor.

If you need to cross a busy road from a bike path you'll likely find there are special sections of the crossing marked out for bikes. Also note that they often have their own button to activate the bike crossing, which can be activated and turn green even if the pedestrian crossing does not.

Crossings can get busy in the summer. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The great Swedish bike clearout

Swedish apartments often come with bike racks for residents – though finding a space can be tricky at peak times, in particular before and after the daily work commute in the summer.

In the winter, remember to move and store your bike indoors if possible though to avoid rust and weather damage. And if you leave your bike in the rack, untouched for a long period of time, don't be surprised it falls victim to the annual clearout of discarded bikes by the local housing cooperative (yes, some Swedes really do just ditch bikes in the racks for whatever reason).

You should be given notice in the form of a note or letter, so there's no excuse for forgetting and losing your bike to inactivity.

This is why you should keep your bike indoors during winter if possible. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT


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