Bikes and Sweden

July 15, 2006 at 1:58 pm 5 comments

As I biked into the busy area of Freeport (Maine) on my “intown” bike this afternoon, I couldn’t help reminiscing about our trip to Malmo, Sweden last summer.

At the Malmo Train StationMalmo, along with most of Europe, is a great utilizer of bicycles as a mode of transportation. When visiting my sister and brother-in-law in July of 2005, the first thing we did was rent bicycles for our week stay. (Note the picture of the Malmo train station on your left.) Malmo is a haven for cyclists with specified roads and paths to make commuting safe and easy. Here’s a cool link to what we experienced- http://www.i-sustain.com/learningCenter/photoAlbum/Mobility/Bicycling/. In fact, the images on this site are from downtown Copenhagen, Denmark, which is just a quick train ride across the harbor from Malmo.

It felt great to jump on our bikes and quickly ride to the store, shopping, movies, beaches, or whatever we wanted. Not only did I feel more healthy, physically, but I also felt more healthy environmentally. How many times do we jump in our cars to run a quick errand when the same could be done by just slowing down, taking a few more minutes, and doing our task on a bike? (The slowing down is another topic for another time.)

The type of bikes we used in Sweden looked like the typical high handle bar, comfy seat, fendered bikes of my youth, but they were much more than that. Our rentals (typical of Swedish bicycles) had quick key locks built into the tires. This was very handy and when we asked about theft (who could stop someone from quickly picking up the bike and throwing it in the back of a vehicle) our little renter practically laughed. When EVERYONE has a bike, why would they need to steal one. Also, theft is very low in Malmo.

The tires on these commuter bicycles were also different lending to an incredibly smooth and comfortable ride, unlike anything I’ve seen here, in the U.S. Multi geared (three, I think) along with both hand and foot brakes were other typical characteristics. Stopping and slowing by reversing my pedal (as in my old banana seat bike days) took a little getting used to, but, hey, it was just like “riding a bike”. I loved my bike and I hated to leave it. (Oh yeah, Malmo was nice, too.)

Upon returning to Maine and inspired by my renewed love of biking for transportation, I happened upon a yard sale with a particular item of interest. (Actually, it was more like a few items lined up against a fence with a “For Sale” sign.) As I drove by, a bike with the largest seat I’d ever seen on a two wheeled vehicle caught my eye. After a quick thought or two, I promptly turned around and pulled up beside the sale. An elderly gentleman came out of his house (which was being sold so that he and his wife could move to Florida..the Maine winters had become too much…he hadn’t been feeling well…so on and so on..) and we began to heckle over the price of a 20+ year old Sears three speed.

It was apparent he was quite attached to the bike and felt as though the HUGE white seat was an extra benefit. We finally settled on $20 (or was it $15) and I threw the vehicle in the back of my car and headed home. Upon myIntown Bike return to Freeport, I cleaned up my new “intown” bike, oiled the gears and chain, changed the seat to one I had on another “found” bike, and I was off. Living close to the shopping mecca of Freeport (but being just enough outside of it so it can be avoided) a bike is a perfect means of transportation for a run to Starbucks, the Bow Street Market, Gritty’s for a beer, or to pick up that necessary new outfit for my next outing. I now love my 20+ year old Sears three speed with the basket on the front and fenders on the back.

Maine could really benefit through a European approach to commuting. As a resident of Freeport, ME, I drive to Portland everyday during the school year to teach at a school (King Middle) not far from the Portland train station. I would love to not only take the train to work most mornings, but I’d also enjoy being able to bike from the station to my job. A few people that I teach with bike to work on a daily basis and I am truly inspired. I’d love to have that opportunity. Yes, I COULD bike from Freeport. But, it really isn’t practicle as it is a 25 minute car ride. However, a quick five minute trip from the train station would be great!

We hear more and more about increasing commuter use of trains in Maine, but that day is far from fruition. (Truthfully, a part of me is torn on having a consistent commuter rail north of Portland as I live right beside the railroad tracks.) Biking, however, can be implemented right away. Thinking on this bent, I have a few questions that I will consider in future posts:

  • What do we need to do to increase the use of bicycles as transportation?
  • Are there changes that need to be made in workplaces? Shopping? Places that people would commute or bike to? For instance, if you bike somewhere there are rarely places to lock your bike.
  • How can we approach all ages to take on this challenge?
  • What are the impacts and risks of theft? How can this be changed or helped? (I know that few and far between would be interested in my not so stylish “intown” bike.)

These are a few questions with more to ponder. I’d be curious as to what others think. More later….

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Entry filed under: Healthy Living/Healthy Earth.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. K  |  July 23, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Nice post! Yesterday we biked around the island of Ven, (where Tycho Brahe had his observatory) and it was beautiful…dirt paths through fields of wheat and barley, good smelling flowers and plants and old Swedish farm houses. You can rent a bike on the island for 10$ for the entire day. You get there via ferry…so fun. You guys should come back (camping there is wonderful too!) I’ll send photos.

    Reply
  • 2. K  |  July 26, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Part of the reason biking is so prominent in Sweden is their respect to the environment and their forward thinking…something missing in the USA. Also, don’t forget, there are no hills in Malmo. But seriously, you have to change the thinking first, biking comes after. I find people in the US generally unmotivated and like to do things the quickest way, not necessarily the BEST way. Maybe you could start something locally with regard to using bikes as transportation… get the kids involved. Create an awareness.

    Reply
  • 3. bychance  |  July 30, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Yeah….good thought with the kids. There is a bike coalition in Maine that I could hook up with. Perhaps start small and try and make a difference. Just look around Freeport and Portland. Where the heck can you lock a bike if you are riding one? Not many places to do that. That could be a place to begin…you think?

    Reply
  • 4. azeez  |  February 27, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    my name is azeez i love is bike and i want to know more about it. can u send me your address or your number,and this is my number +2348028116023

    Reply
  • 5. tsp  |  June 29, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Hello there. i live in Lund, Sweden, 15 minutes away from Malmö. It’s true what you say about the importance of parking rails for bikes. But since they’re just rails, I’m sure it costs very little for the local government to build them. These rails can easily be fixed anywhere and doesn’t require much modification of places where you plan to put them. ِBut K has a point about Skåne being flat and all.

    Reply

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