Cycling in Scandinavia, The Normal Way to Get Around

One of the things Tom and I have loved about Scandinavia is all the cycling.  Bicyclists are everywhere!  It is the normal way to get around, especially if you live in a city.  There are more bicycles than people in all the Scandinavian countries.  Many people have a touring bike, for longer journeys, a commuter bike, and a junk bike for when you have to leave your bike at a metro station.

Bike parking in Sweden

We saw people cycling everywhere in Scandinavia.  People ride bikes to work and school.  They do their grocery shopping on bicycles.  You can buy a bike with a built-in stroller or cargo area.  Every road has a dedicated bike lane, usually clearly separated from the bus and automobile lanes.  School children have to take a bike safety course in school, and the police give out as many tickets to cyclists as they do to car drivers.

A school in Norway

We have been in Scandinavia during May and the weather has been lovely most of the time.  It is not surprising to see people cycling when the weather is nice, but Scandinavians cycle even when the weather is lousy.  In the cities, bike lanes are cleared of snow before roads because they are used by more people.  There is a special bike overall that you buy to pull on over your clothing so you can ride in bad weather.  A common saying in Scandinavia is “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

The four Scandinavian countries are all four in the top six countries in bicycle usage.  Denmark has almost 3,000 miles of bike trails.  In Copenhagen there are 155 miles of bike lanes or roads.  Every day, 40,000 cycling commuters cross the Dronning Louises Bro bridge.  In addition, many workplaces offer bike parking and changing rooms for employees who cycle to work.

Cyclists waiting at a light in Denmark

Why do Scandinavians do so much cycling?  First, they have an outdoor culture.  Norwegians have it written into their constitution that they have a right to the outdoors.  They even have a special word for it, “friluftsliv.”  Scandinavians love to be outdoors, especially when the weather is nice.  They have a long, dark winter ahead and cycling gives them exercise and fresh air.  Scandinavians love their sweets but the cycling culture helps them stay slim.

Second, gasoline and cars are very expensive in Scandinavia.  Denmark, for instance, has a 150% tax on cars.  A car that costs $40,000 in the US would be $100,000 in Denmark.  Gas is less expensive in Norway, but the arrival of e-bikes has increased the passion for cycling in Norway.  Trondheim, Norway, has the world’s only bicycle lift, to help riders get from the bottom of the hill to the top.

Cycling commuters in Finland

Third, Scandinavia is committed to green energy, which they call Clean energy.  There are wind turbines and solar panels everywhere.  Copenhagen is trying to become the world’s first carbon neutral city.  Cycling is a big part of caring for the environment.  The governments of the Scandinavian countries are willing to spend a lot of money on cycling infrastructure to make it easy and enjoyable for people to ride.

Finally, Scandinavia has special laws governing traffic with bicycles and pedestrians.  If an automobile or bus hits a cyclist or pedestrian, it is always the fault of the automobile or bus.  Pedestrians don’t even look before crossing the street, which makes me a little nuts.  If a car even thinks you want to cross the street, they will stop.  We have been on buses that wait a long time for the street to clear before they turn.  The bicyclists and pedestrians have the right of way, not the cars.

Cycling in Scandinavia is very different from cycling in the United States.  When you ride a bike in the United States, you are always fearful that someone who is driving will hit you.  Roads are designed for cars, not cyclists.  We could stand to learn a few things about cycling from the Scandinavians.