Friday, June 11, 2010

Finnish cycling culture

People around the world have different attitudes towards cycling. The attitudes even vary within Europe. In some cultures cycling is a sport, in others it is a way to get around. Some people do it just for fun. There are also presumptions on who should ride a bike and who should not. I've been writing here more or less regularly since the last fall, and so far haven't gotten around to tell you about what cycling is and who ride a bike in my culture. So I'll tell you about that today.

Let me start with how common it is. This is the view from my front door.

Those blue sheds are bike racks. And the view from my window on the other side of the building is pretty much the same. Cycling is very common among students because it is practically free once you've bought a bike, and it is falso faster than buses. The city's cycling infrastructure is rather good, and it is safe to ride a bike here for anyone, even children ride a bike to school. A few days back I sighted a mother riding a bike with 4 kids; two of them riding their own bikes and 2 in a carriage pulled by the mother. The kid in the next pic is on a Saturday ride with her father.

Also the elderly like to ride a bike. I've seen this lady cycling about 5 km away from the city center, so she's very fit for her age.

Many people, including me, do their shopping by bike. This is one of the bike racks of a local car market. Actually, the market is only 2 km from the city center and surrounded by bike lanes, so it is very easily approachable by bike. It has become the favorite car market for many cyclists.

Many elderly ladies like to do their shopping there.

Men cycle just as much as women, and its not a matter of age or shape either.

Actually, many bums and boozers also ride bikes. They seem to prefer ladies' bikes, probably because they are easier to mount when your coordination isn't just right. We Finns have a habit of drinking beer in parks and river banks. This gives the poor an opportunity to make good money by collecting empty bottles without having to humiliate themselves by begging. Many of these “recycling professionals” ride bikes, because it is easy to load the heavy bottles on them. They prefer ladies' bikes too, probably because it cannot be easy to mount a men's bike with a big load.

So, cycling in Finland is not a hobby or way of life; it is simply a good way of getting around for ordinary people. Cycling Finns don't usually identify as cyclists because cycling is nothing special here. However, I dare to say that it is not merely a matter of practicality: it is very enjoyable to choose a nice and cool bike ride to the city center instead of a sweaty bus in a hot summer day. I take the joy of life out of the small everyday things, and a warm summer breeze on my cheeks as the wheels gently roll on the pavement is one of them.

Cycling is a part of everyday life in Finland.


Ryan A. said...

Interesting post. Thanks for that. The last picture is especially beautiful.
Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and 'insightful' account on bicyclists in your country. Thanks.

Frits B said...

The two ladies in your pics wearing a helmet do this entirely the wrong way. The one who is apparently very fit for her age even risks to be strangled by her helmet.
If people want to wear safety apparel it surely pays to read the instructions. The effect might be the opposite otherwise.

Lindsay said...

Great post!!! I love how many bikes are around town. AMAZING :)

spiderleggreen said...

yeah, those ladies should put those helmets in their baskets, where they belong! ;^)

anna said...

Interesting observations :). Is cycling very uniform across Finland, or does it depend on where you are? I just know that in Austria there is a huge difference between West and East.

spiderleggreen said...

We have a family owned, Finnish bakery in Minnesota called Woullet Bakery. It has a very good reputation. The family has 17 childern. Is that common in Finland? ;)

ibikelondon said...

Hooray! This is just how cycling should be, everyday and ordinary. Sounds to me like Finland has got the attitude towards cycling just right and have a strong base to build upon if they want to grow the number of cyclists.

Here in the UK we are still trying to get over the eternal PR problem of the greater public perception of cyclists being sports-mad lycra-nuts or anti-social risks with their red light jumping. Sometimes I think our European cousins are so much more tolerant and enlightened about these things!

Sonja said...

@anna: Cycling is not uniform here either. It depends very much on the city infrastructure and the distance to the city center. In Finland Turku really is a cycling city, but still, in any city, town, or hamlet cycling is very common (although I don't know about Lapland. There's 3 million bikes in Finland and 5 million people ;) Those figures tell the story. It would be very interesting to see if there is any spatial variation to that, make a map or so.

@ spiderleggreen: No, families of 17 kids are not common. However, there's a small religion in the North called Laestadianism, and they do have some really big families. At the age of 17 I dated a guy that had 15 siblings...

@ Mark: You know, it is so strange to hear about all these cycling enthusiasists and about the ill reputation of cyclists. I'm used to cycling every day in a safe bike lane with many many other cyclists of all ages and shapes, and you guys have to compete with cars risking your reputation as a sane person and perhaps your life too. I feel so spoiled when I hear your stories. Keep it up, if there's enough cyclists around, the reputation and infrastructure will eventually have to be changed.

Sonja said...

This is a link to a stats considering the amount of cycling in some Finnish municipalities. This expresses the amount of journeys made by bike as a share of all journeys. Turku's percentage is 11 %, which is slightly below average. However, the km share would be much lower than that, because you would take a bus for the longer journeys.

spiderleggreen said...

Thanks for the info. I bet that's their religion. One of the son's went back to rural Finland to find a wife. Kind of cute.

dani d said...

i love your post about cylcling, can you answer my question here

i would love to know more about the health benefits of cycling

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