Writing this article in 2018, it feels almost retrospective to pick up the topic of stiffness in bicycle frame design. You may remember how stiff became the new lightweight a couple of years ago, but then aero became the new stiff somewhere around 2016, and now it almost looks as if lightweight is going to go full circle and become the new aero.
During our summer vacation, Mariana and I packed our road bikes and went on a ten-day, 600 km bicycle tour from Stockholm to Örebro and back. Riding around Lake Mälaren and Hjälmaren, here’s what we found along the way. We departed from Stockholm at 9:00 a.m. sharp, northbound through the city’s endless suburbs. While we hadn’t spent much time planning our ten-day bike trip, I had been eagerly looking forward to the first pedal strokes in the days leading up. After all, this would be our first bicycle tour together, and for Mariana, who only really learned how to ride a bike two years ago, it would be the first time to push the 500 km mark within a week. However, half an hour in and riding my bike along the coast of Kungsholmen, unsure if we were up to the challenge ahead, I felt tense and nervous, and so did Mariana.
A big part of my job is to source bicycle components from all over the world. Thus, I spend considerable amounts of time browsing manufacturer websites and talking to distributors. While this helps me to keep an overview of the latest developments in the market, the information I’m most interested in is often the most difficult to find: Where do you make it? And under which conditions?
Before I moved to Stockholm in the summer of 2015 I had only been to the city once. On arrival, I didn’t know my way around town, let alone its outskirts, so I struggled for quite a while to get to the point where I could navigate Stockholm’s cycling infrastructure without consulting Google Maps on each and every intersection.
One of the first rides I did during this time led me southwards towards Haninge, a small town 20 km from Stockholm city centre. The route I followed was a closed loop of about 40 km, almost entirely on smooth and broad bicycle lanes. Thus, it was perfect if I wanted to go for a solo ride, and I found myself coming back to this route over and over again.
Naturally, I grew tired of this ride after a while, especially once I had explored more of Stockholm’s surroundings. However, I keep coming back to this route time and time again whenever I just quickly want to spin my legs and grab a cup of coffee on the way. And riding it always takes me back to the summer of 2015 when I was new to Stockholm.
Let’s be clear about one thing right from the start: there’s no such thing as a perfect road bike. What makes a comfortable bike for me might be impossible to ride for you. What feels overly stiff to me might have exactly the kind of responsiveness you’re looking for. And that paint job over there: eww! I wouldn’t ride that in the middle of the night.
Well, you get the idea. Where there are no objective standards there cannot be an objective evaluation. While this is perfectly fine if your sole purpose in life is to ride your bike as hard as you can, this might be a bit of a problem if you’re trying to sell bikes to someone else. Or if you like to compare your stuff to that of others.
Historically, Stockholm is a city of voyagers and traders, and its strategic importance is closely linked to its location at the bottleneck between lake Mälaren in the west—Sweden’s third-largest lake which extends well into the Swedish heartland—and the Baltic Sea in the east. While maritime trade is of minor interest to most modern-day Stockholmers, the city’s seafarer heritage is ever-present, and living in Stockholm means to be constantly surrounded by water. Lakes, islands and bridges shape the city center and have earned Stockholm a place on the contender’s list for the unofficial title of “Venice of the North”. Yet, what helped to put the city on the map in the past poses a challenge for cyclists today: you can’t go for a ride around town—literally.
I recently spent two weeks in Bristol (UK) to hone my skills as a frame builder and bike designer. Well, technically speaking, I spent most of my time about 50 km outside of Bristol in the small town of Frome, Somerset, which is home to The Bicycle Academy (TBA), a small business dedicated to making you an expert frame builder. After booking the seven-day course at TBA—I will write more about the course itself in an upcoming post—I decided to make my time in England all about cycling: I packed my bike, set up camp at my girlfriend’s sister (living in Bristol) and prepared myself for a week of long bike commutes. This is the story of commuting 700 km in seven days.
For this week’s #FortRide, I chose my favorite Sunday morning ride in the west of Stockholm. Totaling at around 90 km, the route is long enough to allow me to settle into a steady rhythm and a couple of interesting coffee shops along the way invite for a short (or extended) fika break.
I usually start this ride on the southern edge of Stockholm’s city center and continue along Söder Mälarstrand, which leads along the northern coast of Södermalm. From here, you have an unobstructed and postcard-worthy view of the islands of Kungsholmen and Gamla Stan, including Stockholm City Hall.
To start off this series, I chose a ride that’s very special to me: my commute. Like most commutes it’s practical in nature; it’s as much an opportunity to spin my legs after a long day at the office as it’s a convenient source of base miles. Over the years, the route has changed quite significantly: what started as an 8 km long, dead-straight ride through the city center has evolved into a 22 km course that spans many of Stockholm’s islands and passes next to some of the most iconic sights in town. Also, as was pointed out to me recently, it resembles a praying monk when drawn on a map (well, at least remotely).