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 nine o'clock 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 three 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.
Leaving Stockholm to the north, the cycling infrastructure is phenomenal. Broad and smooth bicycle lanes run for miles on end next to busy highways, and it wasn't before we reached the halfway point of the route that we felt like we had finally left Stockholm. With the city behind us, though, the nervousness of the first kilometers was soon forgotten, and we started to enjoy our ride along the coast of Lake Maläran, which borders Stockholm's western outskirts.
As we made our way towards our lunch stop in the small town of Bro, the sun stood high in a cloudless sky, and the midday temperature was approaching a soaring 33 °C. Little did we know that we started our trip right in the middle of Sweden's hottest July in recorded history.
With the city behind us and dedicated cycling paths becoming increasingly sparse, we found ourselves on wide, open roads leading through yellow fields of wheat. Since the speed limit on most Swedish country roads is 70 km/h, we felt safe sharing a road with motorists most of the time. Also, drivers in Sweden have generally friendly attitudes towards cyclists—with exception of central Stockholm, of course, where the entire bike-vs-car thing often escalates due to unneccessarily emotional attitudes on both sides—, and many made an effort to cross well over the center line of the road when passing.
Covered in thick layers of sunscreen, we finally found our rhythm as we rode towards our first accommodation. Exhausted from the heat and the emotional rollercoaster of the first 30 km, we reached our hostel at around 6 p.m.—just to find that something had gone wrong with our booking. Luckily, we managed to find another place to spend the night a couple of kilometers down the road.
We got back on the road early the next day, eager to avoid the midday sun and to spend a relaxed afternoon in the city of Västerås. Leaving the troubles of the first day behind, we fell into a steady rhythm as soon as we hit the road and managed to reach the small city of Enköping by lunchtime.
From there, we continued our ride on scenic country roads, leading through open fields with practically no change in elevation over the entire day. Rolling into Västerås under perfectly blue skies, the rough start of the first day was truly forgotten, and a cold shower in our 4-star-hotel bathroom further lightened the mood. A perfect summer day spent riding our bikes: life was grand!
As much as we had settled into a steady rhythm on the road, so did our lifes off the road. For the next two days, our schedule was fairly simple: get up early, eat lots of peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches, apply sunscreen, ride your bike, don't forget to drink water, wash your kit, sleep, repeat.
Personally, this was exactly what I was hoping to get out of the trip. And the fact that we had packed very lightly further intensified the experience: if you only have one clean shirt, one type of food, and nothing to worry about except for hydration and skin protection, life becomes mind-blowingly simple. In fact, it's only when you come back home that you realize that, with all this time on the road, with all this time of idle cycling, with all this time during which your mind is free to wander wherever it may, you haven't spent a single thought on your day job.
Almost 300 km into our trip, we arrived at our accommodation outside Örebro. Since Örebro marked the western-most point on our route, we had decided to allow for two rest days before we would continue our trip back to Stockholm.
Luckily, our accommodation turned out to be a great fit, since it was beautifully located next to a small forest, yet close enough to Örebro for a relaxed bike ride into town. We felt very much welcome and at home at the small B&B, and the fact that the owner turned out to be a professional massagist further helped the recovery process.
Feeling more adventurous on our second rest day, we went for a long bike ride around Lake Hjälmaren, including plenty of unanticipated gravel roads, a ferry ride on an old wooden raft, and light thunderstorms. We ended our stay in Örebro with a celebratory dinner in the city, before we rode back to our accommodation, somewhat sad that the stay in Örebro would be over soon, but also looking forward to getting back on our bikes the next day.
Leaving our rest day accommodation, we were off to a slow start on our seventh day. Not only did we have to cross the entire city of Örebro before we could get back to open roads, but we also suffered from a puncture and some navigational problems early in the day.
Before the trip, we had carefully planned our route using Strava's Route Builder, which, with relatively low planning effort, had allowed us to build a perfect route for the first four days. However, as we followed the suggested route towards the southern side of Lake Hjälmaren, we increasingly ended up on faster, busier roads without dedicated cycling paths. Hoping to find better alternatives, we spent much of the day contemplating route options; finally though, we had to come to terms with the fact that there simply aren't as many small, calm country roads on this side of the lake—or, to put it more precisely: while all side roads on the northern side of the lake had smooth tarmac surfaces, the ones on the southern side were almost without exception made from gravel.
Unfortunately, the following days only confirmed this impression, and we found this to be true for most roads from Örebro to Södertälje. Thus, on several occasions, we were happily riding on a calm, perfectly smooth tarmac road, just to see it turn into a gravel road in the next moment.
Further adding to the challenge of route planning, road works in Sweden are often carried out during the summer months. At points, this meant that we would ride stretches of 10 km or more on roads where the topmost layer of tarmac had been removed—not the most pleasant experience on a road bike with 25 mm tires.
As much as the road surface had changed compared to the more northern parts of our route, so had the landscape. Around the halfway point of day 7, forests and small lakes started to dominate our surroundings. While the shadow of the forest was a welcome surprise, we found that the route also turned increasingly hilly, adding to the fatigue that was slowly building up in our bodies.
On day 8, we aimed for a relatively short ride from Haddebo to Katrineholm. However, arriving at the beautiful lakeside hostel, we found that we actually had a booking at another hostel 35 km down the road. Despite initial despair, we managed to keep our spirits up—helped by vegan lasagna and chocolate cake at the hostel's restaurant—and rode a good pace for the remainder of what would be more than 100 km at the end of the day. Tired but happy we had some PB&Js and a hot shower, and fell asleep immediately.
After setting a new daily distance record on the eighth leg of our trip, we were both showing signs of fatigue on day 9. Having never ridden so many kilometers within eight days before, Mariana was starting to become seriously tired and exhausted. Also, riding a bike with no dropped handlebars, she had a very limited range of hand positions available, and her hands and arms were increasingly tense and numb.
Because of that (and because we couldn't stand the thought of more gravel roads), we decided to change our plan for day 9, canceled our hotel booking close to Björnlunda halfway through the day, and headed for Södertälje directly. Although this again pushed our daily distance to well over 100 km, it meant that our last day would be a relaxed 40 km ride back to central Stockholm.
While I also felt increasingly tired, my problems did not stem from exhausting myself while riding, but rather the opposite: for most of our trip, our average speed was somewhere around 17-20 km/h, meaning that we would spend 6-7 h of riding to cover 100 km. While Mariana was riding a hybrid road/city bike with a relatively relaxed geometry, I was riding my all-out race bike with more than 16 cm of saddle-to-handlebar drop. Without the additional upper body support that comes from putting some power through the pedals, I found that my arms and hands were under considerable strain all day, and I struggled for the better half of the trip to find a hand position that wouldn't lead to numb fingers—a problem I never had before.
We started our last day later than usual, slept in a little longer, and took our time during and after breakfast before we set out on the ride back to Stockholm. Halfway to home, we stopped for a celebratory lunch in Huddinge, before we tackled the last 15 km of our trip, the sun still standing high in a cloudless sky.
The route from Södertälje to Stockholm is bland and grey, more practical than scenic, dominated by broad cycling lanes running along busy roads. Riding through the suburbs of Stockholm, the first day of our trip seemed like a distant memory. We take a left turn, and all of a sudden, after 600 km of riding, the streets look familiar. We're back in Stockholm, and the warm feeling of being home hits me hard as we pass through the cycling underpass at Gullmarsplan underground station.
Interested in more of our latest rides? Join the NOPE! cycles cycling club on Strava.