How to cycle in Scandinavia's cities

Scandinavia is quite rightly proud of its cycling culture. Years have gone into developing safe cycle ways, and the population has benefitted from cleaner air, more exercise, and fewer vehicles on the road.

There’s something else about Scandi cycling that is hard to ignore –it seems to contribute to the general friendliness of the region. With everyone out in the open, rather than shut away in cars or train carriages, there’s opportunity for a bit more interaction, a few more smiles. It’s all terribly un-British, but that’s part of why we love it.

So if you’re looking to give cycling a try in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki…well, anywhere really, then start here.

Stay in the road—better yet, use the cycle lanes

Those lovely wide cycle lanes exist for a reason, and it’s best to steel your nerves and dive right in (though perhaps you’ll want to wait until after the commuter crush). In many places, it’s not legal to ride a bicycle on the pavements, and while the stream of steady bikes may look intimidating, after about two minutes you’ll feel the flow of traffic quite naturally.

Stay to the right

For first-time riders, you’ll want to hug the right-hand side of the cycle lane. In countries where cars are driven on the right side of the road, the far-right lane is the “slow lane”, and faster cyclists will be better able to anticipate your movements if you stay to your lane.

Feel free to chat

If you’re riding with a friend, it’s usually all right to cycle side by side and have a conversation. Just be sure to move over and out of the way if someone else wants to pass you.

Know your hand signals

An invaluable bit of local language to learn in the appropriate hand signals for turning left, turning right, and stopping.

Gestures can vary between countries, but these are the basics that will be understood in most places: To turn left or right, extend that arm all the way out parallel to the ground; to stop, extend the left arm and crook your elbow 90 degrees so you hand points up.

You’ll see these signals get a bit softer, though, as everyday cyclists in the city may not fully extend their arms or make a particularly large gesture—so stay aware.

Be prepared for a clunker

Scandis use their bicycles a lot, and it’s for that reason that they don’t tend to invest in particularly high-end models. Especially if you are hiring a bicycle, be prepared for an upright machine that may weigh more than you would expect—they’re built to take a beating, not for racing.

Obey the traffic lights

Locals may occasionally breeze through a red light, but we don’t recommend it. Not only is it definitively illegal, it’s also a sure-fire way to enrage others around you.

Don’t expect a helmet

The efficacy of helmets in preventing injury is always a hot debate in cycling circles (do cars take fewer risks if they see you without a helmet? On and on it goes…), but you should feel free to request a helmet from your cycle hire company. However, don’t be surprised if you see very few on the road; confident everyday cyclists often forego the helmet since they’re on and off their bikes all the time.

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