Text and photos by Rachel Hahn
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dandyCommute: in Älmhult, Sweden (approximately 1.4 kilometres)
Molly, my three-speed yellow Haro cruiser, has been getting me to work for the past six years.
Most of those years I’ve been pedalling her through the streets of Toronto, always watching out to not get doored, run over, squeezed or walked into. Don’t get me wrong, I love commuting by bike in Toronto, but you don’t have to pedal too many blocks before you get the feeling you’re an unwanted guest. If city transportation is a dinner party, bikers are the guy no one remembers inviting who throws off the even count and has to squeeze in for a seat, straddling a table leg.
In 2010, I excused myself from that figurative table and made my way to a new party. I moved to Sweden, and Molly came with me. She was packed into a box and shipped across the ocean on a freighter along with most of the contents of my Roncesvalles apartment. We weren’t reunited for four months and I still remember rolling onto the streets of Sweden with her for the first time, smiling and laughing like a kid.
Sweden is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. There are separated bike lanes, public air pump stations, numerous bike parking spots and even seatbelts for your bike on the train. And all these magical things aren’t limited to city centres. The most common type of bike I see is the good-enough beater just to get around on, partly because bike theft is an ongoing issue. Crescents of all vintages are a common sight too, which is no surprise since the company is rooted in Swedish culture. And, because biking is very much a common mode of daily transportation, there are lots of bikes with baby seats and trailers.
I don’t know if pro-biking attitudes spur the development of bike infrastructure or if it’s the other way around (seems a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg deal to me), but I’ve learned there’s room for everyone at a smorgasbord.
I live in Älmhult, population 8,995. The town, which boasts four pizza parlours, three roundabouts and more than a dozen hair salons, is best known for being the birthplace of IKEA. Today, around 6,000 people work for IKEA in Älmhult and every day about half of them come to work by train. I belong to the other half.
My commute is about 1.4 km and takes me five minutes to bike. Between my home and my office are railroad tracks that I can either go over or under. Each route has wide paved paths separated from car traffic and is peppered with bike-related traffic signs that read more like welcome mats to me. Most mornings I go north on Södra Esplanaden and turn left at Hallandsvägan onto the bridge over the train station. I make a 180 at the end of the bridge and follow back along side and below it for about 400 metres. Then I'm at work where rows of covered bike stands are right outside the front door.
See the attached map below for my route. Google suggests biking around the block, but I don’t.
The only frustrating thing about my commute is that roads and bike lanes don't always get plowed promptly in the wintertime, and that can make for a slippery, sometimes impossible ride. Recently, my commute took a little bit longer because I came face to face with a sidewalk plow on the bridge. I didn’t mind backtracking and giving way since it meant having a clear path.
Rachel Hahn is a Canadian writer living in Sweden, conducting extensive research into the comparison of European and North American pancakes. You can visit her blog about books, words and storytelling at rchahn.tumblr.com/
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