Cycling conversations – Ep. 6

I’m in Södermalm again, the buzzing neighborhood of central Stockholm. This time I’m stopping at Urban Bike Wear. Here is where you can find Cinelli, Brother Cycles and Genesis bikes, plus gear from Chrome Industries, Nitto, Runwell, Chris King, Izumi or Bagaboo. Also here, Johan, who I’m interviewing, and Svante, who takes care of the customers in the meantime.

How did you start working in this field? 
I have always loved riding bikes. I took my driver’s license when I was 27, because I had to. So that’s the reason.

What do you like most about having a bike shop? 
For me, personally, it’s just that I don’t like to have any bosses and I have some difficulty with totalitarians. So now I can run everything how I want it. And we also focus on selling stuff that we, both me and the staff members, want to have, like a personal choice. We don’t sell anything that we don’t like ourselves, so that’s why we are a bit nerdy at the shop. And also we export like 50% of what we’re selling. We import from the US a lot, because we like the craftsmanship from some companies and then we’re trying to get into Europe. 

And what’s the hardest part? 
Now, the hardest part is that there are really big disturbances in the bike industry globally. So we have a really hard time finding stuff to sell to the customers. And that’s a bit frustrating, when people are really eager. We have people that have been waiting almost a year for a bike.  

How do you see the cycling culture here in Stockholm? Is it growing? Is it changing? 
It’s hard because of the COVID-19 situation, but I think that before it was growing, because it’s the fastest and simplest way to move around in the city. If you live in the city center or like six, seven kilometers away from the workplace, it’s the fastest way to get around. And you can also see that on Götgatan. I can’t remember the extract number, but it was like 9,000 cyclists per hour or something. Because everyone that’s living south of the city center goes over that bridge or Liljeholmsbron. And then everyone is pushed into a bike lane that’s 1.20m or something. It’s so annoying. And the traffic lights are also quite bizarre.

You have to push the button [to cross] all the time.. 
Yes, you need to push that and everything is focused on the car. You can be standing for six minutes [at a red light] and no cars are in insight. You can walk across on a red light in Sweden, but you can’t ride the bike. It’s not illegal to walk when it’s a red light as pedestrians, as long as you’re not disturbing the traffic. But for bikes, if you go against red, you are punished by the law, even if you want to turn right. 

Good to know. And what should the city or even the government do to improve things for cyclists and increase their number?
The government, I don’t think they have any saying regarding the city infrastructure. It’s totally regional and even Stockholm has a lot of municipalities and they’re running their own streets. That is a big problem, because some areas have good infrastructure and others have nothing. So there should be a next layer of governance that are taking a wider perspective of connecting everything. Because now it feels like no one has the big perspective. 

That’s why I mentioned the government, because I understand there is a national strategy regarding cycling and there are some climate targets. But they don’t seem to be going very fast. 
No, because you have the government and then you have the landscape and then you have the city and then, under the city, you have these small self-governing municipalities. So it’s hard. I think the only responsibility for the government is the big roads outside the centers. 
But there is no logic, because when you ride, a sign could say “Stockholm Center – 10k”, but it’s not Stockholm city center, as a car sign would indicate. For bikes, the sign could be either to the city center or the city border. The signs are not accurate. They don’t have a common legislation. If you used the same logic when you build roads for cars, everyone will be super angry and the politicians would lose the election. But for bikes, they just see them as a recreational kind of vehicle, not like a commuter or for your everyday use. And I really don’t know why. It’s like that everywhere in Sweden.

But it was the same in Holland, before the OPEC crisis, when the government said “okay, we’re not going to get gasoline to the cars, so we need to push everyone to start riding bikes and we turn some of the streets into cycling roads instead of bike lanes. But they also tried to change it back when the crisis was over. The state took away the lanes for the bikes and started to put the cars back in traffic, but then the people were really upset. Maybe it will be the same when the gas will become expensive, I have no clue.  
The infrastructure is really one of the main problems. In some areas it’s quite easy to ride, but if you go on a longer distance for commuting, for example, it could be quite annoying. Especially when I go out to visit friends that are living in the suburbs, it could take one hour extra because you just go around and suddenly you are in a dead end or in someone’s backyard or something. It’s not straightforward, not signed properly. The lane could stop in the middle of nowhere and I’m like “Okay, where am I going now?”. 

One last question: what’s your favorite type of bike?
My favorite? It depends on what you’re going to do. I have seven.

And which one do you ride most? 
I usually ride my daily commuter and that’s a fixed gear bike. But sometimes I ride my road bike to work. So I don’t have any preferences. As long as it’s light, well built and in good maintenance, every bike is fun to ride.